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BLM Delivers Blow

Feds deny author/activist Terry Tempest Williams the right to purchase leases and, like oil and gas companies often do, leave them undeveloped

Local NewsThursday, October 20, 2016 by Elizabeth Miller

While oil and gas companies hold nearly 20 million acres of land leased for oil and gas drilling that has yet to be developed, the US Bureau of Land Management has rejected Tempest Exploration Company, LLC’s ability to do the same. 

During the quarterly BLM sale of oil and gas leases in February, environmental activist and writer Terry Tempest Williams registered as a bidder simply to get a seat where she could watch the action, and later, visited the local BLM office, where she and her husband, Brooke Williams, bid on two leases no one else had sought in the lease auction. On Oct. 18, the BLM rejected their offers for those leases.

Terry Tempest Williams in a recent appearance at Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe.
Julie Ann Grimm

“We are disappointed in the agency’s decision to hold us to a different standard than other lessees. The agency claims that it cannot issues the leases because we did not commit to developing them,” the Williamses wrote in a statement released through the Western Environmental Law Center. “The BLM has never demanded that a lease applicant promise to develop the lease before it was issued. In fact, a great many lessees maintain their leases undeveloped for decades, thereby blocking other important uses of the land such as conservation and recreation.”

They’ve paid the fees and said that they would consider developing those leases when science supports a sustainable use of oil and gas “given the costs of climate change to future generations.” It’s the same approach oil and gas leases uses in the exploratory leasing decisions and in now waiting out low oil and gas prices.

On some of the nearly 20 million acres leased to but not yet developed by oil and gas companies, the Williamses point out, the BLM has suspended those leases, allowing the lessees to stop paying rent on them, though the companies lose no control over those lands.

“The BLM’s decision to reject our lease bids highlights the agency’s misdirected and antiquated approach to fossil fuels, illuminating their fidelity to the oil and gas industry while willfully ignoring the urgency—in an era of climate change—of more enlightened management of the public lands that belong to the American people,” the Williams statement reads. They are currently assessing their options for recourse, including an administrative appeal to the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals.

In the face of ongoing protests from activists organized under the Keep It In The Ground movement at these mandated quarterly auctions, the BLM begun moving them online, a shift the Western Energy Alliance celebrated as a model of increased government efficiency and innovation.

Most Americans view online auctions and webcasting as standard ways of doing business. Skype, eBay, and Amazon have been around for years. Grandparents are using Apple’s Facetime to keep up with grandkids. Refrigerators and garage door openers are now Internet-connected, not to mention powered by electricity generated from natural gas. … Actually, the federal government is lagging the consumer market by only beginning to use online auction and webcast technology in the fall of 2016,” Aaron Johnson, manager of communications at the oil and gas industry trade group Western Energy Alliance, wrote in a blog post in September.

Last year, Congress past legislation allowing online auctions, and Johnson argued they should be used as a way of eliminating activists’ ability to interfere, and points to opportunities to submit written comments at several points in the planning process.

“The fact is most activists can’t be bothered to engage in the existing democratic process because it’s less fun to come up with well-reasoned arguments than yelling and waving protest signs,” he writes. “If the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement wants to live in the Stone Age, then by all means have at it. But the rest of the world is moving on.”

The latest auction for oil and gas leases on nearly 14,000 acres in New Mexico was held Sept. 2 in Roswell after being postponed from July 20. Earlier scheduled to take place in Santa Fe, where protesters planned to line the street in front of a hotel where it would take place, an abrupt change of venue generated public outcry and a rally of those calling for the Obama administration to stop issuing new oil and gas leases.

In the last year, nine BLM oil and gas lease sales have been postponed in the face of protests. Western Energy Alliance recently sued the BLM over its failure to meet the quarterly lease sales of federal oil and gas resources as required by the Mineral Leasing Act. 

“Online auctions enable BLM to meet its obligations under existing law, reduce administrative costs, and eliminate disruptions from Keep-It-in-the-Ground protesters,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Alliance, said in a press release. “The public still has the opportunity to participate at multiple points in the leasing process, but the actual sale will use up-to-date technology.”

At the BLM’s first online auction on Sept. 20, it sold 14 parcels, for 4,214 acres, in Kentucky and Mississippi.

WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a lawsuit in August challenging the Obama administration for failing to account for the greenhouse gas emissions or climate change impacts of ongoing oil and gas leasing, despite requirements to do just that in the National Environmental Policy Act. In just two years, the greenhouse gas emissions from federal oil and gas reserves released more than 612 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent—more than the combined emissions from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

“In spite of the president’s commitment to US leadership in moving towards a clean energy future—and the significant contribution to atmospheric [greenhouse gas] levels made by BLM’s oil and gas leasing program,” the lawsuit states, “federal defendants continue to authorize the sale and issuance of hundreds of federal oil and gas leases on public lands across the Interior West without meaningfully acknowledging or evaluating the climate change implications of their actions.” 


The Fork

Pot Pie Weather

The ForkThursday, October 20, 2016 by Gwyneth Doland

But first: Some events to put on your calendar. The chefs from Arroyo Vino, Georgia and the Inn at Loretto will compete in a friendly cookoff this Saturday at the El Dorado Hotel during the Hungry Mouth Festival, a benefit for St. Elizabeth Shelters. The live auction includes a private dinner for 10 with chef Josh Gerwin of Dr. Field Goods. Tickets cost $125.

Temple Grandin, the livestock whisperer, is speaking at the Quivira Conference in Albuquerque on Nov. 9. Tickets for her talk are $25. Registration is separate for the three day conference, which includes a packed schedule of speakers on farming, ranching and conservation.

The Biodynamic Conference takes place the following weekend, Nov. 16-20 in Santa Fe. Full conference registration costs $300 but there are many options for attending individual seminars or days.

Why does every restaurant in Santa Fe seem to offer only meat-and-potatoes entrees? We appear to be in some sort of 1950s rut here. It’s all: steak, pork chops, lamb T-bones, duck breasts, chicken breasts blah blah blah. People: It’s fall. Get going on the stews, tagines, enchiladas, POT PIES. I can grill a steak in 10 minutes but it’ll take a lot longer to slowly simmer a one-pot-wonder.

Chicken pot pie is on the menu at Georgia ($15) and La Plazuela at La Fonda ($16). Where else have you seen it? Let me know!

If you’re home and you feel like heating up the house, try The Pioneer Woman’s traditional chicken pot pie with little cubes of carrots and pie crust topping. You can totally cheat and use chopped up rotisserie chicken in this one.

But whatever you do, don't try to go all the way back to the frozen chicken pot pies of your youth. In the immortal words of Don Henley, "Don't look back. You can never look back."

I love tarragon, but it’s a fight-starter at my house, so I’ll leave you with this herbed version of pot pie from Julia and Jacques at Home. Serve this to grown-ups.

I tore this recipe out of The New York Times two weeks ago and it’s been sitting on the kitchen counter, tormenting me since then. Julia Moskin makes a basic chicken saute with thigh meat, mushrooms, bacon and Marsala, then throws it into a pie plate with a top crust. Mmmmmm…..feed meeeee.

Ina Garten does a vegetable pot pie with fennel, asparagus, Pernod and saffron. Oh ho! Substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and it’s meat-free. Use olive oil instead of butter, skip the heavy cream and do a shortening crust (with no egg wash) and it’s vegan.

And Santa Fe’s own Johnny Vee does one with green chile, apple and chicken.

Ooh,  you know what else I’m craving (because it’s lunch time and I’m starving)? Cornish pasties. Here’s a BBC recipe that requires some translation of weights and temperatures, but looks delightful. Hint: The Brits, for some reason, call rutabegas “swedes.” Here’s an American recipe, although it calls for vegetable shortening, not lard. WHY ON EARTH would you make a pastry with shortening? Sacrilege. Use animal fat for this. I have a secret stash of beef fat in the fridge that’s perfect for this purpose.

What news do you want to see in this newsletter? We want to hear from you! Let us know! Email

Morning Word: Martinez Signs Two Budget-Fixing Bills

Morning WordThursday, October 20, 2016 by Peter St. Cyr
State Still Faces Funding Problems Despite Budget Fixes
Gov. Susana Martinez signed two bills to shore up the state budget, but still has three bills to consider. Not everyone is happy with her line item veto to language that would have specifically allocated money for a home parenting training program aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect.

Johnson: "Really, it just sucks"
There were lots of presidential debate watch parties around the state last night, but Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson wasn’t attending any of them. He was in Los Angeles and told supporters, “Really, it just sucks” that he wasn’t on the stage debating the issues since he’s the only third party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

Republicans Criticized for Direct Mailer Sent to School District Staff
Andy Lyman reports, “Some staff and faculty of a school district in northern New Mexico are questioning how and why the House Republican caucus sent a mass email criticizing a Democratic lawmaker."
Two days into the 2016 special session, a number of teachers and staff with Los Alamos Public Schools received a press release from GOP leaders at the state House of Representatives in their work email inboxes. The press release appeared to come from House Republicans and admonished Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, for a vote she made the night before. “Stephanie Garcia Richard voted to raid $25 million from New Mexico school district savings accounts last night,” the press release read.
Teachers Protest Evaluations
A group of teachers in Albuquerque set their annual evaluations on fire to protest the program that they say is driving educators away from careers in the classroom.

Oil Industry Downturn Impacts Schools
Meanwhile, in oil patch towns like Hobbs, Jal, Eunice and Tatum, school funding could be cut due to declining enrollments as people get laid off and move away.
The declining enrollment numbers come as cities and towns in southeastern New Mexico are seeing drops in gross tax receipts due to falling oil prices. The oil downturn also has affected the state budget and recently forced state lawmakers into a special session to enact a spending plan.
Zozobra Merchandise Stolen
TS Last over at the Albuquerque Journal North writes people in Santa Fe and surrounding communities, “Be on the lookout for purloined bobble-head dolls, T-shirts and other goods depicting a strange, big-eared man wearing a bow tie and what looks like a long, white dress.”
A horse trailer containing about $35,000 of Zozobra merchandise was stolen in Santa Fe sometime within the past few weeks, a crime that could make children of Santa Fe especially gloomy this year.

“Whoever did this is really stealing from the kids,” said Ray Sandoval, who organizes the annual burning of Zozobra — or “Old Man Gloom,” as he’s known — on behalf of the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.

Morning Word: Pence Plans Campaign Stop in New Mexico

Morning WordWednesday, October 19, 2016 by Peter St. Cyr
Pence to Campaign in New Mexico
On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders encouraged students at the University of New Mexico to go vote. Now we’re hearing that Donald Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, will make a campaign stop in Albuquerque on Thursday.
Pence, in more recent comments, has defended Trump, calling recent sexual assault claims against the Republican nominee “unsubstantiated allegations.” He has also raised questions about media coverage of the presidential election but has said he will accept the election’s results.
Poll: Johnson Leads Trump in New Mexico
Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, is polling one point ahead of Donald Trump with at least Albuquerque-area voters. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is way up in the same poll with 47 percent of likely voters saying they support her White House bid. Ten percent were undecided.

Candidates Plan Appeal to Undecided Voters
For those 10 percent, tonight’s third and final presidential debate, which promises to be ugly, may help them decide.
For Trump, the debate is perhaps his last opportunity to turn around a race that appears to be slipping away from him. His predatory comments about women and a flood of sexual assault accusations have deepened his unpopularity with women and limited his pathways to victory. His supporters remain intensely loyal, but there are few signs he’s attracting the new backers he desperately needs.

Clinton takes the stage facing challenges of her own. While the electoral map currently leans in her favor, the Democrat is facing a new round of questions about her authenticity and trustworthiness, concerns that have trailed her throughout the campaign. The hacking of her top campaign adviser’s emails revealed a candidate that is averse to apologizing, can strike a different tone in private than in public, and makes some decisions only after painstaking political deliberations.
Video Shows Wrong Way Driving on I-25
It’s been a problem for a long time, but new video from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office shows just how dangerous wrong way driving on a portion of I-25 in Santa Fe has become. Watch it here.

Senators Wants Artifacts Protected
US Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich will host a hearing at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center today to discuss the STOP Act, legislation which would increase penalties for and raise awareness of the trafficking of important Native American cultural artifacts.

Santa Fe County District Attorney Candidates Previewed
SFR previews the Santa Fe County District Attorney campaign in this week’s paper and writes that the Democrat and Republican candidates have two distinctly different visions for the office.
Democrat Marcos Serna sees a pulpit to expand cooperation between prosecutors and treatment programs, part of a mission to funnel addicts out of the criminal justice system. His ideas resonated among Democrats in this drug-ridden district, particularly Rio Arriba County, whose voters helped propel him above two opponents in a close primary race. Republican Yvonne Chicoine, who kicked off her Santa Fe career working for Republican state representatives, wants to “restore respect for the rule of law,” which she says has been tarnished in the district by selective prosecution.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the New Mexico House Clerk Denise Ramonas left town before sending one of the five budget tweaking bills passed in the special session, and that it still hasn't reached Gov. Susana Martinez' desk.

Wolf Recovery Plan Settlement Plan Approved
Lauren Villagran reports, “A federal judge has approved a settlement agreement requiring the US Fish and Wildlife Service to finish a long-overdue recovery plan for the endangered Mexican gray wolf within a year.”
The settlement compels Fish and Wildlife to complete a species recovery plan by the end of November 2017 that sets parameters for its management of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program, including where wolves should be allowed to roam as well as population targets.

The Advocate and The Hardliner

Choices for district attorney present starkly different visions for the office

FeaturesWednesday, October 19, 2016 by Steven Hsieh

The last time a Republican ran for District Attorney in the tri-county area comprising Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba, Gerald Ford sat in the White House. Now, for the first time in 40 years, residents of the Northern New Mexico region will choose their top prosecutor in a general election.

Democrat Marco Serna, a millennial native son with a recognizable name, takes on Yvonne Chicoine, a Republican with a wealth of experience working for political organizations and governments before recently switching to a legal career. They’re running to take over for Jennifer Padgett, Gov. Susana Martinez’ appointee to replace Angela “Spence” Pacheco, who retired last year after seven years in the position. Whoever wins will oversee 27 attorneys and 43 support staff across three offices and hold ultimate prosecutorial authority over all state offenses in the region.

The two candidates present starkly different visions for the office. Serna sees a pulpit to expand cooperation between prosecutors and treatment programs, part of a mission to funnel addicts out of the criminal justice system. His ideas resonated among Democrats in this drug-ridden district, particularly Rio Arriba County, whose voters helped propel him above two opponents in a close primary race. Chicoine, who kicked off her Santa Fe career working for Republican state representatives, wants to “restore respect for the rule of law,” which she says has been tarnished in the district by selective prosecution. She ran unopposed in June.

Chicoine is the clear underdog. About 64 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, while just 17 percent are Republicans. Even if the 17 percent of voters identifying as independents all vote for Chicoine, she still faces a challenge. (The rest are registered under third parties.)

The First Judicial District

Location: Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba Counties

Voters: 67 percent Democrat, 17 percent Republican

Area: 7,916 square miles

Staff: 27 attorneys and 43 support staff

Whoever wins inherits a heavy backlog of cases, a problem exacerbated by a hiring freeze resulting from budget cuts that took place during this month’s special legislative session, according to Padgett, the outgoing district attorney. Padgett adds that a lack of pretrial services, diversion programs and specialty courts also present challenges to her successor.

Marco Serna pulls his SUV up a long gravel driveway in a small neighborhood less than a mile north of the Penitentiary of New Mexico. It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon and he’s knocking on doors in the 70th voter precinct, an expansive patch of mostly-undeveloped land between La Cienega and Eldorado.

Serna gets out of his car and waves down David Babcock, a registered Democrat, before the retired home designer is able to drive away. Babcock notes that he’s in a hurry, but gives the candidate a moment to make his pitch.

“I’m really focusing on nonviolent drug offenders,” Serna tells his prospective constituent, who is listening through his rolled-down car window. “Trying to impose treatment with our sentencing, even with habitual offenders, rather than incarcerating them, is key,” Serna says, touting a 70 percent success rate for the Delancey Street rehab center at San Juan Pueblo.

Marco Serna

Party: Democrat

Law school: St. Mary’s University (San Antonio, Texas)

Last job: Medicaid Fraud Unit of the Attorney General’s office


“When you have people who suffer from addiction, so much good can be done by getting them into long-term treatment, rather than putting them in prison.”

“Some of those people, they need to be locked up,” Babcock interjects.

“Well, I agree with you. The violent offenders—”

“The habituals too. And the thieves.”

“Here’s the thing with habitual offenders,” Serna replies. “With a lot of them, it is theft, carjacking and burglaries, and after a certain point I agree with you. But your second or third offender, if we were to just get them into treatment, my view is we would see a decrease in crime across the board.”

Babcock, having heard enough of Serna’s stump speech, asks the Democrat his position on the death penalty. That evening, the House of Representatives would stay up through the night debating a bill supported by Gov. Martinez proposing to reinstate capital punishment. The chamber passed the proposal 36-30, but it later died in the Senate.

"If we were to just get them into treatment, my view is we would see a decrease in crime across the board."
                             -Marco Serna

“That little girl in Albuquerque, that 10-year-old girl, that’s what tells me they gotta put it back in,” Babcock says, referring to the case of Victoria Martens, whose rape, murder and dismemberment this summer horrified New Mexicans.

Serna says he opposes the death penalty due to the protracted appeals process for the condemned, which often drags on for decades and costs millions of dollars. He rattles off the other arguments invoked by opponents of capital punishment: It’s not a deterrent and there’s no way to reverse death. (Serna tells SFR he would seek the death penalty in extraordinary cases if the Legislature brings it back. “Do I have discretion? I do. But I still have to enforce the law,” he explains.)

The points don’t seem to stick with Babcock. “Some of these are clear-cut cases,” the voter says. Serna, ready to move on to the next home, asks the man if he has any other questions.

“I like that you’re a Democrat. I like that little conversation we had now. You’re straightforward, and it’s not like your hands are going to be tied. You’re not going to push any laws,” Babcock says. “I’ll vote for you. And I’ll vote for Hillary.”

Serna, who grew up in Northern New Mexico and is a 2008 graduate of St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, Texas, got his first job in New Mexico working on risk management for the state’s General Services Department. In his first two weeks, he got a taste of a federal trial, interviewing two witnesses. “I did a lot of cool things, to be honest,” he says of his time in the Risk Management Division. But Serna’s cases there, he says, too often wound up in mediation, and since law school he always felt most comfortable in the courtroom.

He applied for prosecutor and public defender openings before landing a gig in Valencia County as an assistant district attorney. Like most prosecutors, he started at the magistrate level, working DWIs and domestic violence cases. In 2011 he earned a promotion to supervise Valencia County’s domestic violence unit. He eventually moved over to Sandoval County, another jurisdiction covered in the district, becoming head of the violent crimes unit in 2013.

During that time, he tried two cases that continue to stick with him. The first is a child molestation case involving a man who allegedly performed oral sex on a 3-year-old girl while she slept. Parents did not report the alleged assault by someone they considered a family friend until after the girl described the incident to her mother, who had inquired about her daughter’s unusual behavior. The accused claimed that the girl may have dreamt the scenario. The trial resulted in a hung jury, with 11 of 12 jurors convinced of the man’s guilt.

“What really brings me back to this case is the young girl, the victim. She was so courageous through this process. She had to sit on the stand in a courtroom full of strangers, look at a jury box full of adults, attorneys who were asking her questions. And she was so courageous through the whole thing. I was heartbroken because justice, in my opinion, wasn’t served that day,” Serna says. “I think about that case on a weekly basis, because you wish you could’ve done better.”

Another case Serna often mentions is the murder trial of Jack McDowell, a retired state police officer convicted in the stabbing death of James Chavez, a Rio Rancho man, in 2011. Serna’s team presented the case that McDowell and his son John, both affiliated with the Bandidos motorcycle gang, attacked Chavez over drugs and a love interest. The older McDowell is currently serving a 30-year sentence for first-degree murder. “I was very proud to put him in prison,” he tells SFR. John McDowell pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated battery.

Serna resigned from his last job, working for the Attorney General’s Medicaid fraud unit, in January to run for office. He says he’s getting by on savings and a few legal consulting contracts.

During the primaries, Serna campaigned to the left of his opponents, incumbent Padgett and former assistant attorney general Maria Sanchez-Gagne. Padgett knew the office firsthand. Sanchez-Gagne had more than 20 years experience working as a prosecutor. To set himself apart, Serna emerged as the advocate.

His public comments almost always focused on a self-described “outside-the-box” approach to lower-level crimes arising out of addiction. Initiating long-term treatment programs, as he explained to Babcock, would be a priority in his administration. He vowed to expand pre-booking diversion programs, namely Santa Fe’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, to Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties. (LEAD grants police officers discretion to divert property and drug crime offenders, specifically habitual ones, straight to treatment programs, skipping prosecution.)

Marco Serna’s door-to-door game is strong.
Steven Hsieh

On the trail, Serna says he also wants to bring more cooperation between the district attorney’s office and nonprofit organizations, including the Delancey Street Foundation and the Solace Center, a crisis center for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

A New Mexico law passed in 1981 by the Legislature already grants state’s attorneys authority to divert prosecution for first-time nonviolent offenders. But Serna says that law, which imposes a six-month to two-year probationary period for participants, doesn’t go far enough. He tells SFR, “When you think of people who are addicted right now, a lot of these guys are habitual offenders. That program doesn’t help them. It imposes prison time. What do we accomplish by that?”

Serna says finding funding for his ideas amid a statewide budget crunch will be his biggest challenge. Yet, he says he won’t delay lobbying state, city and county governments on the topic. Reducing incarceration, Serna argues, will save money in the long run.

Peter K Enns, a Cornell University professor and author of Incarceration Nation, which tracks the rise of the United States prison population, says Serna’s rhetoric reflects a national reckoning over strict sentencing for drug offenders with roots in the crime waves of the ’80s and ’90s.

Bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to shrink America’s prison population by reducing mandatory minimums gained momentum during Barack Obama’s presidency, although those efforts have recently hit a snag. Obama, meanwhile, has recently commuted the sentences of hundreds of federal drug offenders.

Democratic New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich co-sponsored a bill to increase resources nationwide for combatting heroin and opioid addiction, which passed the US Senate but is currently stalled in the House.

“My sense is that [Serna’s campaign] is very much in line with the national interest in criminal justice reform,” Enns tells SFR. “It appears that in some areas district attorneys are also noticing that public attitudes and the criminal justice political climate have changed.”

Serna’s platform stops short of supporting drug decriminalization. “Your opioids, your heroin, methamphetamine, absolutely not. Marijuana, I wouldn’t actively support it, but I wouldn’t actively oppose it,” he says.

On another topic of national interest, officer-involved shootings, Serna offers perhaps his biggest turn from the current administration. Under Padgett, the district attorney ultimately gets to decide whether a police shooting was justified. She recently broke from a controversial practice of using secretive grand juries to investigate these cases. Serna wants to completely remove the district attorney’s involvement after police use deadly force, instead inviting a special prosecutor to take the reins.

“Why would we have the DA’s office, who works with these individuals day in and day out, not only investigate them, but determine whether we would prosecute them? There is an inherent conflict of interest,” Serna tells SFR.

Yvonne Chicoine thanks city police officers as they arrive at Derailed, a bar attached to the Sage Inn, where her campaign is holding an appreciation event for area law enforcement. Long tables stretch along a back wall, offering mostly-untouched sandwiches and donuts. Another table is topped with t-shirts, stickers and a stuffed chicken. The plush poultry references a mnemonic slogan Chicoine often uses to explain the pronunciation of her name: “Please remember this November. This chick will win. Vote ‘chick-win.’”

The Santa Fe Police Officers Union has endorsed Yvonne Chicoine in the race.
Steven Hsieh

About a dozen people show up to the event, among them Sgt. Troy Baker, president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association. Chicoine recently earned the endorsement of that union, as well as that of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Baker says Chicoine is the only attorney he knew of in the district attorney’s office to prosecute a case of battery on a police officer, claiming that other staffers in the office turned a blind eye to crimes against his colleagues.

“We know what we’re getting with her because we worked with her in the DA’s office. Our staff has individually had to deal with most of the previous administration there. If we get battered in our job, none of them would prosecute battery of a police officer. They would say, ‘Well, that’s your job.’ And that’s, to put it lightly, bullshit,” says Baker.

Yvonne Chicoine

Party: Republican

Law school: University of New Mexico

Last job: Appeals division of the Attorney General’s office


“We’re diminishing the rule of law if as a prosecutor I decide I’m not going to enforce certain laws.”

(A SFR review of data from the Administrative Office of the Courts found that more than 340 cases of crimes against police, from battery to aggravated assault, have been filed in the district since 2007. Twenty-five resulted in conviction.)

Baker’s claim buoys the crux of Chicoine’s platform: that there are certain categories of offenses that too many people get away with—three categories, to be specific. After battery of a police officer, the other two are crimes against businesses (shoplifting and embezzlement) and DWIs.

“We have had selective law enforcement in our community for a long time,” Chicoine tells SFR. “It does two things: It fosters lawlessness and stands as an impediment to people who obey the law.”

As an example, she shares an anecdote from her time working as an assistant district attorney under Pacheco. “What I was told when I was there is, ‘Once someone gets their first DWI, we really don’t care. We want to accumulate convictions until we get to the felony level.’” (Serna says first offenders should plead, second offenders are case-by-case, and third offenders should serve time.)

Like her Democratic opponent, Chicoine is relatively new to the field, graduating from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2007. But she has been involved in creating and influencing legislation for decades.

"We have had selective law enforcement in our community for a long time. It does two things: It fosters lawlessness and stands as an impediment to people who obey the law."
                     -Yvonne Chicoine

Chicoine’s career started in the late ’70s, when she worked as a policy advisor for the American Conservative Union, the DC political organization. In the next couple decades, she helped manage a trademark association and directed trade policy for a paper and wood lobbying group. She moved to Santa Fe in 1995 after marrying her husband, Tom Starke, a Los Alamos physicist who, now retired, now spends his time on DWI prevention programs.

But Chicoine didn’t slow down in the City Different. She helped edit a government operations report for the Gary Johnson administration and worked as a legislative analyst for Republican state representatives before landing a management job at a construction industry trade association. Then, at the age of 48, she went to law school.

In 2007, Chicoine started her legal career in the First Judicial District, the office she seeks to head, where she worked her way up from the magistrate level to trying crimes in district court.

She served as second chair in the high-profile prosecution of Jennifer Stephenson, the mother of Isaiah Apodaca, a 2-year-old Santa Fe child whose legs got caught between a fallen dresser and a bed railing. Acting on a suggestion from doctors, Chicoine and colleagues originally theorized that ligature marks on the boy’s legs came from ropes and charged Stephenson with first-degree child abuse. But after doctors, upon further inspection, decided that could not be the case, prosecutors dropped that charge and sought negligent child abuse and child abandonment.

A jury convicted Stephenson of the second charge, a decision reversed by an appeals court. The state Supreme Court last month upheld the reversal. “I agree with Justice Nakamura’s dissent,” Chicoine tells SFR, referring to Republican Judge Judith Nakamura, who argued that the prosecution had enough evidence to prove Isaiah would have cried through the night, such that Stephenson would have heard it.

After serving about four years in the district, Chicoine moved to a job in the attorney general’s office, working in the criminal appeals division. She prosecuted another headline case during this time, successfully convicting Curtis Jones in a decade-old case of child abuse resulting in death. Chicoine resigned this year to run for district attorney.

Chicoine’s platform presents as a conservative alternative to Serna’s advocacy-based campaign. The district attorney should be busy enforcing the law, she says, not creating programs or lobbying legislators. “If a shortstop is trying to do the second baseman’s job, that creates a void,” she explains to SFR.

Bringing up the recent push to reinstate capital punishment as an example, she says, “I think it is reasonable for the district attorney to comment on the language that might be in the law. But the political decision as to whether or not there should be a death penalty should not be in the equation for the district attorney.”

Chicoine doesn’t support the LEAD program, a Santa Fe city initiative, which she calls the “de facto decriminalization of drugs.” If elected district attorney, Chicoine says she would use the state’s diversion law in certain circumstances, but incarceration would be appropriate for people “who have adopted a criminal lifestyle.” In Chicoine’s eyes, poverty and addiction should not be an excuse for crime.

“If one wants to rehabilitate, one can do it without getting into the criminal justice system,” she says. “There are plenty of people in AA or NA who recognize that and don’t have criminal records.”

In many ways, Chicoine is exactly what you would expect from a district attorney: conservative and tough on crime. If Serna’s primary win in June is any indication, however, voters in the First Judicial District have different ideas in mind.

Asked whether she views her bid as a longshot, Chicoine says, “I think my campaign has changed the discussion.”

Fill This Blank

Local NewsWednesday, October 19, 2016 by Elizabeth Miller

Of the four seats open this year on the New Mexico Public Education Commission, the only contested race appears to be the write-in spot for District 10, representing the northern reaches of the state—including portions of Santa Fe County.

Two Democratic candidates, Tim Crone and Anthony Trujillo, are running write-in campaigns for the board responsible for advising the Secretary of Education and authorizing charter schools. Neither candidate could be reached for comment by press time. Crone is a retired humanities professor; Trujillo’s employment could not be verified.

Crone, however, has the support of the current District 10 Commissioner, Jeff Carr, who vacated the seat to run for Colfax County Commission. Crone also counts the New Mexico’s American Federation of Teachers as a supporter; he serves as its higher education vice president.

Crone attempted to make it onto the ballot but discrepancies regarding his address disqualified him. Both candidates’ campaign finance filings with the secretary of state indicate they have neither raised nor spent a single dollar toward their campaigns.

A winning write-in candidate must secure at least 2 percent of the votes cast in that jurisdiction, according to the Santa Fe County clerk’s office. And in this race, pundits say that requires more than 900 votes, although the state Elections Bureau did not respond to a request to confirm that figure. If an election doesn’t fill the seat, the governor appoints someone to it.

The other candidates for Districts 1, 4, and 9 are unopposed Democrats—to staff a board on which all members are already Democrats. The sole Republican commissioner resigned in May.

Editor's note: The Elections Bureau called after publication of this story to clarify that in a contested race, write-in candidates are not held to the 2 percent rule and instead the race goes to the candidate that secures the most votes.

Courtroom Delay

Local NewsWednesday, October 19, 2016 by SFR

Last week’s cover story featured SFR’s free press lawsuit against the Susana Martinez administration. Today, we have an update.

On Tuesday morning we learned our pre-Thanksgiving trial is now instead set to unfold with the spring blossoms.

Katherine Murray, one of two attorneys representing SFR, received exciting news this weekend: She’s going to be a mother. After waiting more than two years to adopt a child, Murray on Monday flew to Florida and met her newborn son.

Co-counsel Daniel Yohalem reached an agreement with Martinez’ team and District Judge Sarah Singleton to kick off the three-day trial on March 29, a Wednesday. That gives Murray ample time to decide whether she wants to continue working on our case. If not, Yohalem may need to find another co-counsel or fly solo.

“We’re very appreciative that the judge was able to find time on her calendar and the defendant was amenable to this change,” Yohalem says. “Sometimes events in our personal lives interrupt the work we’re doing and it is important to make room in our work lives for those events.”

We couldn’t agree more. This year, we’ve had two staffers go on maternity leave.

SFR’s trial concerns whether Gov. Martinez discriminated against this paper by ignoring our request for comment while providing other media outlets answers to nearly identical questions. We also claim the administration violated public records law by delaying or denying a number of our requests. 

Verde Searching for Green

City’s fund to jointly address climate change and poverty still needs effective strategy, secure funds

Local NewsWednesday, October 19, 2016 by Elizabeth Miller

When the mayor’s proposal to launch the Verde Fund debuted earlier this year, the principles—fighting climate change and assisting the city’s poorest residents—weren’t tough to get behind. But the practical measures of addressing both at the same time were another matter.

“I’m not one who is going to say, ‘Here is $300,000, come back in 90 days and tell me what you’re going to do with the money,’” Councilor Ron Trujillo said during the May 25 meeting when city councilors considered the resolution. “I’m sorry, I don’t work that way. I never have. I consider that bad government.”

Trujillo, as well as Councilors Chris Rivera and Joseph Maestas, voted against the resolution, but it passed.

“All I can say is, with that $300,000, I hope you guys spend it in the right way,” Trujillo said.

In the months since, Mayor Javier Gonzales and a team of city staff have been meeting to discuss just that—how to spend a small amount of startup capital, essentially, to demonstrate the city can make real strides against these complex, deeply entrenched issues.

“There is no shortage of opportunity to meet the goals of the resolution,” Gonzales tells SFR. “It’s finding that program that will have the quickest and highest impact given the resources that we have, and that’s taken some time and effort by the staff.”

He won’t take an idea back to the City Council, he says, until he has something he’s confident can be achieved given the resources made available—estimates which were not, he points out, quite at the level he had hoped to obtain.

The figure Trujillo cited is a ballpark starting point. City Council allocated the Verde Fund an estimated $300,000 expected to arrive in the form of “excess land use permit fees.” This is only part of the revenues projected to run half a million above what the Land Use Department planned to use for regular operations. The department has already requested it be allowed to spend an additional $123,000 above what was budgeted, in order to cover another full-time employee to assist in processing building permits as part of a revision to the city’s green building code set to go before the council on Oct. 26. Gonzales says he doesn’t expect that to chip into the fees set aside for the Verde Fund.

Projections are on track to see the department secure those “excess” fees, but the city has committed to not moving forward with spending any money on the Verde Fund until they actually have those dollars in hand, according to city spokesperson Matt Ross.

"Permits are up, but we won’t know for sure if it’s up enough until we actually realize that revenue. "
     -Matt Ross, city spokesman

“So far, yes, permits are up, but we won’t know for sure if it’s up enough until we actually realize that revenue,” Ross tells SFR. “That’s dependent on construction schedules, which is the reason why we can’t say exactly when that will be.”

Though Gonzales can cite no local research to support it—blaming a general absence of a conversation around this cross section before he started talking about the Verde Fund in February—the sense is that those living in poverty in Santa Fe will bear a disproportionate share of the costs of climate change. That toll is expected to manifest in higher costs for energy and healthy food, and limited access to items like solar panels.

A team of city staff—Alexandra Ladd from Economic Development and Affordable Housing, Renewable Energy Planner John Alejandro, Chris Sanchez from Community Services’ Children and Youth Commission, and Andrés Mercado from the Mobile Integrated Health Office—has been batting ideas around. Those have included pairing training in sustainability-focused jobs with GED completion to map out a course for those graduates to hold jobs with the city that also help the city toward its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040 and funding retrofits on homes to make them more energy efficient. How to track the social and economic effects of any program is also weighing on their minds.

“My feeling has been that we have this entire fall and towards the end of 2016 to really crystalize and determine whether, one, do we have a program that can move the needle and can be achievable?” Gonzales says. “And two, do we have enough resources to make that happen?”

“Confidential Sources or Methods”

Judge says police can’t always claim confidentiality when blocking records requests without first giving some proof

Local NewsWednesday, October 19, 2016 by Steven Hsieh

When Erin Noll asked three law enforcement agencies for records related to the fatal police shooting of her husband last year, they all denied her request.

The three entities—the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department, the Town of Edgewood and the state Department of Public Safety—cited a section of New Mexico’s public records law that exempts police from releasing records that would “reveal confidential sources, methods, information, or indiviudals accused but not charged with a crime.”

Noll sued for the records, only to be denied again. This time, the agencies deferred to then-District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco, who asked them to hold off on releasing any documents pending a grand jury investigation.

Pacheco never convened that grand jury. Neither did her successor, Jennifer Padgett, who this year stopped the practice of using special grand juries to investigate officers’ deadly use of force.

Five state police officers reportedly fired at Ethan Noll, a former Marine, after he stepped out of his truck carrying a rifle. The shooting happened after a 13-hour standoff. Padgett called the use of force “tragic,” but “appropriate.”

Cleared by the district attorney’s office, the three agencies in May handed Noll the records she asked for. But the police reports and video recordings didn’t seem to reveal anything senstive. All the officers involved in the shooting had already been identified by the Department of Public Safety. So Noll asked for attorney’s fees, on the basis that her request was improperly delayed.

One of the parties involved, Santa Fe County, settled with the widow for $6,000. In the agreement, the county does not admit to any wrongdoing. Asked whether the settlement will change the way the sheriff’s department handles records request, spokesman Juan Rios says, “We will continue to follow the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act as stipulated by law as we did in this particular instance.”

Following a bench trial last month, a district judge ruled that the other two agencies violated public records law by improperly invoking the confidentiality provision, commonly known as the “law enforcement exemption.”

Judge Francis J Mathews’ opinion, notably, does not declare whether records under review by a grand jury should fall under the law enforcement exemption. But it does say that when someone challenges a records denial, it is up to the agency in question to prove to a judge why certain records should be exempt. Neither the Department of Public Safety nor the Town of Edgewood took that step.

Mathews awarded Noll her attorney’s fees—$11,804 from the Department of Public Safety and $9,523 from Edgewood. Asked if the decision would change the agency’s IPRA policy, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said, “DPS is reviewing the decision and considering our options.”

Edgewood Police Chief Ron Crow, who took his post in July, tells SFR he’s not familiar with the case but noted, “I am very forthcoming with our records. When we can, I will release information.”

Both agencies gave notice that they would appeal the judgment.

“The intent of DPS and the Town of Edgewood was to delay the delivery of the requested documents until the District Attorney conducted a grand jury proceeding to review the officer involved shooting of Ethan Noll,” Mathews writes.

The decision could have broader implications for journalists, advocates and families seeking law enforcement records, according to Greg Williams, president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

“It’s a significant result in that the court rejected efforts to expand the law enforcement exemption into something that it is not,” Williams tells SFR. “The law enforcement entities have an independent obligation to produce public records. And they can’t take cover from a district attorney telling them not to release them.”

"The law enforcement entities have an independent obligation to produce public records. And they can’t take cover from a district attorney telling them not to release them."
      -Greg Williams, NMFOG

The City of Albuquerque in 2015 invoked the law enforcement exemption to block the release of cell phone footage of a skate park shootout that left one 17-year-old dead. A judge rejected that defense and ordered the release of the video.

Former Attorney General Gary King raised the same exemption when his office refused to release a 2013 audit of 15 behavioral health providers. Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration used the audit as a basis for freezing Medicaid payments to the providers, claiming fraud. King’s successor Hector Balderas released a version of the audit in January 2015, more than a year after a lawsuit from Las Cruces Sun-News and New Mexico In Depth.

In Noll’s case, lawyers for the Department of Public Safety said the department had an obligation to delay the release of the records and failing to do so would be violating state law that mandates police cooperation with district attorneys. Lawyers also argued that releasing the records too early could compromise an investigation.

Edgewood’s lawyers presented a similar line of argument: “When faced with what appears to be a reasonable request from the District Attorney, what is a law enforcement officer to do—ignore the District Attorney’s request?”

Noll’s attorney declined to speak with SFR on the record.

7 Days


7 DaysWednesday, October 19, 2016 by SFR


How does it feel?



Maybe instead of “Wrong Way,” the signs should say “Turn Around for Free Drinks.”



If you’ve been looking to transform into a mutant/superhero, you’d better get to it.



Great work, geniuses.



Such is the power of weed, you guys … Man, we could go for some gummi bears.



He just remembered that Halloween is coming.



And it looks kinda spooky.

BLM Delivers Blow

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