Morning Word

Native Americans Propose Plan to Protect, Increase Voting Power

Former state House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton faces 28 criminal charges

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 1,525 new COVID-19 cases for the three-day period of Sept. 18-20, bringing the total number of cases to 246,229. DOH has designated 215,480 of them as recovered. Bernalillo County had 380 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 125 and San Juan County with 111. Santa Fe County had 70 new cases.

The state also announced 14 additional deaths, 11 of them recent; there have now been 4,689 total fatalities. As of yesterday, 310 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 44 fewer than Friday.

Currently, 79.4% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 69.8% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-to-17-year-old age group, 63.1% people have had at least one dose and 52.9% are fully inoculated. In Santa Fe County, among those 18 years and older, 90.5% have had at least one dose and 80.4% are fully vaccinated.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Native American group submits redistricting proposals

The All Pueblo Council of Governors’ Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee and the Native Redistricting Coalition have submitted proposed redistricting changes that would increase Indigenous voting power. All told, the coalition submitted three maps, for US congressional districts, as well as state House and Senate districts. “We are confident this map upholds the principles of redistricting that we outlined at the onset of the redistricting process; chiefly and most self-evident is a tribe’s independent right to self determination,” a statement introducing the map concepts says. “Through the proposed boundary changes, we worked hard to maintain tribal voting power, develop new voting districts with Native American influence and to bring New Mexico closer to parity after a century of voter disenfranchisement and suppression.” Some of the specific changes include creating new borders for the Jicarilla Apache nation to “bring it into a shared community with other Pueblos” in House District 65, and expanding Senate District 30 to become “a Native American influence district” by including the Pueblo of Isleta and significant portions of the Pueblo of Zuni. The maps were submitted through the state’s Citizen Redistricting Committee mapping portal, where the committee is collecting proposed maps and comments. The CRC is slated to decide on Oct. 15 which proposals to forward to the state Legislature. Lawmakers will then have the option of adapting some or all of the proposed maps or creating their own.

Former lawmaker Stapleton indicted on 26 felonies

Former state lawmaker Sheryl Williams Stapleton faces 26 felony and two misdemeanor charges, following a grand jury indictment last week; the charges were filed yesterday in the 2nd Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County. Those charges include racketeering and money laundering for Stapleton’s alleged participation in a scheme that re-routed $950,000 from a contract she oversaw between Albuquerque Public Schools and the DC-based Robotics Management Learning Systems into personal and business accounts. Stapleton was fired from her job at APS and resigned from her position in the Legislature, where she had represented District 19 in Albuquerque since 1994 as a Democratic lawmaker. She also faces charges of receiving illegal kickbacks and engaging in official acts for financial gain. Stapleton faces significant jail time, including four felony counts that each carry nine-year prison sentences. “The investigation focused on protecting students and the funding intended for their educational services, as public officials must act in the best interests of students,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement. “Our office looks forward to presenting this case before a jury.”

Senators sue Gov

State Sens. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque and Greg Baca, R-Belen, have filed suit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and are petitioning the state Supreme Court to halt any use of what remains of the state’s federal American Rescue Plan funds—approximately $1.1 billion. The suit represents the latest conflict over those funds. Last April, the governor vetoed the Legislature’s plans for distribution, prompting Republicans lawmakers to call for an extraordinary session in order to allocate them (this did not come to pass). The state used more than $600 million to replenish its Unemployment Insurance Fund, which was tapped during the pandemic, and to repay a federal Labor Department loan. “We have filed this petition to halt the Governor’s unconstitutional efforts to usurp the Legislature’s appropriations power by claiming that she, and she alone, has the power to decide how billions of dollars in federal grant funds are spent,” Candelaria said in a statement. “In our country, no one is above the law and no one person should ever have the power to decide, unilaterally, how much people are taxed or how public money is spent.” The governor’s spokeswoman, Nora Meyers Sackett, told the Albuquerque Journal the state Supreme Court—which has not yet taken up the senators’ petition—has already “made clear” the Legislature’s authority over state, and not federal, funds.

Listen up

In the most recent episode of the Growing Forward podcast, hosts Megan Kamerick and Andy Lyman talk with three of the 17 members appointed to the new Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee: Chairwoman Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of Resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance; Vice Chairman Perry Martinez, former governor of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso; and Steven Jenison, former chairman of the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board. The committee members discussed their advisory role, which will include creating recommendations for the state’s equity plan; pending legal questions regarding sovereign tribal nations’ participation in the cannabis industry; and efforts to ensure the state’s medical cannabis patients continue to be served adequately.

Leaf peepers

Fodors leans into the road trip/fall foliage story trend, with a recent round-up of the best sojourns for spotting autumnal colors. In New Mexico, Fodors recommends the New Mexico Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which begins in Taos where, the story notes, drivers will “encounter Taos Pueblo’s storied multi-level skyline.” From there, author Molly O’Brien recommends heading to Arroyo Hondo and onto Questa, “situated among wonderful hiking and camping destinations for peeping at fall foliage, including Cabresto Lake, Mallette Canyon and Midnight Meadows.” Then onto former mining town Red River, she says: “When the mining fizzled out, the town became known for its beautiful high alpine scenery and its switchback roads through the old mining country. Next, the route runs through Bobcat Pass and descends into the high alpine Moreno Valley, bounded by some of the most spectacular peaks in New Mexico. Close the circle by heading back toward Taos.”

Game plan

Because we’re not generally readers of sports news, we missed the New York Times’ New Mexico shout-out earlier this month in a story on the return of college football. Specifically, the Times opens its story amongst tailgaters waiting for the Lobos’ first game back at the University of New Mexico. The team decamped its home state last year in response to public health law restrictions to practice and play in Las Vegas, Nevada; the team returned to play in New Mexico at the start of this month. “Football is a game, I think, that is fantastic in a stadium,” Elton Hodgson, a retired Albuquerque police officer, tells the Times. “If you watch it on TV, you get the replays and all that stuff. But there’s just a feel of being in a crowd and a stadium. You just can’t replace that.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal looks at college athletic programs’ attempts to recoup financial losses during the pandemic, including “alcohol sales, gambling partnerships and even cannabis sponsorships.” That includes New Mexico State University, which “added Pistol Pete’s Six Shooter rye whiskey to its arsenal of official athletic department beer and wine.”

All fall in a day

The National Weather Service appears to have revised its forecast a bit—we awoke anticipating temps in the high 60s today— but we are still looking at a perfectly autumnal high of 72 degrees on an otherwise sunny and windy afternoon. Enjoy today’s fall-like notes while you can, as we head back into summer territory tomorrow (presumably today will not be our only fall day this year, although now we can’t help think of that traumatic Ray Bradbury story we had to read in grade school).

Thanks for reading! The Word not only devoured this story about potentially stolen locks of Emily Dickinson’s hair selling for $450,000 on eBay, but she’d see the movie, were anyone to make one.

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