AG, SOS warn against election certification disruptions
Three New Mexico county commissions certified their Nov. 8 general election results yesterday as required by state law—including all three members of the Otero County Commission. ICYMI, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver had to sue the Otero County Commission last June after commissioners refused to certify their primary election results—citing debunked conspiracy theories about voting machines—and only did so—on a 2-1 vote—after ordered to by the state Supreme Court. Should any county commissions refuse to certify their general election results, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Attorney General Hector Balderas say they are ready to spring into action. “Our offices are aware that election conspiracy theorists who have played a role in recent attempts to undermine New Mexico’s elections may be now attempting to enlist county commissions to thwart legal certification of the 2022 General Election results,” a joint statement from Toulouse Oliver and Balderas released yesterday says. The AG’s office says it “has a legal team ready to take action against any attempts to interfere with legal certification of the 2022 General Election,” and the Secretary of State’s office sent the state’s county commissions an advisory regarding their duties on that front. “New Mexico voters deserve to have their voices heard in full and any attempt to silence those voters through manipulation of the election certification process will be met with swift legal action,” Toulouse Oliver and Balderas say.
Relatedly, the state Supreme Court yesterday denied an appeal from former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin regarding his removal from office for participating in the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol (Griffin also was the lone holdout against certifying the Otero County’s primary election results). “This is an affirmation that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment can and should be enforced against all the January 6th insurrectionists who took an oath to defend the Constitution, whether they are current or former officeholders,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel Donald Sherman said in a statement. “Today is an important day for our democracy.” Earlier this month, CREW—which represented New Mexico residents in their case against Griffin—said it would also pursue Donald Trump’s disqualification under the 14th amendment should he run for president again—which Trump announced yesterday he is in fact doing.
LFC: State paying millions for unused offices
A new report from the state Legislative Finance Committee says state government is spending up to $18 million a year on office space it isn’t using. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to remote work, the state was over-estimating its office space needs, the report notes, in part because it used budgeted full-time employees as a benchmark, despite a 21% statewide employee vacancy rate. Pandemic teleworking has exacerbated the under-use of the state’s roughly 22 million square feet of owned and leased building space: “Over multiple site visits, LFC staff found entire office buildings and several building floors of unused office space,” the report says. “For example, almost all employees of one agency occupying a building with a $1.2 million annual lease continue to telework, and the agency had no existing return-to-work plan.” Among other recommendations, the report says the state “needs to proactively plan and manage agency space use, including telework practices” and “plans for a new $221.6 million executive office building should be revised for cost increases and telework.” The Albuquerque Journal reports some lawmakers say the LFC findings should prompt Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration to assess its remote work policies’ impact on operations. Governor spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett told the Journal there are no plans to downsize office space at this time as the state transitions “out of pandemic-era state policies.”
EDD defends job creation programs
The state Economic Development Department yesterday issued an extensive response to recent reporting that followed the release of a Legislative Finance Committee analysis of the state’s Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) and Job Incentive Training Program (JTIP). The report, generally, recommended additional transparency measures for LEDA and an annual report for JTIP, writing in its executive summary that “JTIP and LEDA sometimes creates fewer quality jobs than projected, and funds are not always clawed back for unfulfilled job promises. The state does not monitor the actual impacts of JTIP and LEDA, hampering economic development decision-making.” In its response, EDD said LFC’s report that 33 of the 101 LEDA projects under evaluation from 2016 through 2021 did not meet the job requirements “misled some readers to think that companies are holding onto taxpayer funding and did not create any jobs.” Such interpretation, EDD says, “is a significant distortion of the facts.” (EDD specifically pointed at a headline from the Santa Fe New Mexican, but the link to that story on the New Mexican’s website does not appear to be working at present). While EDD’s explanation and statement is long, to wit: “Of the 33 projects, two-thirds are projects from the prior administration—only 11 are from this administration. Of these 11, eight do not have any taxpayer funding—they had a 100% clawback or reversion. The other three companies are still open in New Mexico.” And of those three, two had job numbers impacted by the pandemic but remain “in good standing,” while EDD is in the process of seeking clawbacks from the third. Moreover: “Our mission is to help companies create jobs, not punish them and make it harder to survive and succeed if they miss targets that seemed reasonable and achievable when they were set years ago in an easier labor market,” the EDD statement says.
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported Nov. 15: New cases: 816; 637,216 total cases. Deaths: five; Santa Fe County has had 366 total deaths; there have been 8,684 fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 171; Patients on ventilators: five.Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, Deputy DOH Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón and University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anna Duran will provide an update on COVID-19, RSV, flu and monkeypox at 1 pm, Thursday, Nov. 17 on the DOH Facebook page and with Spanish translation on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s YouTube page.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Nov. 10 “community levels” map, which uses a combination of hospital and case rate metrics to calculate COVID-19 risk for the prior seven-day period, now categorizes eight New Mexico counties as “red” for COVID-19—with high risk—including Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos and Rio Arriba counties, along with Bernalillo, Sandoval, McKinley and San Juan (last week, only McKinley County was red). Seven New Mexico counties are “yellow” and the rest of New Mexico’s counties continue to have “green,” aka low, levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.
Resources: CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; Curative testing sites; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.
You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.
Ramirez Thomas Elementary School bilingual first grade teacher Bryan Cruz followed in his father’s footsteps (despite his father warning him off of the profession). In a recent episode of the Inside SFPS podcast, Cruz talks with host and Santa Fe Public Schools Public Information Officer Cody Dynarski about deciding to become a teacher anyway; growing up between the US and Mexico; and the challenges of teaching first graders remotely during the pandemic and in-person now. As always, Dynarski asks his guest for the best teaching advice they’ve received from a mentor; Cruz’s: “Always have a Plan B.”
New Mexico’s outdoor economy continues to grow at a faster rate than the rest of the country, based on recent figures from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. In New Mexico, the outdoor economy accounted for $2.3 billion or 2.1% of the state GDP last year—$400 million more than in 2020, and a 2.5% higher growth rate than the industry experienced nationally. Outdoor rec also employed 28,475 New Mexicans—an 18.2% increase from the year prior and over 5% above the US average. The growth in the state’s outdoor economy dovetails with the 2019 creation of its Outdoor Recreation Division, which has distributed close to $12 million in funding to various outdoor infrastructure and youth initiatives. “When Gov. Lujan Grisham identified outdoor recreation as a way to bring more opportunities and jobs to the state and diversify the economy, this was the vision,” Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said in a statement. “This data demonstrates how New Mexico continues to be a national leader in the outdoor industry. ORD initiatives will further sustain and advance the growth we continue to see in this strategic sector of our state’s economy.”
Native American hoop dancer ShanDien Sonwai LaRance of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (Hopi, Tewa, Navajo and Assiniboine) provides Lonely Planet with a local’s guide to New Mexico. “What I love most about my home of New Mexico are the desert landscapes and the influence of both Indigenous and Spanish cultures,” LaRance writes. “I also love the fresh air, open skies and sunsets.” She recommends starting in Santa Fe for an ideal New Mexico day and to experience both art and the outdoors. LaRance’s guide also includes a drive on the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos. “The winding route will give you a picturesque tour of a stunning landscape while taking you past many adobe homes, as well as towns with art studios and works for sale by other creators. Just north of Taos you’ll find Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old pueblo village and Unesco World Heritage Site.” In between, she notes, don’t miss Bandelier National Monument: “One important part of our culture is our connection to the earth and to this land, and Bandelier National Monument represents a strong piece of this history. Here, you’ll see caves and alcoves that were home to ancestral Puebloans until the mid-1500s.”
The National Weather Service forecasts another cold day with a high temperature near 32 degrees, and a slight chance for snow flurries between 11am and 2 pm, followed by an equally slight chance of “sprinkles” after 2 pm. It will be otherwise partly sunny with northeast wind around 5 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. In other words, today is not a snow today, but speaking of which, the most recent episode of Santa Fe Public Schools Inside SFPS podcast features SFPS Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez discussing the protocols for snow days and delays.
Thanks for reading! Upon perusing this month’s Harper’s Index, The Word learned that a private equity firm owns a minimum of 278 Leonard Cohen songs as collateral against debt (she then visited said private equity firm’s website…and checked out its playlists).