Morning Word

State Budget Heads to Governor

City of Santa Fe considers decreasing campaign finance transparency

Budget heads to governor; malpractice bill to House

A record-setting $9.6 billion budget is now in the governor’s hands, following the state House’s concurrence with Senate amendments. The final version of House Bill 2 represents an approximate 13.7% increase from last year. The budget, Democrats emphasize, prioritizes education, with an 8% increase for public school funding, totaling $302 million. “As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to invest wisely, save prudently and always act in the best interest of New Mexicans,” House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, said in a statement. “With that in mind, we worked across chambers and across the aisle to create a budget that addresses the urgent needs of communities across the state, maintains robust reserves and responsibly invests in New Mexico’s future.” In other high stakes news from the Roundhouse, as it approaches its March 18 conclusion, the state Senate yesterday, after weeks of debate, passed SB 523, amending the Medical Malpractice Act, on a 40-2 vote. The bill caps claims for independent health care facilities, such as urgent care, ambulatory surgical centers and free-standing emergency rooms that are not hospital controlled, and caps damages recoverable from an injury or death to a patient at an independent outpatient facility as a result of malpractice. “Problems get solved when parties involved come together, in this case our doctors and trial lawyers who agreed on a long-term solution that allows independent clinics to obtain malpractice insurance,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement. “This compromise provides stability for current practices and more certainty for new outpatient facilities looking to open in New Mexico. And, patients who have been harmed are protected because outpatient clinics remain in the state’s patient compensation fund.” That bill will now be considered by the House.

City considers rolling back campaign finance transparency

The City of Santa Fe’s campaign finance laws could be in for a major re-haul in advance of November’s municipal election—one the city’s ethics committee says could negatively impact transparency during the next campaign season. SFR reports this week city councilors are considering a 49-page bill that would change Santa Fe’s campaign finance laws in what backers say is a bid to make the dense code easier to understand and represent the latest chapter in the city’s ongoing struggle in how to regulate dark money in city races. The city’s current law requires groups that spend more than $500 on any form of “public communication” supporting or opposing a candidate must report that spending and identify anyone who donated more than $25 to the efforts. The changes, which City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic supports, would eliminate a section of the municipal code regulating “independent expenditures,” aka advertising and other campaigning by advocacy groups that are not formally connected to a candidate’s campaign—potentially shielding thousands of dollars of expenditures from scrutiny. Those new rules could also potentially create confusion by only applying to ads that constitute “an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate or ballot question.” Speaking of transparency, SFR details its ongoing challenges wresting information from the City of Santa Fe Police Department as part of this week’s broader look at government secrecy across the US.

State Senate confirms Romero to lead NM PED

New Mexico has an education secretary again—its fourth in about as many years: the state Senate yesterday confirmed Arsenio Romero, a former superintendent of Los Lunas Schools and lifelong educator. Romero says he’s not going anywhere: “I am right where I want and need to be,” he said in a statement. “I understand the vast cultural capital that exists in our state and know that our children will not succeed in spite of where they come from, but rather they will succeed because of where they come from.” Romero also served as CEO of Deming Public Schools; an assistant superintendent for instruction and transformation for the Roswell Independent School District; and, since 2013, has been a lead performance coach/executive coach for PED, among other positions. “Secretary Romero has lived the education experience as a student, teacher and leader,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “His expansive resume speaks for itself during this crucial moment as we increase student outcomes and elevate New Mexico education on the national stage.” Romero says in his new position he intends to boost graduation rates and focus on career and technical education; structured literacy; and teacher recruitment and retention, among other goals. “He is the kind of thinker we need now,” Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said upon Romero’s confirmation. The state Senate yesterday also confirmed Robert E. Doucette Jr. as the new General Services Department secretary and Donnie Quintana as Department of Veterans Services secretary.

NM unemployment remains low

The state Department of Workforce Solutions reports ongoing low unemployment in New Mexico, with New Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 3.5% in January, unchanged from December and down from 5.4% the prior year. The Albuquerque Journal reports that January’s unemployment rate was the lowest it’s been since 2007, although it was slightly higher than the national average of 3.4%. As for February’s numbers, they are expected later this month. Data shows the year-over-year increase of 24,700 jobs primarily came from the private sector. Drilling down into private service-providing industries, leisure and hospitality was up 5,900 jobs, or 6.6%; employment in professional and business services increased by 3,600 jobs, or 3.2%. Private education and health services gained 3,600 jobs, or 2.6%; and health care and social assistance rose by 3,000 jobs, or 2.5%. While government employment grew by 4,000 jobs year-over-year, almost all of that growth came from the state versus the federal government. Additional analysis from the Labor Market Review is scheduled to be released tomorrow, DWS says.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported March 15: New cases: 298; 671,954 total cases. Deaths: two; Santa Fe County has had 402 total deaths; 9,072 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 98. Patients on ventilators: eight

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent March 9 “community levels” map shows the entire state with green—aka low—levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; 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.

Listen up

On the most recent episode of Heating it Up, host Cheryl Alters Jamison catches up with Josh Gerwin, owner/chef of Dr. Field Goods, to discuss his newest venture, Santa Fe Bar & Grill, which he acquired last November. Gerwin, also the recent big winner at this year’s Souper Bowl, discusses his ongoing consolidation of Dr. Field Goods and, soon, his butcher shop, in the DeVargas Mall location. “It’s been exciting and busy and it’s all been going really well,” Gerwin says. “I’m really blessed that when I took over Santa Fe Bar & Grill, they had a complete staff that does a great job.” As for transitioning the menu, he says it’s been taking it slow. “The Santa Fe Bar & Grill, one of the great things about it, it’s been there for so long and has such great clientele and such great following; I didn’t want to change anything on their menu that had been around for so long and upset the folks, it’s been a careful transition for that.” ICYMI, SFR had a tasty bite at the new Santa Fe Bar & Grill last month.

Ride ‘em, cowboy

Deadline magazine describes photographer Luke Gilford’s feature debut, National Anthem, “as rich in personality as a Diane Arbus snap but, dramatically, about as punchy as an installment of High School Musical.” Moreover, it “arrives at a time when everything it celebrates is under attack, and such a low-key affirmation of personal growth and freedom might actually be what we really need right now.” The film premiered last week a SXSW. Plot: “Dylan lives an isolated life of routine in rural New Mexico, working odd construction jobs to help support his little brother and alcoholic mother. He accepts a gig working at the House of Splendor, a homestead built by a community of queer rodeo performers and ranchers, and soon the indefinable magic of an untamed America unfolds before him.” The movie builds off Gilford’s book of the same title, which photographically documents America’s gay rodeo subculture. Gilford grew up in Colorado and, with his father, spent time in mainstream rodeo culture, but discovered gay rodeo culture after he returned to the Southwest. “It was a way to reconnect to Western culture which I love so much but was sort of excluded from as I discovered how homophobic and patriarchal and racist and just toxic the mainstream rodeo can be so to discover this subculture was like a beacon of hope,” Gilford says in a recent interview. As for the challenges in directing his first film, which was shot in 17 days: “No one told us when we were shooting in New Mexico that it was the windy season that we were there. So there’s some scenes that are very windy. Our boom operator blew away like Mary Poppins when there were dust storms and all kinds of crazy things happened.” Watch Gilford and the cast talk with The Hollywood Reporter about how the movie breaks the archetypal idea of the cowboy.

On and off the road in Santa Fe

Santa Fe isn’t just good for vacations. It’s good for repeat vacations. So says travel writer Matt Kirouac in a story for Thrillist magazine, who traveled full-time in an RV for half a year before deciding to “hit the brakes” here. “Some destinations aren’t meant for just a passing glance,” Kirouac writes. “Some places become a home away from home: a vacation you can put on repeat.” While he’d fallen for several spots while traversing much of the US since 2018, Kirouac found a special connection in Santa Fe. Why? Let us count the ways. Whoo’s Donuts. Turquoise. Leather boots. Meow Wolf. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Mountains. Forest. Etc. As it happens, Kirouac was on the road when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and decided to shelter-in-place here: “While I couldn’t go out to restaurants or museums, I could hole up for a couple months in my favorite RV park, binge Agatha Christie books in my hammock, or hike up Atalaya Peak, whose arduous ascent never ceases to culminate with jaw-dropping views of the adobe-filled valley. The city was ready to be my refuge during uncertain times,” he writes.The city also proved an inclusive queer space for Kirouac, and provided comfort as he went through a divorce. Long story short: “Santa Fe nourished me during solo travels, soothing wounds and connecting me to myself—and now it’s a place to celebrate new moments of my life with my new fiancé.”

Out like a lion

The National Weather Service forecasts a 70% chance for precipitation today, with chances for showers and thunder throughout the day. It will otherwise be mostly cloudy, with a high temperature near 51 degrees and southwest wind 15 to 20 mph decreasing to 10 to 15 mph in the afternoon. We have about the same likelihood of rain and snow showers tonight with new snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Thanks for reading! The Word is enjoying viewing Atlantic magazine’s presentation of the winners of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards Open Competition (also viewable on the World Photography Organisation’s website).

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