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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

AP: Gov. Susana Martinez Plans to Cut Food Assistance to Elderly, Disabled

If you're following the mean-spirited and misguided actions of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and her supporters, you know it just keeps getting worse and worse. Today, the AP is reporting that the Martinez administration is proposing to end a program on July 1st that provides food assistance for about 4,000 low-income elderly and disabled New Mexicans. Martinez plans to end a state program that supplements federal food stamp benefits for the elderly and disabled to ensure they get at least $25 a month in assistance. No, I'm not kidding. It's that bad:

"As you can imagine, $12 a month for these households can mean a lot of food," said Patricia Anders, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. "That can be a whole basket, including whole grain bread, a dozen eggs, a box of cereal, a gallon of milk, a pound of apples, some frozen vegetables and some tuna. That's what we're taking away from the plates of our elderly, seniors and disabled folks every month by cutting this program."

In response, Scott Forrester, Executive Director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, released the following statement.

"Cutting food assistance to the elderly poor during tough economic times is not a value shared by New Mexican's and the Martinez administration needs to stop this act of cruelty. From the Ryan budget that imperils Social Security and Medicare to this blatant attack on New Mexico's poor, New Mexicans are starting to see that Susana Martinez and the Republicans don't care one bit about the plight of our most vulnerable citizens during these tough times."

"Martinez had an opportunity to preserve these benefits for our struggling seniors, but chose not to take it. She could have closed a wasteful tax loophole that lets wealthy companies hide their profits. Now she's balancing the budget on the backs of the poor."

May 31, 2011 at 04:56 PM in Democratic Party, Food and Drink, Senior Citizens, Susana Martinez | Permalink | Comments (6)

Udall: Reauthorizing Patriot Act Is Mistake; NM Congressional Dems Vote No

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), took to the Senate floor last Wednesday to reaffirm his opposition to the Patriot Act, saying that the law undermines the constitutional right to privacy of law-abiding citizens (see video clip above). Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also spoke against the rushed reauthorization. Thank goodness at least a few Senators spoke out to demand some serious debate about this controversial law and question its validity ten years since 9-11. However, not enough others in Congress seemed to be listening -- not to mention President Obama.

Udall’s remarks came as the Senate prepared to vote on a four-year reauthorization of the three controversial provisions within the law that fail to protect the privacy rights of innocent Americans and do nothing to guard against potential abuse. Those provisions are: roving wiretaps, government access to ‘any tangible items’ such as library or business records and the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

NM Congressional Dems Vote No
Unfortunately, on Thursday, the reauthorization passed the House by a margin of 250 to 153 and passed the Senate by a vote of 72 to 23. The legislation was quickly signed by the president -- via autopen from France. Not good. However, I'm very pleased to report that the entire Democratic congressional delegation from New Mexico -- Represenatives Martin Heinrich (NM-01) and Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03) and Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman -- all voted against the measure.

As Sen. Udall explained in a written statement, The Patriot Act –- which was first passed nearly a decade ago in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks –- did not receive the necessary congressional debate and scrutiny before it was passed. Only after Congress blindly expedited the passage of the far-reaching piece of legislation, was its power to undermine the constitutional right to privacy of law-abiding citizens revealed.

Ten Years Later
Udall, a member of the House of Representatives at the time, expressed deep concerns about the bill –- and was one of only 66 members to vote against its passage.

“Almost ten years later, we still haven’t had the debate that we need to have on this piece of legislation. The world’s greatest deliberative body has not weighed in with amendments. We have not moved forward in a serious way to try and tackle this piece of legislation that is so important to our country, to our freedom, to our liberty,”Udall said during his floor remarks.

Udall also voted against a procedural maneuver in the Senate that would allow quick consideration and passage of the reauthorization, and noted that he voted against final passage in part because it had not been thoroughly debated –- or had an adequate opportunity to be amended –- by the full Senate.

In 2009, Udall helped introduce the Judiciously Using Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act to address those concerns.

“To govern in a post-9/11 world, we have to strike the delicate balance of thwarting the terrorist actions of some, without infringing on the constitutional guarantees of the vast many. We are failing to strike that balance today by forcing this reauthorization of the Patriot Act without scrutinizing the long-term ramifications of the law,” Udall said. 

ACLU Files FOIA Request
Meanwhile, the ACLU today filed a new Freedom of Information request demanding that the Justice Department release information about the government's use and interpretation of Section 215, which is perhaps the most controversial of the provisions that Congress reauthorized. It allows the FBI to obtain “any tangible things” -- like business records about customers. The organization anticipates litigating the request. The battle for civil liberties in America continues unabated.

May 31, 2011 at 03:01 PM in Civil Liberties, Homeland Security, Obama Administration, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Terrorism | Permalink | Comments (2)

Udall Cosponsors Bill to Use Green Infrastructure to Conserve Water

U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have introduced legislation to help address the nation’s water challenges by encouraging the research, development and promotion of new green infrastructure technologies and designs, which use natural processes to combat polluted stormwater runoff. Companion legislation was also introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD).

As a statement released by Sen. Udall's office explained, in New Mexico and the Southwest, drought conditions continue to worsen from extreme to exceptional across the state, adversely effecting agriculture and causing high fire risks. The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act would promote green infrastructure to conserve water by helping to recharge groundwater acquifers. Other parts of the nation are suffering from extreme flooding, and green designs of water infrastructure also work to reduce flooding by limiting stormwater runoff.

"Water quality is an issue facing states across the country, but it is particularly urgent in the arid southwest and my home state of New Mexico, where extreme droughts are becoming the norm," Udall said. "By promoting greener design of stormwater infrastructure, we can create jobs, save on construction costs and increase groundwater re-charge that will enhance our water resources."

The Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act defines "green infrastructure'' to mean stormwater management techniques that preserve, restore, enhance or mimic natural hydrology, such as green roofs, porous pavements and ground cover, or vegetated channels and detention areas that reduce the burden of storm water on wastewater infrastructure and the environment. A more detailed description and pictures of green infrastructure for stormwater can be found here.

The legislation would require the EPA's Office of Water to promote and coordinate the use of green infrastructure for stormwater management and accept these natural stormwater designs in its permitting and enforcement activities. EPA's regional offices would complete similar efforts tailored to the water quality conditions in different parts of the country.

The proposal introduced by the senators, who are all members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, further authorizes technical assistance and project grants to local wastewater utilities for green infrastructure projects that take advantage of these alternative techniques to stormwater management.

The legislation also would establish up to five regional centers of excellence that would spearhead the research and development of new stormwater management techniques, which use soil and plant life to filter storm water polluted by sediments and chemicals on the surface before it reaches nearby bodies of water. The legislation does not create new regulatory requirements, but rather seeks to expand the options for communities to achieve clean water standards.

The bill is supported by a wide variety of organizations, including the National Association of Clean Water Agencies; Natural Resources Defense Council; American Rivers; American Public Works Association; Water Environment Federation; Center for Neighborhood Technology; Clean Water Action; and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.

"Green infrastructure incorporates natural systems that can help supply clean water, reduce polluted runoff and sewer overflows, minimize flooding and enhance community health and safety. Proven solutions like planting trees and installing green roofs, rather than enlarging sewers, will also save communities money. This bill helps move our water management into the 21st century and gives communities the reliability and predictability they need in an uncertain future," said Andrew Fahlund, Senior Vice President of Conservation at American Rivers.

In New Mexico, supporting organizations include Amigos Bravos, the New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Albuquerque-Bernalillo Water Utility Authority, and Upper Gila Watershed Alliance.

"As impacts from storm events increase with climate change, good stormwater management becomes the single most important factor in maintaining the health of New Mexico's rivers, and the communities that depend on them," said Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos. "Amigos Bravos applauds Senators Udall and Whitehouse for their leadership and vision in promoting the use of natural low-impact solutions to control the widespread damage caused by severe storm events, including polluted run-off.”

In Rhode Island, the legislation is supported by the Narragansett Bay Commission.

"We applaud Senator Whitehouse and Senator Udall for their leadership on this important issue," said NBC Executive Director Ray Marshall. "We look forward to working with them in increasing the federal resources available for implementation of green infrastructure projects and in raising the profile of the many benefits these investments provide."

“From the devastating floods last year, to the health-based beach closures we face in Rhode Island after heavy rains, it’s clear that we need improved techniques to handle storm water runoff.  When developers in our state incorporate green infrastructure into their projects, it results in infrastructure jobs, cleaner water, and higher revenues from beach tourism.  This bill builds on the progress made by Rhode Island and other states working to encourage green infrastructure,” Whitehouse said.

“Stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, negatively impacting the plants, animals and people that depend on it,” said Cardin. “Promoting these new green infrastructure techniques is another critical way we can protect our nation’s waterways and engage our communities in the effort.” 

“Green infrastructure can reduce our energy consumption, create good jobs and promote environmental stewardship and long-term economic development. But more must be done to learn the best practices and incentivize future projects,” Edwards said. “The regional centers established in this legislation will work with our communities to ensure that projects effectively manage stormwater flow and improve water quality, bringing us closer to a clean-energy economy and improving our outdated water infrastructure. I am proud to join Senators Udall, Whitehouse and Cardin in introducing this important legislation.”

May 31, 2011 at 12:30 PM in Green Economy, Sen. Tom Udall, Water Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sen. Eric Griego: More Tax Breaks for the Rich Will Not Cut National Debt

6a00d834519ed469e20147e2a4a36d970b-800wi This is a guest blog by State Senator Eric Griego.

It’s been a tough week for Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress. First there was the stinging defeat by Kathy Hochul in a Republican Congressional stronghold in New York. Then the next day the U.S. Senate rejected the budget plan crafted by Congressman Ryan. This was the plan that guts Medicare by converting it from a program that pays medical bills for seniors to a program that gives them inadequate vouchers to go out to buy their own health insurance.

The Republican House of Representatives passed this plan and then went home to a firestorm of criticism from constituents who like their Medicare. But this plan was terrible in lots of other ways besides undermining Medicare.

The plan featured drastic cuts of some $4 trillion over ten years. Besides ending Medicare as we know it, the plan would also deeply cut health care for poor children, the disabled and elderly; food stamps; housing programs; Pell grants for low-income students to attend college; and every other federal program you ever heard of, such as the FBI, national parks, homeland security, interstate highways -- you name it.

The House Republicans who passed this budget, said these severe cuts had to be made to save our children from future budget deficits. They said “we all need to sacrifice to reduce the national debt.”

Read the Fine Print
That all sounds very noble until you read the fine print. Because at the same time the House Republicans voted to cut $4 trillion out of programs that help ordinary people, they voted to give the same $4 trillion in tax cuts to the very rich.

First, the Ryan plan would have permanently extended all the Bush tax cuts, including those for taxpayers making over $250,000 per year. That alone would add about $1 trillion to the national debt by 2019.

Second, a huge new cut would reduce the top tax rate (paid only by the richest 2 percent of taxpayers) from the current 35 percent down to 25 percent -- and doing this for both individuals and corporations. This alone would cost the treasury almost $2 trillion.

Finally, other miscellaneous tax cuts -- all targeted for the rich -- make up the last $1 trillion.

If you cut middle-class programs on the one hand, but then also cut taxes on the rich at the same time, what impact do you make on future deficits? None -- they just cancel each other out. This is using fears about deficits to pull a fast one on the American people.

Congressman Ryan claims his proposal would make up $3 trillion of this lost revenue by closing tax loopholes and “broadening the tax base.” But he and other Republicans have declined to name a single loophole or specific change to broaden the base, which has to make you wonder how serious they really are about reducing the deficit because you would need new revenue to balance the budget after so many tax cuts.

Robin Hood in Reverse
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there is only one way to balance out a revenue loss of $3 or $4 trillion -- raise taxes on the middle class. So in the guise of “putting the nation’s fiscal house in order,” the House Republicans are trying to sneak through a massive transfer of tax responsibility from the rich to the middle class. This is not serious deficit reduction, it’s Robin Hood in reverse.

President Obama’s proposal takes deficit reduction much more seriously. It goes after future deficits by finally allowing the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent to expire, and it also cuts almost $3 trillion in program spending over a 12-year period. Many of these cuts would be very painful, and personally I don’t agree with them all, but at least they would all go to reduce the deficit, and at least there would be no tax increases on the middle class.

The bottom line is that Congressional Republicans, including Congressman Pearce, have made a lot of noise about the dangers of future budget deficits. Unfortunately, that now looks like little more than a smoke-screen behind which they will transfer income from the middle and working class to some of the richest people on the planet.

This is a guest blog by Senator Eric Griego, who is also Executive Director of NM Voices for Children. He is a Democratic candidate for Congress in NM-01.

May 31, 2011 at 12:10 AM in Economy, Populism, Eric Griego, Guest Blogger, Healthcare, NM-01 Congressional Race 2012, Progressivism, Republican Party | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, May 30, 2011

6/8: Sandoval County Dem Women Host Rep. Martin Heinrich, Dr. Melissa Binder

From the Democratic Women of Sandoval County:
The next meeting of the Democratic Women of Sandoval County will be held on June 8th at the Bernalillo Town Council Chambers located at 8219 Camino Del Pueblo in Bernalillo. A meet and greet will start at 6:30 PM with the meeting set for 7:00 PM. The group will host Rep. Martin Heinrich, who will speak about the "Economy and Jobs" and how it affects New Mexicans. DWSC will also host Melissa Binder, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Economics, who will speak on the economic consequences of inequality.

All are welcome to attend. For information about DWSC, contact Janice Saxton, President, at [email protected] or Linda Allison, Secretary, at [email protected]

May 30, 2011 at 09:32 PM in Democratic Party, Events, Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Women's Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bingaman and Udall Push for Trade Agreements to be Paired with Worker Protections

Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall report that they have written to President Obama to convey their support for his decision to insist on having a deal in hand to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) before going forward with the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

In a letter to the President this week, Bingaman and Udall joined 40 other Senate colleagues to express their support for the TAA provisions that were enacted in 2009 and said they look forward to helping secure bipartisan support to extend that version of the program. The 2009 legislation made significant improvements to TAA, such as broadening eligibility to include workers in service industries, as well as workers who lose their jobs to countries such as China that have not signed free trade agreements with the United States. This version of TAA increases the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) that helps beneficiaries pay for private health insurance.

Since 2009, nearly 2,500 New Mexicans have relied on TAA benefits; more than 60 percent of them were covered under the eligibility provisions that have since expired, according to the Senators.

For months, the minority party in the Senate has opposed extending TAA until the administration provided a path forward for the free trade agreement with Colombia.

“TAA has been a core pillar of U.S. trade policy. The program ensures that workers who lose their jobs and financial security as a result of globalization have an opportunity to transition to new jobs and emerging sectors of the economy. Important reforms were made to TAA in 2009, which have helped streamline the program and make it more efficient for beneficiaries. In 2009, Congress also expanded eligibility to all workers whose jobs have been moved offshore, regardless of whether the United States has a trade agreement with the particular country. It also recognized the important role of the service industry in the U.S. economy by bringing service workers into TAA.

“The program also improved and expanded access to TAA’s Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) – an initiative that promotes private health insurance access for recipients, and makes health insurance coverage more affordable to workers who lose their jobs due to trade and offshoring. In the absence of this program, more Americans would need public assistance and more individuals nearing retirement would be forced to use the emergency room as their sole source of health care,” the letter states.

“These bipartisan reforms to the TAA program help hundreds of thousands of workers, in every state, by moving workers more quickly from government support to private sector jobs. Since new TAA began in May 2009, the program has assisted 185,000 Americans who may have otherwise been ineligible for services, with usage in some states increasing by more than 40 percent. Unfortunately, these critical TAA reforms expired on February 12, 2011.

“We share the goal of your National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports and are looking forward to working with you on implementing a strong trade and competitiveness strategy. We recognize, as you do, that such a deal will be challenging to secure because it requires significant bipartisan commitments in both chambers of Congress to vote in favor of a TAA extension. The challenge is worth it. We agree with you that strengthening the safety net for the middle class by extending TAA should be a prerequisite for the consideration of new trade agreements,” the letter continues.

May 27, 2011 at 09:39 AM in Labor, Obama Administration, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Trade | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

6/3: Meet OFA New Mexico's 35 New Summer Organizers

From Raymond Sandoval, New Mexico State Director, Organizing for America:

You are cordially invited to our Organizing for America NM Headquarters, in Nob Hill Albuquerque, to meet our 35 new Summer Organizers!

On Friday evening June 3, 2011 at 6:00 PM, please come to our office for a "Celebration of Dedication," to welcome the talented individuals who are going to be working around the Land of Enchantment this summer. We have organizers coming from several states, along with some great New Mexican local talent. 

Our Summer Organizers will start their training on Saturday morning, so let's show them our hospitality. We will have great New Mexican food and games to enjoy but it's also a potluck, so please bring your favorite dish to share.

WHEN: Friday, June 3, 2011 at 6:00 PM
WHERE: OFA NM HEADQUARTERS, 115 Montclaire SE, ABQ 
CLICK HERE FOR DIRECTIONS 
WHAT: Meet, Greet and Eat with our Summer Organizers 
RSVP:  PLEASE RSVP BY CLICKING HERE

May 26, 2011 at 09:30 AM in Events, Obama NM Campaign, Organizing for America | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remind Recent College Graduates of Their New Health Care Rights

From Health Action New Mexico:
This month, millions of young adults are walking across a stage, picking up their diplomas, and entering the real world. As a recent graduate of the class of 2010 said,

I understand exactly what these recent graduates will face. When I entered the real world, I was overwhelmed with finding a job, paying rent, and most importantly, budgeting my money. My transition from a small town in Mississippi to Washington, D.C., was difficult for me. My friends faced the same transition and the same anxiety that went along with it, which for many was intensified by our student loan debt.

With all this pressure, sometimes I wondered why I ever left my small hometown. But despite my weariness, I knew that to better my life, I had to leave. Then I realized, to my relief, there was one less thing for me to worry about: my health insurance.

Before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, I would have been kicked off my parents' plan just a few months after graduation. That meant if I couldn't find a job with health coverage, I would have either had to buy coverage that I couldn't afford or risk life without insurance and be one accident or illness away from personal and financial disaster. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I, along with many college graduates, now have the option to stay on my parents' plan until I'm 26.

This new provision will benefit tens of thousands of recent graduates that can't find jobs right off the bat or have jobs that don't offer insurance. Now, they don't have to worry about going broke, either from trying to buy insurance or going without and taking the gamble that they may face huge medical bills down the line.

But not everyone knows about this important new protection! You can help us spread the word. If you know someone who is graduating this month, please take a few moments to congratulate them on their big day and make sure they know about their new health care rights!

It only takes a few minutes, but making sure young adults can focus on settling into the real world, rather than having to worry about what will happen if they get sick, makes a huge difference. Please help us spread the word today.

P.S. If you want to learn more about how the Affordable Care Act helps young adults, check out Families USA's Young Adults Fact Sheet, Young Invincibles' Graduation Toolkit, and US PIRG's Young Adult Pamphlet.

May 25, 2011 at 09:39 AM in Healthcare, Obama Health Care Reform, Youth | Permalink | Comments (2)

Luján: Republican Plan to End Medicare As We Know It Doubles Out-Of-Pocket Costs for Seniors

ImagesIs this what New Mexicans and all Americans want? I don't think so. Congressman Ben Ray Luján (NM-03) highlighted a recently released report on the impact the House Republican plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program would have on out-of-pocket costs for New Mexico seniors. According to a report by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, New Mexico seniors will pay more than twice as much in out-of-pocket costs in 2022 under the Republican plan.

“With many of New Mexico’s seniors struggling to make ends meet, the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it doubles the out-of-pocket costs for seniors that are living on a fixed income,” Congressman Luján said. “This misguided plan will force seniors to pay more or see their benefits reduced.”

Luján explained that the Republican plan leaves seniors to purchase private health insurance with a government voucher that will not keep pace with the rising cost of health care. As a result, New Mexico’s seniors, who now pay approximately $4,600 in out-of-pocket expenses, will see those costs increase by more than $4,750 over the next decade as a result of the Republican plan. 

It has also been estimated by the Center for Economic and Policy Research that 55-year-old Americans would have to save an additional $182,000 for retirement just to cover their health insurance costs should the Republican plan become law. The Republican plan also increases the cost of prescription drugs for those seniors already receiving Medicare by re-opening the donut hole in Medicare Part D. This provision alone would force 21,400 New Mexico seniors to pay $12 million more for prescription drugs next year.

May 25, 2011 at 08:35 AM in Healthcare, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Senior Citizens | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Judy Baker Elected Treasurer of the National Federation of Democratic Women

Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with more on-the-ground coverage from Southern New Mexico.

Baker

Judy Baker of Las Cruces has been elected as national treasurer of the National Federation of Democratic Women, a nationwide organization affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the Democratic Party. Baker was elected by delegates at the Federation's national convention which was held in Washington, D.C. from May 18 through May 20. 

Baker, who lives in Las Cruces, has long been active in New Mexico state and local political and issue campaigns. She is also President of the Doña Ana County Democratic Women, the local affiliate of the national Federation, and she sits on the State Central Committee of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

The National Federation of Democratic Women is an open membership organization with a New Mexico affiliate and local chapters in both Bernalillo and Doña Ana Counties.

May 24, 2011 at 03:25 PM in By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Democratic Party, Las Cruces, Women's Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Legislative Education Study Committee to Meet May 25-27

The Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) will meet Wednesday through Friday, May 25–27, 2011, in Room 307 of the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

The meeting will be called to order Wednesday at 9:00 AM by Representative Rick Miera (D-Bernalillo-11), chair of the committee. Senator Cynthia Nava (D-Doña Ana-31) serves as vice chair. Among the topics to be discussed on that day are the recent audits by the Public Education Department of school districts and charter schools.

Thursday’s meeting focuses on a report from Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera on the department’s implementation of public school-related legislation and appropriations from the 2011 legislative session.

Friday’s meeting includes proposed activities for the 2011 interim. Proposed topics for the interim, the committee’s work plan, and the interim meeting schedule will be introduced for approval. The committee will adjourn on Friday at 12:00 Noon.

Time will be allotted each day for superintendent and community input.

All interested parties are welcome and encouraged to attend the meeting. Interim committee meetings are audio-webcast here. Agendas are subject to change. For more information and the most current committee agendas and calendars, please go here.

May 24, 2011 at 03:00 PM in Education, Events, NM Legislature 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Christy French Guest Blog: We Back Fairness for Judge Murphy

ChristyFrench100 This is a guest blog by Christy French, Chair, Doña Ana County Democratic Party.

As fellow citizens and neighbors in Doña Ana County, we find it necessary to speak out publicly in defense of Judge Mike Murphy. We believe Judge Murphy, a distinguished member of the judiciary, is an innocent man, unjustly accused and, most regrettably, tried and convicted on blogs and in newspapers throughout our state. Make no mistake – this is not an issue of corruption or of a pay-to-play scheme. Rather, this is a political witch hunt being perpetrated by a vindictive former District Attorney who rather than address the challenges facing New Mexico, has appointed herself as the “Prosecutor in Chief” and has enlisted to her side a former candidate for Attorney General who sees this as an opportunity to position himself for some future elective office. In the process, this blatantly political misuse of power is being taken strictly to try and remove an elected Democratic judge from the bench in order to put an appointed Republican on the bench in his stead. 

For the sake of educating the public and not misleading them as to the legal process in place, we wish to point out the following: Judges are, in fact, appointed by the governor. But we have a system of review in place in New Mexico which limits the governor from being given carte blanche in his or her appointments, and includes a process in which proposed appointees must meet high standards. The governor can only appoint candidates that have first passed through a rigorous vetting system run by the Judicial Nominating Commission. That commission is made up equally of Democrats and Republicans, lawyers and lay people. The members of the commission must review an exhaustive questionnaire, letters of recommendation from the community, and conduct  interviews with the candidates. Only those lawyers deemed to be fully qualified to serve on the bench are then sent as recommendations to the governor for appointment. Even after appointment, a judge must face the voters and run for his position in the next general election. Citizens still get a say as to whether or not they believe any sitting judge is qualified to serve on the bench.

Judge Murphy went through this bipartisan nominating commission process twice, was found qualified both times, and was ultimately appointed his second time around. Prior to his appointment, as a private attorney, he was a board-certified specialist in the area of domestic relations. Even those attorneys who have had an adversarial relationship with him in the courtroom, and opposed him numerous times on many cases, have stated that he was a fair and honest lawyer, a fierce advocate for his clients, and a distinguished attorney. He ran unopposed in his election.

Governor Martinez and her so-called “special prosecutor” want the public to believe that Judge Murphy not only somehow bought his way through the Judicial Nominating Commission (twice), but then also bought his way onto the bench. Even though there is not one shred of evidence to back up these claims, they continue to believe that if they say it enough times, the public will believe it is true. There is an old lawyer adage that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich. The public should be aware that a grand jury does not sit in judgment, but is presented only one side of a case – the prosecutor’s side. No evidence is given by the defense; in fact, a defendant’s attorney is not even allowed to be present to represent his client. It should be no surprise that they were able to indict Judge Murphy.

Having gotten their indictment, the current prosecuting cast has not been content to allow the legal system to play out in a court of law, in an open arena where evidence from both sides will be presented and heard, where the public can see and hear the evidence, or lack thereof. Rather they want to publicly arrest Judge Murphy, and try him through carefully placed press-releases. Judge Murphy has pled not guilty, hired an attorney, and is gearing up to fight these charges through a legitimate legal process. That is not enough for the Governor and Matt Chandler, who are abusing their power and have shown themselves to be unable to resist the temptation to throw their self-perceived political muscle around. They want the public to believe that Judge Murphy is a “flight risk” or worse, that he is a danger to himself and the public. These ludicrous accusations have thus far gone unchallenged in the press. We are demanding that fairness, reasonableness, and restraint be applied while this case moves forward.

The Democratic Party of Doña Ana County stands with Judge Murphy. We are confident that justice will prevail. We will continue to challenge the biased actions of Governor Martinez and Mr. Chandler. We will push back against their attempts to publicly humiliate Judge Murphy, their blatant and unfounded assaults on his character and on his reputation, and their willingness to intimidate and bankrupt him in furtherance of their ultimate goal:  political control of the judiciary in this County.

These charges stem from hearsay accusations which were first made in 2007. We ask where was our esteemed former District Attorney Ms. Martinez then? According to the investigation, Judge Schultz claims she talked to practically every judge in the state. Yet, it’s only when Martinez moves to the Governor's office that she has acted. Furthermore, we must insist that the press present both sides to the community. Journalists must not be in the business of tainting the reputation of any judge simply because they were appointed by former Governor Richardson.

We also ask these questions: The prosecution is ecstatic that Judge James T. Martin has been temporarily removed from hearing criminal cases, yet Judge Martin is not the target of this investigation. Shouldn’t the same edict be made for Judge Lisa Schultz? She is the prosecution’s star witness but she is hearing criminal cases presented by the same body she is assisting. Shouldn’t she be removed from hearing criminal cases because of her bias? Can anyone honestly buy into the insinuation that every judge had to buy their appointments and that only Judge Schultz was somehow excused? She was appointed by the last governor as well.

We strongly caution the press and the public to apply due diligence and restraint in this case. We are certain that once all the facts are heard in a legitimate court of law, Judge Mike Murphy will be fully exonerated.

This is a guest blog by Christy French.

If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page. Publication of a guest blog does not necessarily mean that we agree or disagree with the points made.

May 23, 2011 at 11:14 PM in Democratic Party, Guest Blogger, Journalism, Justice, Las Cruces, Susana Martinez | Permalink | Comments (1)