Friday, September 09, 2011
Anniversary of 9/11 Commemorated Through Service by State Bar Association and Attorney David Ray Rosales
I find this a very moving tribute to the GLBT community generally and to the members of that community who lost their lives in the 9/11 tragedy. As part of the GLBT community, Mary Ellen and I would like to extend a sincere thank you to David Ray Rosales for this gesture:
The New Mexico State Bar Foundation called on attorneys across the state to perform one good deed, or donate one hour of pro bono time to people who need civil legal services in honor of the anniversary of September 11, 2001.
David Ray Rosales, managing partner of the law firm, Rugge, Rosales & Associates, P.C, answers the foundation’s call by volunteering his time to prepare free Designation of Agent documents to members of New Mexico’s GLBT Community for the month of September.
“On the anniversary of September 11, 2001, I am reminded of the need for members of the GLBT community to prepare for the unthinkable,” says David Ray Rosales, “In New Mexico, same-sex partners are granted the authority to visit a loved-one in the hospital, arrange for disposition of a body and make funeral arrangements through Designation of Agent forms. I am humbled by the opportunity to prepare these forms without charge in memory of those GLBT community members lost on that tragic day.”
To inquire about services offered by Rugge, Rosales and Associates, call (505)243-3900 or e-mail email@example.com.
Friday, September 02, 2011
NM Environmental Law Center Questions Impartiality of Environmental Improvement Board Members
On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed motions before the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) calling for the recusal of board members James R. Casciano, Gregory Hugh Fulfer and Debra Peacock due to their documented opposition to the adoption of the state’s carbon reduction rules. The motions, filed on behalf of New Energy Economy, also call for the other board members to disclose their past and ongoing relationships with the petitioners and other entities regulated by the carbon reduction rules. (Filed motions can be found here.)
NMELC said the Board decided to conduct hearings to repeal the rules at the request of PNM and several other utility and oil and gas groups (“petitioners”). The requests to repeal the rules were filed immediately following private discussions between the petitioners and Ms. Peacock, who chairs the Board.
“EIB’s regulations require its members to recuse themselves if there is reason to believe that they are not impartial,” says Bruce Frederick, NMELC Staff Attorney. “It’s an appearance standard and there’s good reason to believe that members Casciano, Fulfer and Peacock are not impartial. Mr. Casciano and Mr. Fulfer testified against the rules last year when they were adopted. Ms. Peacock engaged in private discussions with petitioners, which led directly to their requests to repeal the rules.”
“The rule of law requires that regulators and the entities they regulate abide by strict codes of conduct to protect the public interest,” said Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy. “Fairness and transparency require that EIB members make their decisions based on facts presented as evidence in public hearings, not based on ideological predispositions and back room deals.”
Towards the end of the two-year process that led to the adoption of the carbon reduction rules late last year, “the same folks who are now petitioning EIB to repeal the rules accused the former EIB members of bias,” said Frederick. “The former members were concerned enough to make disclosures on the record regarding their employment and concern about climate change,” Frederick explained. “After all was said and done, one member ended up recusing himself, because he had supported the rules before being appointed to the EIB.” Frederick notes that, “unlike the petitioners, we are bringing up the issue early in the proceeding to give EIB a chance to avoid wasting taxpayer money on an invalid proceeding.”
“This isn’t about politics or ideology; we just want a fair chance to defend our case,” says Nanasi.
The EIB is scheduled to discuss the carbon reduction rules in their October 3rd meeting.
The rule advocated by New Energy Economy (Rule 100) generally requires facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year to report their total carbon emissions and to reduce these emissions by a certain percentage each year. The rule has been lauded by national experts for its capacity to improve New Mexico’s energy security by means of predictability, market-based mechanisms and extensive compliance flexibility. An economic analysis released in February indicated the carbon pollution reduction law has the potential to add 17,500 family-supporting jobs in New Mexico’s electric sector and add more than $2 billion in total added economic value to New Mexico’s families and businesses.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Guest Blog: Time to Break Taboo on Open Discussion About Drugs and Accidental Overdoses--Lives Are Literally Hanging in the Balance
This is a guest blog by Emily Kaltenbach, who is the New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
August 31st marks International Overdose Awareness Day, a day for people in New Mexico and around the world to publicly mourn loved ones without guilt or shame. This day is also an occasion to educate policymakers and the public about the growing overdose crisis in New Mexico and beyond. It is time we offer concrete solutions that save lives.
Overdoses happen everywhere, to all kinds of people, and it's only been getting worse in recent years. Drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death for Americans between the ages of 35 and 54. In 17 states, it now surpasses car accidents as the leading overall cause of accidental death.
New Mexico has long grappled with overdose mortality rates far above the national average. Overdose deaths continue to rise -- the heroin overdose rate in 2008 was the second highest ever recorded and fatal overdoses from prescription opiates such as hydrocodone and oxycontin have surged alarmingly. Nor are our young people being spared from this epidemic as there has been an increase in the number of people 21 years and younger dying from overdoses.
This loss of life is completely unacceptable, in no small part because most of these deaths are so easily preventable. But the “tough-on-crime” rhetoric of the drug war and the stigma associated with illicit drug use have blocked the widespread adoption of simple, proven, life-saving policies.
In the face of this tragedy, however, New Mexico has become a leader in the struggle to prevent overdose fatalities. It became the first state in the nation to implement a 911 - Good Samaritan law in 2007 that provides people who call 911 on behalf of an overdose victim with limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession. Good Samaritan laws reduce reluctance to seek medical help when illegal drugs are involved, and thus save lives.
Our Department of Health has programs to educate the public about overdose risks, and trains first responders, law enforcement and members of the public how to recognize an overdose and respond using rescue techniques and the opiate antagonist medicine naloxone. This unheralded and inexpensive drug has been used by first responders for decades. Administered nasally, it can revive opiate overdose victims within minutes. These programs save lives while reducing hospitalization costs and relieving pressure on first responders and emergency rooms. More could and should be done, however, to expand the availability of naloxone. All too often, first responders are not called or cannot arrive in time.
Calling On New Mexico's Lawmakers
On this day of awareness and mourning, we ask New Mexico’s lawmakers to build upon the growing tradition in New Mexico of taking a proactive role in addressing the overdose crisis. We ask them to stand up and support policies designed to get us to a place where politics no longer trumps public health, science, or compassion. Policies that continue to support access to syringe exchange programs for all New Mexicans struggling with an addiction, including our youth. Policies to increase access to naloxone that has no abuse potential, and costs as little as one dollar for one dose. And, policies to explore the efficacy of safe injection sites and heroin prescription programs -- both of which are evidence-based life-saving interventions for individuals struggling with addiction to opioids when other treatments have not worked.
There is no question that innovative overdose prevention programs are needed and long overdue in this state. All that stands in the way is ideology and the cynical assumption that it can never happen in New Mexico.
This is a guest blog by Emily Kaltenbach. Also see her previous guest blog on the 40th anniversary of the war on drugs.
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.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
New Energy Economy Wins Party Status in Industry Appeal of Carbon Cap Rule
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) announced that it gained another victory today in New Mexico Supreme Court, when it won the right for its clients, New Energy Economy (NEE), to intervene as a full party in PNM’s appeal of the statewide carbon reduction rules. The Supreme Court Justices announced that because New Energy Economy was named as a party in the previous proceedings with the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB), they should, by right, be granted party status in the current appeal.
“This is a tremendous victory,” said Bruce Frederick, NMELC Staff Attorney representing New Energy Economy against PNM. “We knew that PNM wanted to repeal the rule and anticipated that the EIB would not defend the rule. It is essential that NEE be allowed to participate in the appeal as a party by right, and the Supreme Court agreed.”
Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels asked opposing counsel what party would argue the legitimacy of the carbon cap law if NEE wasn’t allowed to participate, and compared the result of that omission as “one hand clapping.”
The Court said it would lift its stay of the remand by the Court of Appeals, but mentioned it considered the remand as more of an “abatement.”
PNM, and six other entities regulated by the EIB, appealed the highly contested state wide carbon cap rule in early January. PNM thereafter filed an unopposed motion to stay the appeal so that PNM and the EIB could engage in private mediation. The Court of Appeals granted the motion. The NMELC filed motions on behalf of its client, New Energy Economy, to intervene in the appeal but were denied; therefore NMELC brought the petition to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Friday, July 22, 2011
NMELC Files Emergency Motion to Stop PNM-EIB Backdoor Tactic to Repeal Carbon Reduction Law
Outrageous collusion -- yes, that's the correct characterization of the sneaky actions of PNM and Gov. Susana Martinez's compromised Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) that aim to void a law that would reduce pollution and save New Mexico's electric consumers money. Gov. Martinez's appointees to the EIB are clearly dedicated to environmental degradation rather than environment improvement, as the agency's name indicates. In other words, they're only interested in maximizing the profits of energy companies (big donors to Martinez) to the detriment of the common good.
But wait, not so fast, colluders. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed an emergency motion (pdf) today on behalf of its client, New Energy Economy, in New Mexico State Supreme Court. The emergency motion asks the Supreme Court to vacate a recent decision by the Court of Appeals that sent the carbon pollution reduction law back to the EIB. The motion asserts apparent collusion between the utility, PNM and Governor Martinez’s EIB after the two parties settled a private negotiation agreeing that the EIB will hear PNM’s petition to repeal the carbon cap law.
“This move to circumvent the normal appellate review process is outrageous,” says Bruce Frederick, NMELC Staff Attorney. “PNM and the EIB basically agreed to cut the Court of Appeals out of the review process and just have the Martinez EIB repeal the Rule. I’ve never seen such collusion between a regulatory agency and a corporation it regulates.”
“This convoluted legal maneuvering indicates PNM is clearly attempting another backroom deal with Governor Martinez’s EIB to dismantle the carbon pollution reduction law,” said Mariel Nanasi, New Energy Economy’s Executive Director. “PNM is rightfully worried that the courts will not allow them to simply change a law and subvert the public interest without attention to the economic and scientific facts behind the law. New Mexico families and businesses deserve better than runaway electricity rate hikes, pollution rates among the highest in America and collusion behind closed doors.”
In addition to PNM, parties listed in the legal filings as opposed to the law include the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, Independent Petroleum Association, El Paso Electric and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
New Energy Economy and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center led a two-year public process that led to the creation of New Mexico’s landmark carbon reduction law. The rule requires facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year to reduce these emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013. The law has been lauded by national experts for its capacity to improve New Mexico’s energy security by means of predictability, market-based mechanisms and extensive compliance flexibility. An economic analysis released in February indicated the carbon pollution reduction law has the potential to add 17,500 family-supporting jobs in New Mexico’s electric sector and add more than $2 billion in total added economic value to New Mexico’s families and businesses.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
ACLU-NM Sues Secretary of State Dianna Duran for Violating Open Records Law
Gov. Susana Martinez and her GOP cohorts in New Mexico -- like Secretary of State Dianna Duran -- seem to really get off on talking a good game about the importance of government transparency, but all too often they don't follow their own advice about how an open government should operate. Is "transparency" just another handy buzzword to use within their never-ending campaign mode that seems to be a continuing substitute for actually governing the state and working to solve the myriad of genuine problems we face? Sure seems like it.
One more example of their hypocrisy: Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) filed a lawsuit in the Second Judicial District Court against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, alleging that she violated open records law by concealing public information regarding alleged voting irregularities. On March 15, 2011, as the legislature debated controversial voter ID legislation, Duran announced her office had uncovered proof that 37 undocumented immigrants cast ballots in New Mexico elections.
The following day, the ACLU-NM filed an Information and Public Records Act (IPRA) request to independently verify these serious allegations. Duran’s office unlawfully concealed many of the requested documents, claiming “executive privilege,” and redacted many emails so heavily that they were rendered useless.
“These sorts of hit-and-run allegations are reckless and irresponsible,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Without offering any proof, the Secretary of State has undermined the public’s confidence in our elections system while hiding the evidence for her claims behind the cloak of executive privilege.”
On rare occasions and under narrowly defined circumstances, government officials are permitted to withhold some types of information under “executive privilege,” according to the ACLU-NM. However, in recent years officials have abused executive privilege, using it to conceal public information that could prove embarrassing or politically inconvenient. In her first executive order as governor, Susana Martinez severely limited the use of executive privilege, proclaiming that “access to public information should be the rule, and denial thereof the exception…”
Duran made the exception the rule, making liberal use of executive privilege to withhold public voting records and official correspondence from the ACLU-NM and several journalists. In a response to journalist Heath Haussamen’s attempt to acquire these same records, the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department affirmed Duran’s improper use of executive privilege, stating:
“We should be clear it is our understanding that these same emails were requested from the Secretary of State and they chose to assert executive privilege over some or all parts of these emails. The Department does not feel executive privilege can be asserted, or would appropriately apply over these emails.”
“It is disappointing that our Secretary of State would go to such extraordinary lengths to hide important public records from New Mexicans,” said ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith. “Governor Martinez promised that her administration would usher in a new era of openness and transparency in New Mexico government. It’s a shame that Diana Duran does not share the governor’s commitment.”
Staff Attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith, Co-Legal Director Maureen Sanders and Cooperating Attorney Ed Macy represent the ACLU of New Mexico in this case.
A full copy of the ACLU-NM legal complaint against is available online: ACLU v. Duran
Where's the Beef, Dianna?
This past Friday, SOS Duran was grilled by members of the legislature's Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee about her allegations that she had "proof" that 37 undocumented New Mexicans fraudulently cast ballots in elections in the state. She was also confronted about her decision to turn over 64,000 names of people she characterized as potentially fraudulent voters to the Department of Public Safety with the implication that criminal acts had been committed.
Duran suddenly claimed she wasn't really looking for "voter fraud" in these instances, but merely trying to make sure New Mexico's voter rolls were accurate. This despite her numerous accusatory statements in the past clearly claiming she had uncovered extensive "voter fraud" -- especially among New Mexico's immigrant population.
Of course if Duran were really trying to find the facts -- instead of using the same dog-whistle tactics employed by Gov. Martinez to rile up the right-wing tea party crowd about those nasty immigrants -- she would be all for revealing the "proof" she has cited -- as well as using the expertise of the state's county clerks to get at the truth. Instead she seems determined to drag her feet as long as possible so she can keep nurturing wedge issue angst without having to show the public any real evidence to back up what she is alleging. As is often the case, her lies are now turning back on themselves to the point that she seems to be backtracking on her VOTER FRAUD! claims. Has she lied herself into a corner?
Even the right-wingers on the Albuquerque Journal editorial board are incensed over her behavior. In an editorial published this past Sunday, the board took Duran to task in no uncertain terms for her refusal to turn over documents the public has a right to see unless they are "redacted" to the point of nothingness.
Duran has surely heard the well-worn phrase “seeing is believing.” And seeing her office redact line after line after line in letter after letter in her investigation of irregularities in voter files does not position her in the eyes of the public as the champion of transparency she claimed to be while campaigning.
... Duran’s office claims releasing the information now “will compromise the Secretary of State’s decision-making process.” She says she will release some of it after her investigation is complete. That’s not executive privilege; that’s situational censorship [emphasis added].
It's long past the time that SOS Duran should be showing us the "beef" to back up her claims, or admitting she basically made the whole thing up to score political points. Let's hope that the ACLU-NM complaint can pry some of the documents in question out of Duran's office so that at least some of facts in this matter can see the light of day.
Monday, July 18, 2011
District Court Backs Delay in Albuquerque Redistricting, Affirms Value of Public Participation
The City of Albuquerque's decision to wait to redistrict until after the October 4th, 2011 election was upheld today by Second Judicial District Court Judge Nan Nash. According to an Albuquerque Journal article,
State District Judge Nan Nash just denied an injunction sought by ACLU attorneys, who said it was unconstitutional for the city of Albuquerque to go forward with a City Council election before redrawing council districts.
Nash, in an 11-page opinion, said that stopping the Oct. 4 election “would create considerable hardship” for the city because the election cycle is already underway. Several candidates have already received tens of thousands in public financing and halting the election now would create new problems.
She said that drawing up new districts to account for population growth can’t happen quickly enough to avoid disrupting the election process. “Redistricting cannot be compressed into several weeks,” Nash said in her decision. “… The harm to the public in rushing the redistricting process is considerable.”
ACLU-NM Responds, May Appeal
In response to the decision against the injunction, ACLU-New Mexico released a statement noting that, as a consequence of their lawsuit, the city has agreed to implement the reapportioned districts immediately instead of in 2013 as they had originally planned.
“We are pleased that, as a consequence of the ACLU of New Mexico’s lawsuit, the city will redistrict and implement those changes immediately," said ACLU-NM Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives. "Our primary concern was that the citizens who live in districts one and five on Albuquerque’s West Side would be grossly underrepresented until 2013, when the city initially intended to implement the new districts. However, in its closing arguments, the city stated that “as soon as a redistricting plan is approved by the Mayor and is published for five days, it will go into effect.” This means that, although redistricting will not be completed in time for the October election, West Side residents will be equally represented a few months from now as required under the Constitution.”
The ACLU-NM said it still maintains that redistricting could be completed before the October elections and the plaintiffs currently are considering an appeal to the judge’s ruling.
ACLU-NM had argued that the city would violate the "one person, one vote" principle if redistricting was delayed. Although Judge Nash said the plaintiffs are "right that the City Council districts are mal-apportioned," she also stated that most courts have ruled that "a temporary departure from the one person, one vote principle, pending adoption of a permanent redistricting plan, may be constitutional."
SWOP Applauds Affirmation of Public Participation
Today's decision also affirms the importance of public participation in public processes, according to a statement released today by the Southwest Organizing Project.
"We are very pleased with the decision of Judge Nash to allow community input in the redistricting process of the City of Albuquerque," said George Luján, SWOP's spokesperson. "The voting rights of historically disenfranchised communities, particularly Chicano and Native American, have been ignored before. Now we have an opportunity to ensure that this doesn't happen again."
SWOP, a 31-year-old community based social justice organization, has been convening community meetings to discuss Albuquerque's redistricting process for the last 5 months.
"We've been preparing to ensure that we have our voices heard," George Luján stated.
SWOP's community meetings have produced a map that is constitutional; adds a greatly needed even district to the west side--district 8; upholds one person one vote; and upholds minority voting strength by adding another electable majority-minority district that is reflective of the demographic shift that the 2010 Census showed.
"We're confident that our proposal will be heard now that the courts have upheld the decision of the city to ensure public input," Luján said.
See our previous post on this court case.
7/26: Solidarity Rally in Santa Fe for Environmental Activist Tim DeChristopher, Wrongly Convicted on Federal Land Bids
From Supporters of Tim DeChristopher: At last the details have been set for our rally to stand in solidarity with environmental activist Tim DeChristopher on his sentencing date, July 26. We will gather at 6:00 PM in front of the Federal Courthouse (located at 100 S. Federal Place in Santa Fe) and then walk to Ghost Ranch (located at the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Old Taos Hwy) where we will have a rally. Click for flyer (pdf) -- please distribute to friends and allies.
Tim stood up for all of us to hold our government accountable to its own laws. Now we stand with Tim. At his trial in March Tim was convicted of two felonies. His crime? Bidding on land at an auction later held to be illegal.
We need a huge turnout to stand in solidarity with Tim, the environmental activist who brought attention to the Bush administration's illegal land auction that would have led to oil and gas development in pristine areas in Utah. Rather than being hailed as a hero, Tim has been convicted on two felony counts -- in spite of the fact that the auction was declared illegal and he raised the money to buy the land -- two significant pieces of evidence that were not allowed to be presented to the jury.
In addition to standing with Tim, we plan to have speakers at the rally who will remind us of the many areas that we are dealing with here in Santa Fe and throughout New Mexico in our fight for a more livable future, to protect the environment and ourselves from oil and gas development, as well as the potentially more dangerous situation at Los Alamos. Speakers will include David Bacon, Joni Arends from CCNS, Greg Mello from Los Alamos Study Group, Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy and John Horning of Wild Earth Guardians. We are still awaiting other confirmations.
More Info - Get Involved
Please visit the Facebook page that has just been created for the event. Please pass it along to your friends and others from your organizations.
Here is the latest story from PeacefulUprising.org about our upcoming day of solidarity. More important information about Tim's case is available at www.Bidder70.org and on Democracy Now! here and here.
If you have not yet done so, please sign the petition asking President Obama to pardon Tim.
Friday, July 15, 2011
In Face of Growing Scandal, Darren White Announces Retirement as Albuquerque Public Safety Director
The City of Albuquerque just released the following statement from Darren White, Albuquerque's Public Safety Director, who has in recent days been caught up in a growing controversy about his handling of an incident when his wife was recently involved in a one-car accident and appeared to be "out of it." Rather than permitting his wife to be initially treated and transported by ambulance to an ER, White drove her for care in his own car -- after about 30 minutes on the scene. It appears that, at the very least, some basic standard protocols in handling such an incident were not followed. The question is why.
White, a former police officer who formerly served as Bernalillo County Sheriff, ran as a Republican candidate for Congress in NM-01 and served the administration of former GOP governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, as head of Secretary of the Public Safety Department, announced his retirement from his current post with a contentious statement that insists he did nothing wrong:
I am announcing my retirement today in order to end the distraction surrounding my wife’s recent accident and allow Mayor Richard Berry and city leaders to focus on the important issues the people of Albuquerque deserve to have addressed.
However, the investigation must move forward and I intend to work hard to clear my name and stand-up for my wife, whose medical condition was improperly made public through the illegal leaking of confidential medical records.
Getting the truth out is very important to me and I am confident any investigation will show:
- I made it clear to the police officer that he was in charge of conducting any investigation and that I would not interfere.
- Nearly an hour after the accident and when it was clear that the scene investigation was complete, I took my wife to get medical attention. No one at the scene disagreed with that action.
- I did not take my wife to the hospital with lights and sirens on, nor did I violate any policy regarding the use of emergency equipment.
- My wife was diagnosed with a seizure by a neurologist at Presbyterian and was subsequently hospitalized for two days.
- No doctor, including my wife’s own physician, believe that the medical condition that caused the accident had anything to do with the medication she has been taking daily without complication for over a year.
- The speculation in the illegally leaked paramedic report that the symptoms might have been caused by “opiates” was conclusively disproved by a drug test administered at the hospital.
- We never would have released any of my wife’s personal medical history until we learned from the media that someone illegally leaked her confidential, and misleading, medical records to the press.
- The leaking of the paramedic’s report in this case broke federal and state laws.
I am very proud of my lifetime record of public service, beginning as a member of the 82nd Airborne in the US Army, continuing as a police officer, sheriff, and public safety administrator at both the state and local level.
I dedicated my life to public safety and hope I made a positive difference in my community. I feel honored to have worked with some of New Mexico’s finest public servants. Our challenge is never easy and the circumstances often difficult, but we rise to the task every day. I deeply appreciate having been given the honor to serve.
Yesterday, four City Councilors sent a letter to Mayor Richard J. Berry calling for an independent, outside investigation into the incident that should focus on these main points:
1. Allegations of violating Standard Operating Procedures of the APD
2. Allegations of interference in an investigation
3. Allegations of improper use of city property for private purposes
4. Allegations of abuse of power
The City of Albuquerque has already said it will launch an internal investigation via the Independent Review Office of the Police Oversight Commission, but the councilors said that's not good enough:
The investigation must be conducted without political interference and manipulation from any individual, political party, interests within the City, or closely related associates. To prevent all potential or perceived conflicts of interest, and/or fears of retaliation, we respectfully call for an investigation to be conducted by an independent organization with experience in these types of investigations and in representing government and police misconduct cases.
It's unknown how White's "retirement" will affect his appointment to the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission by Governor Susana Martinez.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
SWOP Demands Community Voices Be Heard Regardless of District Court Decision on Albuquerque's Redistricting
Yesterday, Second Judicial District Court Judge Nan Nash heard arguments on whether or not the City of Albuquerque will be required to redistrict before its October 4th, 2011 election, or will be permitted to implement its decision to delay drawing up new City Council districts based on 2010 census until the October 2013 municipal election. The hearing was prompted by a lawsuit filed by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to force the City, like other government entities, to redraw district boundaries in a timely manner.
The ACLU considers that decision unfair because the two Council districts on the West Side have more than 80,000 people in each district, while the other seven districts have between 50,000 and 55,000 people.
"The voters are not going to be equally represented on the City Council, and that goes to the very heart of our city government," said ACLU lawyer David Freedman. "This is particularly important to those on the West Side who have been grossly under represented for many, many years. Putting it off is a travesty."
Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) released a statement yesterday pushing for public input no matter what the court decides.
"Our main concern is that Judge Nash takes into consideration the importance of public input into the redistricting process of the City of Albuquerque," says George Lujan, SWOP's spokesperson. "Regardless of which way the court rules, it must ensure that the voting rights of historically disenfranchised communities, particularly Chicano and Native Americans, must be taken into consideration. This requires an open process with extensive public participation."
SWOP, a 31 year old community based social justice organization, noted that it has been convening community meetings to discuss Albuquerque's redistricting process for the last 5 months. "We've been preparing to ensure that we have our voices heard," Luján stated.
SWOP has created a map that is constitutional; adds a greatly needed even district to the west side-district 8; upholds one person one vote; and upholds minority voting strength by adding another electable majority-minority district that is reflective of the demographic shift that the 2010 Census showed. SWOP is planning on officially introducing the redistricting proposal to the city, and is planning on giving public testimony to ensure that community interests are heard.
"A big question for us is whether we will be able to give substantive public testimony, after this case concludes," Luján said.
The hearing before Judge Nash continues today.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
NM Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case for Intervention in Industry Appeal of Carbon Cap Rule
Progress: Today, the New Mexico State Supreme Court agreed to hear a case filed by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) on behalf of its client, New Energy Economy (NEE). The NMELC filed an emergency petition asking the Supreme Court to review a Court of Appeals’ ruling that barred NEE from participating in an appeal filed by PNM.
In its appeal, PNM, the state’s largest source of carbon pollution, is asking the Court of Appeals to invalidate New Mexico’s carbon pollution reduction law, which was adopted by the Environment Improvement Board (EIB) in December of 2010. NEE and NMELC led a two-year public process that resulted in the creation of New Mexico’s landmark carbon cap law.
"It is essential that NEE be allowed to participate in the appeal," says Bruce Frederick, NMELC Staff Attorney. Frederick explains that both PNM and the new members of the EIB, all appointed by Governor Martinez, oppose the rule. “So neither party in the appeal has any interest in defending the rule,” he says. “We will defend the rule because we provided the hundreds of hours of scientific and economic expert testimony” that persuaded EIB to adopt the rule. “It would be a great injustice if our client was now barred from explaining this testimony to the court on appeal.”
“Since PNM is opposed to the carbon reduction law and Governor Martinez’s EIB is as well, it’s only fair that we be given an opportunity to defend the carbon pollution reduction rule,” says Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy.
The rule requires facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year to reduce these emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013. The law has been lauded by national experts for its capacity to improve New Mexico’s energy security by means of predictability, market-based mechanisms and extensive compliance flexibility.
The Supreme Court has ordered that responses to this petition be filed with the court on or before July 11, 2011. (Click for order (pdf).
Monday, June 27, 2011
US Supreme Court Upholds Public Campaign Financing, Strikes Down One Element
The U.S. Supreme Court today reaffirmed the constitutionality of public financing of campaigns in the case Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett (also known as McComish v. Bennett), while striking down one mechanism used in these types of programs by a 5-4 vote, saying it violated the First Amendment. The foundation of public campaign finance systems remains strong -- and it is more important than ever that we preserve and extend those reforms -- campaign finance group Common Cause said in its response to the ruling.
The case has been closely watched by public financing advocates who feared the high court would use the case to rule broadly on the constitutionality of programs that provide public money to candidates. Of late, the court has issued sweeping rulings striking down campaign finance restrictions as violations of free speech -- for instance, in the notorious Citizen's United ruling -- and which give massive power to corporations to affect elections. Instead, the court issued a relatively narrow ruling striking down only one provision in the Arizona law that provided additional funds to publicly funded candidates running against opponents who outspend them outside the system.
Impact on New Mexico Law
Common Cause noted that New Mexico boasts three public campaign financing systems -- two municipal systems, one in Albuquerque and another in Santa Fe, and a state system for Public Regulation Commission candidates and appellate judges.
“This ruling maintains the constitutionality of public financing as a method for curtailing the unfair influence of wealthy interests over our democracy,” Steven Robert Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, said. “It’s true that Arizona Free Enterprise affects one element of public campaign financing as it exists in New Mexico, but the core of the systems have been upheld.”
In all three New Mexico systems, candidates who wish to use public financing must prove support for their candidacy by collecting $5 contributions from voters in their districts. If the candidates reach a certain threshold, they receive a block grant to run their campaigns. In all three systems, the amount of this initial grant is set at a level sufficient to allow candidates to get their message out and to run a basic campaign. This part of public campaign financing remains untouched by the Arizona Free Enterprise decision, Common Cause explained.
However, these programs also allow for the distribution of additional “matching” funds to publicly financed candidates if a privately financed candidate outspends them. This is the concept that has been struck down in the Arizona Free Enterprise case.
“Even with this decision, publicly financed candidates in New Mexico will still receive generous grants to run their campaigns,” said Allen. “The question is whether we need to replace the matching fund provision that was struck down by the court with an alternative.”
Pending Fair Elections Now Act Addresses Issue
In that regard, public financing advocates anticipated this ruling as far back as two years ago, according to Common Cause. In the interest of addressing the majority’s anticipated objections, the Fair Elections Now Act was developed and is now pending in Congress. Common Cause explained that this act was written to meet the criteria laid out by the high court today. As with the New Mexico programs, it allows participating candidates to obtain public funds by voluntarily agreeing to limit their acceptance of large, private donations. Yet unlike New Mexico’s programs, the Fair Elections Now Act also allows candidates to accept small donations of $100 or less which are then matched on a five to one basis.
Federal Complaint Filed Against Albuquerque Law
Last week, the conservative political action committee New Mexico Turn Around filed suit in federal court against City Clerk Amy Bailey to block the provision in Albuquerque’s public-financing system that provides matching funds to participating candidates who are outspent by privately funded opponents. The suit alleges that the matching funds provision violates the First and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
The PAC stated it wants to spend money opposing City Council candidate Rey Garduño -- an incumbent who has qualified for public financing -- but will not do so because the matching funds he would get would allegedly "neutralize" the PAC’s spending. New Mexico Turn Around noted in the complaint that it might want to get involved in other council races, too where public financing is in place for candidates.
Councilor Garduño, a Democrat who represents District 6 in the Southeast Heights, qualified for approximately $29,000 in public campaign money this year. He'd also be eligible for matching funds beyond that if any opposing candidates or privately funded groups spent more than that amount in total.
Of Critical Importance
As Common Cause's response emphasizes, whatever course is taken, it’s critically important that we change the way we pay for our politics in this country by moving to a publicly-financed, small-donor system that gives the public a voice back in government. Obviously, for American democracy to survive and flourish, wealthy corporate interests can’t be granted greater influence over the political process than ordinary American voters.
It’s up to lawmakers in New Mexico to ensure our elections are of, by and for the people -- not bought and paid for by special interests. Fair Elections laws prevent wealthy interests from exerting an unfair influence over policy-making at the local, state and federal level. Such programs allow ordinary citizens to have a voice in the political process, ensuring that elected officials pay attention to the people who elected them, not just the special interests that bankrolled their campaigns.
“We need to protect and expand public financing in New Mexico,” says Allen. “The future of our democracy depends on it.”
Note: For background, click to see our previous posts that relate to New Mexico Turn Around, the PAC that filed suit to stop the matching-fund provision:
- NM Rep. Dan Silva Got Help with Legal Fees from GOP-Linked PAC Big Oil Targets Six State Legislative Races
- Republican PAC Donated to Dem House Challengers, DPNM Urges Candidates to Return Funds
- Democratic Legislative Leaders Demand Immediate Return of GOP Funds Accepted by Dem House Candidate Matthew Archuleta
- Susana Martinez Repays Robert Aragon with Appointment to State Finance Board