Tagnew mexico

Stories about New Mexico

New Mexico voters will decide whether to increase funding for early childhood education and public schools

On March 18, the New Mexico State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would allocate 1.25% of the five-year average of year-end market values of the money in the Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) to early childhood education and the public school permanent fund. Revenue in the LGPF comes from leases and royalties on non-renewable natural resources, such as oil and gas, and returns on invested capital. It is currently valued at over $20 billion.

Of the total increased allocation, 60% would go towards early childhood education, and 40% would go toward the public school permanent fund. The amendment defines early childhood education as “nonsectarian and nondenominational education for children until they are eligible for kindergarten.” The amendment would also provide that the allocation would not occur if the balance of the Land Grant Permanent Fund drops below $17 billion. The measure will likely appear on the ballot in November 2022 unless a special election is called for an earlier date.

In New Mexico, both chambers of the New Mexico State Legislature need to approve a constitutional amendment by a simple majority during one legislative session to refer the amendment to the ballot. This amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR 1) on January 19, 2021. On February 12, 2021, the state House passed HJR 1 in a vote of 44-23 with three absent. On March 18, 2021, the state Senate passed it in a vote of 26-16. Both votes were largely along party lines. New Mexico has a Democratic state government trifecta.

The amendment was sponsored by Democratic Representatives Antonio Maestas, Javier Martínez, Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson, Georgene Louis, and Senator Pete Campos (D). 

Sen. Leo Jaramillo (D), who voted in favor of the amendment, said, “Studies show that pre-kindergarten and other programs for kids 5 and under later pay off with higher high school graduation rates and fewer incarcerations.”

Sen. Bill Sharer (R), who opposes the amendment, said, “Each time we tap into it, we harm that compound interest,” he said of the endowment. “Each time we do that, sometime in the future we are somehow harming children.”

Similar amendments were introduced during the last six legislative sessions but did not pass both chambers of the state legislature.

Between 1995 and 2020, New Mexico voters approved 87% (89 of 102) and rejected 13% (13 of 103) of the ballot measures that appeared statewide.

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New Mexico state Rep. Phelps Anderson changes party affiliation

New Mexico state Rep. Phelps Anderson changed his voter registration from Republican to “declined to state” on Feb. 5 after he was the only Republican to vote in favor of repealing a 1969 anti-abortion law.

Phelps was first elected to House District 66 in 2018 and ran uncontested for re-election in 2020.

Of the 70 members in the New Mexico House, 45 are Democrats, 24 are Republicans, and one is an independent.

This is the third state legislator in New Mexico to switch parties since 1994. Rep. Andrew Nunez changed his partisan affiliation to independent on Jan. 25, 2011. Nunez represented District 36 from 2001 to 2013. On Nov. 10, 2020, District 12 Rep. Brittney Barreras changed her partisan affiliation from independent to Democratic. Barreras is currently serving her first term in the House.

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Julie Vargas sworn in to New Mexico Supreme Court

On January 25, Julie Vargas was sworn in as a justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appointed Vargas on December 19, 2020, to succeed Justice Judith Nakamura (R), who retired on December 1.

Prior to her appointment, Vargas was a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals. She was elected to this position on November 8, 2016.

All five New Mexico Supreme Court justices have been either elected as Democrats or appointed by Democratic governors. Gov. Lujan Grisham has appointed three state supreme court justices, and Chief Justice Michael Vigil and Associate Justice Barbara Vigil (no relation) were elected as Democrats.

Under New Mexico law, state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointment, in which the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission.

Gubernatorial appointees must stand in a partisan election in the next election cycle to remain on the court. To remain on the bench, Julie Vargas must run for election in 2022. Subsequent terms are acquired in uncontested retention elections wherein sitting justices must receive 57% of the vote to retain their seat

New Mexico is one of seven states that use partisan elections to select state supreme court justices for either initial or subsequent terms. Of those seven states, four—Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—have a majority of Democratic justices while three—Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas—have a Republican majority.



Governor’s appointment shifts New Mexico Supreme Court partisan balance

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appointed Julie Vargas (D) to the New Mexico Supreme Court on December 19, 2020. Vargas succeeds Justice Judith Nakamura (R) who retired on Dec. 1. Vargas was Gov. Lujan Grisham’s third nominee to the five-member supreme court. Her appointment shifted the partisan balance on the New Mexico Supreme Court from four Democrat justices and one Republican justice to a court of five Democrat justices.

Under New Mexico law, state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointment, where the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. Justices appointed by the governor must stand in a partisan election in the next election cycle to remain on the court.

New Mexico is one of seven states that use partisan elections to select state supreme court justices for either initial or subsequent terms. Of those seven states, four (Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) have a Democrat majority while three (Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas) have a Republican majority on the court.

Julie Vargas was a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals. She was elected to this position in a partisan election on November 8, 2016, defeating 2016 appointee incumbent Judge Stephen French (R).

Nakamura planned to retire on August 1, but she postponed the retirement date in June. Governor Susana Martinez (R) appointed Nakamura to the court on November 12, 2015, to fill a vacancy. Nakamura was elected on November 8, 2016, to the unexpired term of her predecessor. Nakamura served as chief justice from 2017 to 2020.

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New Mexico, West Virginia allow schools to reopen after holiday closures

Starting Jan. 19, all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools in West Virginia were required to resume full-time in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s coronavirus transmission rates. High schools were still required to close if located in counties the Department of Health and Human Resources classified as red in the County Alert System map.

Schools in areas of New Mexico with lower coronavirus transmission rates were permitted to begin reopening for in-person or hybrid instruction on Jan. 18.  

New Mexico and West Virginia had ordered schools closed for in-person instruction since the beginning of January to mitigate holiday virus spread. 

The nationwide status of school closures and reopenings is as follows:

• Washington, D.C., had a district-ordered school closure.

• Six states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.C., N.M., W.Va.) had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.

• Four states (Ark., Fla, Iowa, Texas) had state-ordered in-person instruction.

• Forty states left decisions to schools or districts.



Supreme Court releases opinion on water dispute between Texas and New Mexico

Image of the front of the United States Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in Texas v. New Mexico, which was argued on October 5, 2020. The case is part of the court’s original jurisdiction, meaning it was the first and only court to hear the case. Original jurisdiction cases are rare. According to the Federal Judicial Center, since 1960, the court “received fewer than 140 motions for leave to file original cases, nearly half of which were denied a hearing.”

Texas v. New Mexico concerned an interstate water dispute. In 1949, the two states entered a compact about use of the Pecos River, which flows south from New Mexico to Texas, where it joins the Rio Grande. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed a river master to issue an annual report summarizing New Mexico’s compliance with its compact obligations. In this case, Texas challenged retroactive changes the river master made to his 2014-2015 annual report.

In a 7-1 opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court denied Texas’ motion to review the river master’s annual report, holding the river master correctly determined New Mexico’s water delivery credit. Kavanaugh wrote, “As the River Master correctly concluded, New Mexico is entitled to delivery credit for the evaporated water. That result is both legally accurate and entirely fair.”

Justice Samuel Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. In his opinion, Alito wrote that he would have vacated the case and remanded it to the river master with instructions to redo his analysis.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case. She was not a member of the court when arguments were held.

As of December 14, 2020, the court had issued opinions in nine cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.

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Supreme Court releases opinion on water dispute between Texas and New Mexico

Image of the front of the United States Supreme Court building.

The Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in Texas v. New Mexico, which was argued on October 5, 2020. The case is part of the court’s original jurisdiction, meaning it was the first and only court to hear the case.

Texas v. New Mexico concerned an interstate water dispute. In 1949, the two states entered a compact about use of the Pecos River, which flows south from New Mexico to Texas, where it joins the Rio Grande. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed a river master to issue an annual report summarizing New Mexico’s compliance with its compact obligations. In this case, Texas challenged retroactive changes the river master made to his 2014-2015 annual report.

In a 7-1 opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court denied Texas’ motion to review the river master’s annual report, holding the river master correctly determined New Mexico’s water delivery credit. Kavanaugh wrote, “As the River Master correctly concluded, New Mexico is entitled to delivery credit for the evaporated water. That result is both legally accurate and entirely fair.”

Justice Samuel Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. In his opinion, Alito wrote that he would have vacated the case and remanded it to the river master with instructions to redo his analysis.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case. She was not a member of the court when arguments were held.

As of December 14, 2020, the court had issued opinions in nine cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.

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New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Nakamura retires

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura retired on Dec. 1, 2020. She originally planned to retire on Aug. 1 but postponed her retirement date in June. 

Governor Susana Martinez (R) appointed Nakamura to the court in November 2015. Prior to her appointment, Nakamura was a judge on the New Mexico Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico and a J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Under New Mexico law, state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointment, where the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. On Nov. 19, the judicial nominating commission recommended four candidates to the governor, two of which have served as District Court judges and two as Court of Appeals judges. Nakamura’s replacement will be Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) third nominee to the five-member supreme court. The new appointee will stand for partisan election in November 2022.

As of Dec. 2, two justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court were elected in partisan elections as Democrats, two were appointed by Lujan Grisham, and one seat was vacant.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, while 21 were caused by retirements.

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Yvette Herrell defeats incumbent Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District

Yvette Herrell (R) defeated incumbent Xochitl Torres Small (D) and Steve Jones (I) in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

The race was one of 56 U.S. House rematches ongoing this year; Herrell and Small ran for the then-open seat in 2018, as incumbent Steve Pearce (R) sought the governorship. That year, Torres Small defeated Herrell 51% to 49% to flip the seat.

This was also one of 30 U.S. House seats Democrats were defending this year that President Trump (R) carried in 2016. That year, he defeated Hillary Clinton (D) 50% to 40% in the 2nd District.

This is one of three districts so far where the New York Times, CNN, ABC, NBC, and FOX News have each called as a Democratic to Republican flip. The other two districts (Minnesota’s 7th and Oklahoma’s 5th) also went to President Trump by margins of 10 percentage points or greater in 2016. The five outlets have called two districts as Republican to Democratic flips, both North Carolina districts that were redrawn last year.



Trujillo resigns from New Mexico House of Representatives

On Sept. 28, Rep. Jim Trujillo (D) resigned from the District 45 seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives, citing health and family reasons. Trujillo was first appointed to the seat in 2003 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Patsy Trujillo, to whom he is not related.

Trujillo’s successor will be appointed by the Santa Fe County Commission and will serve until his term ends in January. Linda Serrato (D) and Helen Milenski (L) are running for the District 45 seat in the Nov. 3 general election. In 2018, Trujillo was unopposed for reelection to the seat.

All 70 seats in the New Mexico House of Representatives are up for election this year. Ballotpedia has identified the New Mexico House of Representatives as one of 22 state legislative battleground chambers for the 2020 cycle. With Trujillo’s resignation, the current partisan breakdown of the chamber is 45 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and one vacancy. Republicans need to win 12 more seats, or 17% of the total seats, to gain a majority in the House. Democrats will retain control of the New Mexico State House if they lose fewer than 12 net seats. New Mexico is currently one of 15 states with a Democratic trifecta.

Additional reading:
New Mexico House of Representatives elections, 2020
State legislative battleground chambers, 2020
State legislative vacancies, 2020
State government trifectas