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Stories about New Mexico

Democrat Melanie Ann Stansbury wins special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District

Melanie Ann Stansbury (D) defeated Mark Moores (R) and four other candidates in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District special election. Stansbury received 63% of the vote to Moore’s 33%.

The election took place after the U.S. Senate confirmed incumbent Debra Haaland (D) as secretary of the on March 15, 2021.

Stansbury served in the New Mexico House of Representatives since 2019. She led the race in fundraising and spending. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, as of May 12 she had $1,348,453 in receipts and $874,861 in disbursements. Moores had raised $595,423 and spent $469,868.

Christopher Manning (L), Aubrey Dunn (I), write-in Laura Olivas (I), and write-in Robert Ornelas (I) also ran.

The outcome of this race affected partisan control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 117th Congress. Leading up to the election, Democrats had a 219 to 211 majority over Republicans. When Stansbury is sworn in, Democrats will have expanded their majority to 220-211.

As of June 1, 2021, seven special elections have been called during the 117th Congress. From the 113th Congress to the 116th Congress, 50 special elections were held.

To read more about New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District special election, click here.



New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District to hold special election June 1

The special general election for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District is on June 1. Melanie Ann Stansbury (D), Mark Moores (R), Christopher Manning (L), Aubrey Dunn (I), and two write-in candidates are competing for the seat.

The Democratic Party nominated Stansbury at a primary convention on March 31, and the Republican Party nominated Moores at a convention on March 27. 

The special election became necessary after Debra Haaland (D) was confirmed as U.S. secretary of the interior in the Biden administration on March 15. Haaland served from 2019 to 2021.

The U.S. House of Representatives has 219 Democratic members, 211 Republican members, and five vacancies. New Mexico’s delegation to the House includes one Democrat and one Republican with one vacancy.

Seven special elections have been called during the 117th Congress as of May 25. From the 113th Congress to the 116th Congress, 50 special elections were held.

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Melanie Ann Stansbury (D), Mark Moores (R), four others running in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District special election on June 1

Melanie Ann Stansbury (D), Mark Moores (R), and four other candidates are running in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District special election on June 1, 2021. The election was called following incumbent Debra Haaland’s (D) appointment as secretary of the interior in Joe Biden’s (D) presidential administration. 

Stansbury and Moores were elected to run at Democratic and Republican Party conventions, respectively. Stansbury has served in the New Mexico House of Representatives since 2019. She has received endorsements from incumbent Debra Haaland (D) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), EMILY’s List, and the Sierra Club.

Moores has served in the New Mexico State Senate since 2013. He has been endorsed by Rep. Yvette Herrell (R), the Albuquerque Journal, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. 

As of May 12, Stansbury led in fundraising and spending, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. She had $1,348,453 in receipts and $874,861 in disbursements. Moores had raised $595,423 and spent $469,868.

Christopher Manning (L), Aubrey Dunn (I), write-in Laura Olivas (I), and write-in Robert Ornelas (I) are also running.

Haaland had represented New Mexico’s 1st since after the 2018 election. She was re-elected in 2020 58.2% to 41.8%. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden defeated Donald Trump (R) in the district 60.2% to 37.4%. The district last elected a Republican to Congress in 2006 when it backed incumbent Heather Wilson.

The outcome of this race will affect partisan control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 117th Congress. Democrats have a 219 to 211 majority over Republicans. Five seats are vacant.

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New Mexico becomes the third state this year to approve recreational marijuana legalization

On April 12, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed House Bill 2 (HB 2) to legalize recreational marijuana. 

HB 2 made New Mexico the third state to approve recreational marijuana legalization in the last two weeks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a marijuana legalization bill on March 31, and, on April 7, the Virginia General Assembly approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) amended legalization proposal.

HB 2 allows the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of concentrated marijuana, and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis. It allows each person to grow up to six mature and six immature marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 mature plants per household. Local governments will be allowed to pass laws regulating certain commercial activity and density. 

Marijuana sales will be taxed at 12% through July 1, 2025. After 2025, the tax will increase by one percentage point annually until it reaches 18% in 2030. One-third of revenue will go to the city in which the sale occurred, one-third to the county, and the other third will be distributed by future legislation.

Provisions of HB 2 without specified timelines, such as legalization of possession and use, will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns, estimated to be around July 1. The bill also establishes the Cannabis Control Division to regulate and license commercial marijuana activity. The division must establish a date to begin legal marijuana sales starting no later than April 1, 2022.

Another bill, Senate Bill 2, provided for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions for activities made legal by HB 2.

New Mexico was the fifth state to approve legalized recreational marijuana through legislative action rather than a voter-approved ballot measure. Including New Mexico, 17 states and D.C. have enacted marijuana legalization. The first nine states to legalize recreational marijuana did so through ballot initiatives. An additional 13 states have decriminalized recreational marijuana usage.

South Dakota voters approved a recreational marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it was ruled unconstitutional. Proponents said they would appeal the ruling to the state supreme court.

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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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