As the national political whirlwind of 2016 swirled around us here in the Land of Enchantment, we contended with a few dust devils of our own. It was an unsettled, windblown year for New Mexico, news-wise. Here’s a summary of the not-so-carefree breezes that blew through the state.
Our state did not fare well in 2016. New Mexico ranked 5th in the nation for most violent city. For the second consecutive year in a row our state ranked 49th overall for child well-being. For the second year in a row it was named the worst run state in the nation by 24/7 Wall St., a financial and commentary website that ranks a variety of issues. Forbes magazine ranked New Mexico at the bottom of the list for labor supply, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life. Other sad stats include the second highest unemployment rate in the nation at 6.7 percent, contributing to the struggles of the more than 20 percent living in poverty. We also topped the nation for the most unprocessed sexual assault kits per capita and the number continues to rise.
When Governor Susana Martinez was too busy to attend Donald Trump’s Albuquerque rally, he said she was doing a terrible job as governor; a few days later Trump said he respected her and wanted her endorsement. Martinez said she would not support him because of his comments regarding the grabbing of women’s genitals as his prerogative. But her concerns about Trump’s misogyny only lasted until after Trump won, when Martinez flip-flopped and said he was the superior candidate for the job. Rumor has it that at least one of her Republican minions, New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, could be off to Washington hoping to score a seat at the Trump education table. Martinez also spent lots of money to oust Democrat Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But luckily his was the only blue seat that was lost in the New Mexico Senate.
New Mexico voters gave Democrat Hillary Clinton our five electoral votes. Democrats regained control of the state House of Representatives after two years under Republican rule. Republican House Speaker Don Tripp said he will retire after he oversees the beginning of the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 17. Tripp said in a recent interview it was too awkward to go from being speaker to just a regular member of the house. Tripp’s wife, Rosie, is a member of the Republican National Committee. Gov. Martinez will choose his successor. House Democrats have put up Santa Fe’s Rep. Brian Egolf to be the next House leader. With Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate, Martinez is going to have a little harder time passing some of her Republican initiatives.
The New Mexico State Constitution requires a balanced budget. Therefore, it was clear for months that Governor Martinez would have to call a special session in October to fix the budget deficit. The state overspent $131 million in the 2015-2016 fiscal year and had to dip into the state’s reserves to the tune of $458 million to keep the state running for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Then in the middle of the night, without adequate public notice, House Republicans called for approval to reinstate the death penalty in certain cases. All the reds voted in favor and all the blues opposed the measure. Just after dawn, Catholic Archbishop John Wester rolled into the Roundhouse to blast the trigger-happy Republicans not only for their votes, but their sneakiness too. When the Democrat-controlled Senate returned, they approved the amended House budget bills but ignored the divisive death penalty bill. We can expect these bills to be back on the table during the upcoming 60-day session.
Two Albuquerque police officers, Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, were tried for murder over the 2014 killing of homeless camper James Boyd. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Special Prosecutor Randi McGinn dropped the case against Perez and left the decision to retry Sandy up to Raúl Torrez, the new district attorney, who said he will turn the case over to a team of outside prosecutors to determine whether they will be retried or not.
The controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project is one of the city’s most divisive stories of the year. During this year of court cases, ballot questions and protests, the bulldozers kept rolling along nine miles of Central, from Coors to Louisiana. The more than $119 million project is being built with not-yet-acquired federal funding. Businesses along the route are being hit hard and some don’t think they will be able to survive the next year of construction. More than 76 percent of area voters said city residents should be allowed to vote on this project.
On the down side, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nuclear waste burial site located near Carlsbad, was cleared to be reopened after being closed for three years to clean up a radioactive incident. On the upside, progress was made in cleaning up the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill. Though the military, federal and state responses to this major environmental disaster-