Our Resident Smart Aleck Talks about ALEC (VIDEO)

Sarah Kennedy has a feast with all the products made by corporations that dropped their sponsorships of ALEC last week.

Just in case you missed the national furor about the American Legislative Exchange Council over the last week, here are a few links to bring you up to speed:

The Nation: How ALEC Took Florida’s ‘License to Kill’ Law National

NY Times: Embarrassed by Bad Laws

McClatchy: Study: ALEC has ‘secretive influence’ in Missouri statehouse

Common Cause: ALEC Exposed, for 24 Hours

(Special Bonus) Here’s an oldie, but goodie from ClearlyNM about one of ALEC’s interventions in New Mexico:

Kochtopus Bill Has Its Tentacles In The New Mexico Legislature

And speaking of the Koch brothers, this just in from Center for Media and Demoracy: ALEC Gets Support From Koch-Funded Americans for Prosperity

Hundreds rally at Roundhouse in support of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants

By Matthew Reichbach

A nun participating in the protest against repealing the law allowing undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

Hundreds of immigrants and supporters of immigrant drivers licenses rallied outside the Roundhouse Tuesday morning hoping to send a message to Gov. Susana Martinez. The rally, so far the largest at the Roundhouse in the 2012 session, included support from the Catholic Church and organized labor.

A theme among the protests was that keeping the current drivers license policy promotes greater public safety by giving law enforcement a current and complete database of driving and other offenses.

“You drink, you drive, who knows?” was a popular chant, referring to the popular anti-DWI campaign, “You drink, you drive, you lose.”

Allen Sanchez, Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking at drivers license rally. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

The Catholic Church has been a staunch opponent of the movement to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to earn New Mexico drivers licenses.

Allen Sanchez, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed his speech from a similar rally in September.

“I have a message,” Sanchez told the crowd. “Governor, Jesus was an immigrant!”

Sanchez said that this is a “gospel issue” for the Catholic bishops in New Mexico and said that the legislature should instead be focused on other priorities during the session — notably funding schools and creating jobs.

Daniel Manzano, Director of Policy and Communication for the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that keeping drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants was important for his group for three main reasons.

For example, it allows victims of domestic violence to be able to drive away from abusive husbands “safely and legally.” He also said that driver licenses would allow these women to be financially independent. He also said the drivers licenses count as a form of identification for the courts, which is necessary to get an order of protection.

“The weather can’t even stop us today,” Manzano said, referring to the overcast skies and occasional flakes of snow dropping onto the large crowd.

Odds and Ends

  • A clever noisemaker that was handed out to many protesters was made out of two plastic cups taped together with rocks inside.
  • A chant that the protesters repeated while marching around the Roundhouse and in front of the rally’s stage was, “Susana, escucha, somos en la lucha!” Loosely translated, that means, “Susana, listen, we are in the struggle!”
  • The most popular headwear at the rally was Los Angeles Dodgers hats. The Dodgers are popular among the Mexican-American community in large part because of Fernando Valenzuela, the legendary Mexican lefthander who won 173 games in 17 big league seasons.
  • For more photos, see my Flickr set.

Redistricting takes backseat in pre-session rallies

By Matthew Reichbach

There was considerable action throughout the Roundhouse even before the special session officially kicked off at noon — and very little of it was related to redistricting. Perhaps this was a signal that the other issues added to the special session agenda will hijack the decennial affair that is mandated by the Constitution to redraw new district lines.

A coalition of groups called New Mexico Can Do Better, which supports the law that allows immigrants to earn drivers licenses in New Mexico, held a rally in the Capitol Rotunda and an hour later a coalition of tea party groups from throughout the state rallied outside the Roundhouse.

Allen Sanchez, representing the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops support the current driver’s license law and noted that Jesus was an immigrant.

“The bishops don’t always get involved but we do when it is an ethical or moral issue,” Sanchez said at the press conference. “This is an ethical issue.”

The tea party groups rallied to protest the law and support the policies that Governor Susana Martinez has added to the special session docket. A common theme among speakers at the tea party was to cut spending.

Therese Cooper, co-founder of the East Mountain Tea Party, likened spending by the state legislature to slavery.

“They have enslaved our state. They have enslaved our people,” Cooper said to cheers from the crowd.

Many speakers at the tea party said that if the legislators did not listen to the will of the people, they would be voted out of office.

The rally by New Mexico Can Do Better was focused on the drivers license issue.

Jose Manuel Escobedo, the Policy Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said that “The law that we have now is a common sense law.”

Sanchez was more personal and mentioned a story about a couple who entered the country without a visa, but then went on to work hard so that their children could have a better life. He then went on to say that they were Susana Martinez’s great-grandparents. The revelation about Martinez’s great-grandparents made national headlines.

The two collections of groups disagreed on whether or not the law made the roads safer.

Tea party members said that studies have shown that the driver’s license law has not reduced the percentage of uninsured drivers on New Mexico roads.

However, putting aside the dispute over the numbers of uninsured motorists, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are licensed drivers

Sheryl Bohlander of Club 54, a conservative group from Santa Fe, said that those who support the current law “will use fear and emotion to push their agenda.”

Another speaker likened the debate to that of good and evil.

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, also spoke at the tea party rally and noted that he supports Martinez’s initiatives during the special session, saying that it would be more beneficial to taxpayers to do more than just the redistricting during the special session.

Allen Sanchez led the groups in calling on Martinez to compromise with the legislature, chanting in the Roundhouse hoping that Martinez could hear on the fourth floor.

Death Penalty Reinstatement Dies in Committee

By Claus Whiteacre

Last night the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to table two measures intended to reinstate the death penalty in New Mexico.

Both House Bill 371 and House Joint Resolution 6 were sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell).

In a somewhat strange introduction of his bills before the committee, Rep. Kintigh spoke about a double murder that occurred shortly before he was to retire from the FBI and then he worked on for six years.

When committee chair Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) asked who was there to support the bills, not a single hand went up from the two-dozen or so attendees.

Several individuals expressed opposition to the measures including Allen Sanchez, spokesman for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Jeff Buckels from the Public Defenders Department. The debate produced some striking statements about the death penalty, such as this from Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque):

“Should a free society grant the government the authority to kill a human being? For me the answer is no.”

Rep. Chasey, who sponsored the 2009 bill that repealed the death penalty, said:

“One thing that has not been brought up, is the inherent racism with the death penalty. The death penalty is most often sought when the victims are white.”

Gov. Susana Martinez had made reinstating the death penalty a major promise during her campaign for governor. Last night’s debate appears to have ended the possibility that it will happen during this year’s session.

Community Rallies at Roundhouse for Anti Racism Day

Poet Hakim Bellamy performing in the Capitol Rotunda on Anti Racism Day. Photo by Claus Whiteacre.

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

The most important piece of health legislation in this year’s session might just be one without the words Medicaid, health insurance, or the names of any disease conditions in it.

Instead, it is a bill addressing institutional racism, the practices and policies within institutions (e.g schools, courts, hospitals, businesses) that lead to unequal access to resources based on skin color.

A week ago, the health professionals, educators, and community activists of the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group (NMHEWG) rallied for the bill at the first-ever “Anti Racism Day” at the legislature.

House Joint Memorial 32, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) passed its first test, being approved by the House Labor Committee at 8pm on Thursday, February 17th.

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Important EPA Hearing Tomorrow on the San Juan Generating Station!

By Tracy Dingmann

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing in Farmington tomorrow to determine the scope of a plan to force cleaner operation of the San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners area.

The San Juan Generating Station is known as one of the dirtiest coal-burning power plants in the nation. The massive 1,848 megawatt coal-fired power plant is owned primarily by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM. The plant, which consists of four coal-fired boilers, is located in northwestern New Mexico near the town of Waterflow.

The power plant is the second largest source of air pollution in New Mexico (right behind the Four Corners power plant). Every year, its air pollution contributes to 33 premature deaths, 600 asthma attacks, 31 asthma-related emergency room visits, and other health impacts, at an estimated cost of more than $254 million.

Its air pollution affects indigenous communities in the region, a number of National Parks and Monuments, and regional smog levels, the nearest being Mesa Verde National Park, which is 30 miles north.

One of the best hopes for cleaning up worsening air quality in the Four Corners region is for the owners of to clean up air pollution from its smokestacks by installing proposed pollution-control upgrades.

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Claus’s Recap of Week Four

By Claus Whiteacre

It was the week that wasn’t.

A senator introduced a “zombie bill” to once again try to kill greenhouse gas emission rules. Harrison Schmitt withdrew his name from consideration as Secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Uranium boosters and conservation advocates united to defeat a uranium-mining bill. And the week culminated with the Rev. Al Sharpton addressing a joint session as part of the annual African-American Day at the Legislature.

Immigration Issues

The week kicked off Monday with a sizable immigrant rights rally at the Capitol to protest Gov. Susana Martinez’s executive order mandating inquiry about immigration status of criminal suspects and her plans for legislation to revoke driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

The first of the bills to strip immigrants of licenses, HB 261, died Thursday in a House committee.

Rep. Andy Nunez, (I- Hatch) has announced that he will sponsor HB 78, which, in addition to containing language similar to HB 261, also includes a measure to cancel existing licenses that have been issued to illegal immigrants.

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Rally at Roundhouse Shows Real Faces of New Mexico

Immigration rally Monday at the Capitol

By Claus Whiteacre

On Monday, several hundred people gathered at the State Capitol in Santa Fe to protest Gov. Susana Martinez’s recent executive order mandating that state police officers ask criminal suspects about their immigration status, and her stated intent to take drivers licenses from undocumented immigrants.

The crowd was a mixture of ages, ethnicities, and walks of life. I noted a friar carrying a sign, lawmakers, activists and people with bundled-up toddlers. There were speeches and chanting and improvised noise-makers made of plastic cups filled with rocks.

A lone counter-protestor holding a sign stood apart from the crowd during the entire rally. While it was balmy compared to last week, it was still a brisk day.

A lone counter-protester

One of the organizers approached the young woman and asked whether she would like a cup of hot chocolate or tea. The offer was declined.

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Camino Real Decision Shows New Mexico is Open For…Out of State Trash?

By Tracy Dingmann

Environmental groups and residents of Sunland Park, N.M. were swift to express their keen disappointment today at the state of New Mexico’s decision to grant the Camino Real landfill a 10-year permit.

Residents of Sunland Park have long said they don’t want the landfill in their midst and say they are worried about known and unknown factors affecting their health and quality of life. The landfill sits atop one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest and is suspected of affecting the purity of the drinking water it provides.

“We are extremely disappointed that Governor Martinez and Secretary-designate Martin chose to side with corporate polluters instead of protecting families in Sunland Park,” said Michael Casaus, a senior field organizing manager with the Sierra Club. “Elected officials should step up their efforts to protect New Mexico’s precious clean water supplies, instead of increasing profits for out-of-state corporations.

“Over 90 percent of the waste that ends up in this landfill comes from outside New Mexico, primarily from Texas. This ruling sends a clear message that not only is New Mexico open to business, as Governor Martinez proclaimed in her recent State of State Address, but is apparently open to out-of-state trash as well,” said Casaus.

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