This story appears in both The Paper and the Santa Fe New Mexican through a partnership to bring our readers the best in reporting from the legislature.
What’s the beef? Senate Republicans on Thursday sent a letter to state Auditor Brian Colón, asking him to probe how Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham uses her contingency fund. The governor came under scrutiny and critical fire last month after media organizations reported on expenditures that ranged from personal items and services to $6,500 on groceries that included Wagyu beef, tuna steaks and several purchases of bottles of tequila, vodka, gin, wine and beer. At the time, one of the governor’s spokespeople said the goods were not for her, but for members of her staff, including her security detail, as well as for visitors.
Though the governor has since apologized and said she made a mistake, state Republican leaders want more accountability. The letter, signed by 14 Senate Republicans, asks the state auditor to investigate whether she violated a provision that says the money not be used as perks or to supplement salaries. “That fund is only supposed to be used to promote the state, not to buy beef from Japan,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho and one of the senators to sign the letter. Only one Republican senator — Stuart Ingle of Portales — did not sign the bill.
Colón said Thursday evening his office has received the Republicans’ request. He said he had already opened “an examination of this matter prior to receiving the letter based on another complaint about it from a member of the public filed with our office.” He said while requests from public officials are always welcome, “this is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it’s us using our normal process to enter an examination. … The process is the same, whether its a complaint received by a member of the public or state officials.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the governor told KOB-TV: “We know the auditor as a matter of course reviews any complaints that are made to his office. As our office has said, we acknowledge some of the purchases were more than what was necessary but none were outside of the bounds of what the fund may be used for.”
Another former legislator dies: Lawmakers announced Thursday that former Rep. Hoyt Pattison, a Republican who served 11 terms from 1963-1984, died Wednesday night. Pattison was 94. “Anybody that knew Hoyt knew that he was a very stout conservative gentlemen, but he was able to put together and help me in the coalition that brought people together,” said Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. Pattison, who represented Eastern New Mexico, served as minority whip from 1965 to 1966 and as minority floor leader from 1975-1984. After serving 22 years in the Legislature, Pattison, who was born in Clovis, became a lobbyist for the Dairy Producers of New Mexico. “He was an especially good friend of mine,” Woods said. “He encouraged me to run for this office.”
Reviewing the state Constitution: A 15-member commission would study the state Constitution and make recommendations to lawmakers before the 2022 legislative session under a bill the Senate approved in a bipartisan 40-2 vote. Senate Bill 367 would appropriate $150,000 for the creation of a Constitutional Review Commission.
The sponsor, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said the state has been taking a “piecemeal approach” to amending the state Constitution. In the current 60-day legislative session, he said there are 31 proposed amendments. “I’m hoping that this will assemble some very bright individuals who can give us some guidance about how New Mexico can do just a little bit better when it comes to governing ourselves,” he said.
Unanimous backing for pilot project: Six higher education institutions in Southeastern New Mexico would participate in a pilot project that would help students transition from community colleges to universities under a bill the Senate passed unanimously Tuesday. The Two-Plus-Two program allows first-time freshman to complete the first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four-year university to finish the remaining two years. The bill is designed to create a “simple, clear pathway for students seeking a bachelor’s degree,” according to a fiscal impact report. “If this is successful, we hope that other regions will adopt the same pilot project,” said the sponsor, Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs.
House broadband plan moves: On Wednesday, when the Senate passed a bill creating an office of broadband technology, the House voted in favor of House Bill 10, the Connection New Mexico Act, which takes a similar approach to the idea of expanding broadband access in New Mexico. House Bill 10 creates a centralized Office of Broadband within the Department of Information Technology to coordinate federal, state and local resources. It also provides a map of current broadband infrastructure and assesses what the state has and still needs to expand. Talk about connecting: Senate bill now goes to the House, while the House bill goes to the Senate.
Quote of the day: “That’s going to be the quote of the year.” — Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said during a virtual news conference when another lawmaker was instructed to unmute his microphone to be heard.
“I got one [a quote of the day] a couple of years ago I wish they had not published … it got me into all sorts of trouble with a colleague.” — Padilla, just before that news conference, to Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences.