"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

Watch out, Bambi! Hunters can still use drones — for now

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-05-15 15:51

DEATH FROM ABOVE?: New Mexico is considering an outright ban of drones that are used to help hunters track down big game.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – Look out, Bambi. You’re still in danger from drones in New Mexico.

On Thursday, the State Game Commission decided to wait until next month to consider outlawing hunters from using drones in New Mexico.

“We’ll take a good, hard look to see if it’s within our power to get an outright ban,” commission chairman Paul Kienzle said as the seven-member board unanimously voted to table a proposal that would prohibit what scientists call “unmanned aerial systems” from tracking down big game by monitoring their activity from the air.

“It’s a fair chase issue,” Robert Griego, colonel of field operations at the New Mexico Game and Fish Department told New Mexico Watchdog. “That’s what we always want to maintain. We don’t want things to get to the point where it’s just like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“A person can use a drone to find a trophy animal or simply find all the animals and get a head start on other hunters,” said John Crenshaw, board president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “It’s unfair to the hunters and it’s unfair to the game.”

“It’s just wrong,” said Elisabeth Dicharry, an open spaces advocate from Los Lunas who wants to see an outright ban. “All species (such as coyotes and prairie dogs) should not be hunted with drones.”

The federal Airborne Hunting Act prohibits the use of aircraft to track or shoot animals, but there is no federal law covering drones.

The measure tabled Thursday would make it illegal to use drones “to signal an animal’s location, to harass a game animal or to hunt a protected species observed from a drone within 48 hours.”

“It’s starting to grow nationwide,” said Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “I was talking to some sportsmen people here in New Mexico over the last nine months and I had three of them say their hunts were screwed up because somebody used a drone to move an elk out of the way, or to move it down to where they were.”

New Mexico isn’t the only state to consider outlawing drones for hunting.

Alaska, Colorado and Montana have already passed bans, and a combination of sportsmen’s groups and animal protection agencies are calling for states across the country to join in.

“As the price of drones comes down, they have a lot of potential for abuse,” Crenshaw told commissioners. “It seems the electronics is outrunning the rulemaking.”

While using drones for hunting is under fire, drones have also been used in places such as Africa to protect animals against poachers and to track the movement of herds for wildlife research.

“You’d look at having a research, a law enforcement exception,” Kienzle said after the meeting.

In an unusual twist, in Massachusetts, representatives of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used drones to videotape hunters in the field. PETA said it did so to make sure hunters were obeying the law.

“To me, using drones to monitor wildlife or monitor hunters, that would be harassment,” Simpson said.

The New Mexico Game Commission plans to bring the issue up again when it meets next month in Ruidoso.

Drones aren’t new to New Mexico.

The state is home to the only flight test center approved by the Federal Aviation Administration — the Unmanned Aerial Systems Technical Analysis and Applications Center at New Mexico State University — that flies and tests drones in the southern portion of the state.

Drone deployment has spiked across the country in recent years. They’ve been employed, for example, by highway officials to check traffic conditions and by forest rangers to track forest fires.

Last December, amazon.com executives unveiled plans to use drones to deliver packages.

But there’s been pushback, with some civil libertarians expressing concern about drones being used as “Big Brother” and invading privacy.

Legislation was introduced in Louisiana and an ordinance put up for a vote in Colorado that went so far as to allow property owners to shoot down drones for trespassing. Neither measure passed.

As for drones and hunting in New Mexico, here’s more from Oscar Simpson:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Hispanic lawmaker blasts ‘Anglo Democrats,’ then apologizes … to some

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-05-14 18:26

‘TREACHERY IN OUR RANKS’: Longtime Democrat in the NM House of Representatives, Miguel Garcia, attacked “Democratic Anglo newcomers” in an email.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A longtime Democrat in the New Mexico House of Representatives apologized Wednesday for a blistering email he sent to fellow House members, urging opposition to two white Democratic candidates running against Hispanic candidates in the upcoming June 3 party primary.

In a portion of the email under the heading, “Treachery In Our Ranks,” Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, called on members to support Andrew Barreras and Frank Otero in their respective primaries over fellow Democrats Jim Danner and Teresa Smith de Cherif in Valencia County.

“A minority of unsuspecting Democratic leaders are supporting the Democratic Anglo newcomer opponents in Andrew’s and Frank’s primary races. Anglo Democrats with egos as big as Texas, mouths as big as the Grand Canyon, and much ‘green’ (moolah) from the East and the West Coast,” the email said, as first reported by KRQE-TV.

At first, Garcia did not apologize for the email, sending a text to KRQE that said, “I did not send the email to the media. I have nothing to share regarding my email seeking support for two outstanding candidates.”

But news of the email spread quickly across the state and by Wednesday afternoon, Garcia apologized for making “inappropriate comments.”

Garcia also released an email he sent to Danner to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“I want to ask for your forgiveness regarding the negative manner in which I questioned your character or campaign pursuits,” Garcia wrote. “It is not in me to speak negatively of fellow Democrats, or anyone for that fact, that I am not personally acquainted with or familiar with. In my legislative career I pride myself on always taking the ‘moral high ground’ on issues of bigotry, discrimination, inequality, prejudice, intolerance, hatred — I faltered in reaching that in my email.”

But Garcia, who has served in the House for 17 years, did not apologize for the attacks he made in his original email on two incumbent Republicans in Valencia County and one incumbent Democrat who sometimes sides with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

In reference to Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, Garcia called Jeff “a renegade Democrat who licks the Governor’s (armpits).”

He referred to Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, as a “loyal lapdog” of Martinez and wrote that Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, “always falls in line every time Gov. Martinez snaps her blood-stained fingers.”

“I feel it’s pretty disgusting,” Jeff told New Mexico Watchdog. “I don’t think, as Democrats, that’s not our values. He should be ashamed. That’s a personal jab.”

Baldonado said he doesn’t think Garcia owes him an apology. “He can’t change his perspective on things if that’s the way he looks at things,” Baldonado said in a phone interview.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Otero County’s fight with the feds over cattle and the meadow jumping mouse

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-05-14 12:08

MOUSE IN THE MIDDLE: The meadow jumping mouse is expected to be listed as endangered next month.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — It hasn’t reached the fever-pitch of the showdown involving Cliven Bundy, but a handful of ranchers in southern New Mexico have locked horns with the federal government.

Their complaint? Officials at the U.S. Forest Service have fenced off access to water for the ranchers’ grazing cattle because the feds want to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse, which is expected to be listed as an endangered species next month.

The Forest Service says it is worried cattle will damage 23 acres along the Agua Chiquita that includes a natural spring it says is essential the protect the ecosystem for the mouse.

Ranchers are angry the feds have reinforced locks and fences to keep out their cattle, thirsty from a long drought that has hit New Mexico. Besides, they say, the land belongs to a local rancher.

“The Forest Service has no right to appropriate water under New Mexico law,” Blair Dunn, an attorney for Otero County, told New Mexico Watchdog.

But the Forest Service disagrees and says the fences have been in place since the 1990s and the creek itself is on federal property.

“We’ve provided reasonable access to the water, even if there is a water right on these sites,” Forest Supervisor Travis Moseley told KVIA-TV.

Tensions are rising.

On Monday, Otero County Commissioners voted 2-0 to authorize Sheriff Benny House to open the gate.

LOCKED OUT: The U.S. Forest Service has locked out ranchers in southern New Mexico from a creek said to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse.

“I’ve never seen one of these mice, and the Forest Service claims they caught one last year,” Commissioner Tommie Herrell told Reuters.

The endangered listing for the meadow jumping mouse comes after a settlement was reached with WildEarth Guardians in 2011.

“The job of the Forest Service is to balance uses for the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, not to provide subsidized grazing to welfare ranchers,” WildEarth Guardians posted on its Facebook page May 6.

Otero County resident Denise Lang said he hopes the feds win the dispute.

“This is the U.S. Forest Service who is protecting the sustainability of our forest,” Lang told commissioners at Monday’s meeting.

Sheriff House has not acted yet. Instead, what’s being called a “facilitated discussion” between the two sides has been scheduled for Friday at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque to try to come to a compromise.

“Hopefully we can get something resolved on Friday,” said House.

“This is part of a larger issue,” Dunn said. “There’s a big, strong push, which comes from the White House, to push grazing and oil and gas uses off federal ground. This incident here is just another example.”

“The Forest Service will continue to work to ensure all parties involved understand that the fence is fully compliant with state and federal law,” the service said in a statement released earlier this week.

The Otero County flare-up comes a month after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy squared off against officials at the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy, who has lost repeatedly in court, tends his cattle on federal land. After the BLM tried to round-up his cattle and sparked a protest, the BLM stopped the roundup and is considering what to do next.

In Utah, meanwhile, another protest has popped up over the use of ATVs on trails that go into Recapture Canyon in the southeastern part of the state that have deemed off-limits.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Big bucks: Up to $80m for technology upgrades and free computers for kids in Santa Fe

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-13 17:00

A COMPUTER FOR EVERY KID: Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd (left) says a $55 million, five-year investment in technology is a tool to help students compete in the 21st century. Santa Fe Public Schools photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — Taxpayers in New Mexico’s capital city have spent plenty in recent years for improved technology and computers for the Santa Fe Public Schools system.

Now they’re about to pay a lot more.

“While we were doing a lot and there was a lot of investment, it certainly was not meeting the needs of our youngsters and it wasn’t enough to meet the needs of our teachers in the classroom,” Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd told New Mexico Watchdog.

As a result, the Santa Fe board of education recently passed a $55 million Digital Learning Plan that promises to integrate technology for students and teachers, upgrade computer infrastructure and eventually give personal computers to each of the 14,000 students in the district.

Just two years ago, Santa Fe voters approved a bond to provide $12.7 million per year for six years to fund construction and technological enhancements. That comes to $76.2 million. Included in that amount was $2.4 million to buy Apple computers and technology for students in the summer of 2012.

Carl Gruenler, the SFPS chief business officer, told New Mexico Watchdog the majority of the $76.2 million is going to building maintenance, and “approximately 25-33 percent has been spent for technology infrastructure and equipment since 2012.”

So what happened to the $2.4 million for Apple computers?

Gruenler said that went to replacing old computers at the district’s two high schools.

The just-passed $55 million Digital Learning Plan will be spread out over five years and the school board has approved the first $11 million to be released this school year.

All told, the total price tag for technology related items (infrastructure, upgrades, computers, support, software for all 34 schools in the mix, etc.) may reach as high as $80 million over the next six years.

That’s a lot of money for a district with 14,000 students.

Boyd said the Digital Learning Plan is necessary after hearing complaints from teachers of “slow systems, slow start-ups and inadequate services for technology for 21st century learning for kids … In order to do what our children need, that’s what it costs.”

“This is no small challenge,” Gruenler said.

School board member Steven Carrillo defends the plan, which passed in February.

“I think it’s not only good, it’s essential if we’re going to provide technology for our children that most school districts have throughout the country,” Carrillo said.

“That’s the biggest first piece — getting our infrastructure into the 21st century,” Carrillo said. “I’m not kidding when I say (the current system is) back there in the 1990s. That’s not an exaggeration.”

SFPS officials conducted a large-scale poll of 600 likely Santa Fe voters and Boyd said 70 percent agreed an investment in technology was needed. “That’s overwhelmingly supportive,” he said.

Can giving students free computers lead to better academic outcomes?

“These are tools,” said Boyd, who took over as superintendent in August 2012. “These don’t take the place of teachers or other things that we’re doing … Each generation has different tools that are needed in the classroom and these happen to the be the tools of this generation.”

Neal McCluskey, education analyst at the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C., is more skeptical.

“Any time I’ve looked at it, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the idea that more technology leads to better outcomes,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been anything systematic that says it has.”

But a growing number of school districts – from Maine to Texas to Oregon to California – are making big investments in technology and giving out free computers to students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District planned to distribute iPads to all of its 660,000 students in 2013. The program ended up costing millions of dollars more than expected and, to the district’s embarrassment, a number of tech-savvy students quickly learned how to disable the firewalls and used the computers to access computer games and pornography sites.

One of the local TV stations called it ” the district’s iPad quagmire.”

Boyd said Los Angeles can’t be compared to Santa Fe.

“L.A. Unified is a district of 700,000 kids,” Boyd said. “It’s the second largest city in this country … It’s vastly different.”

In addition, Boyd said the five-year rollout by SFPS will help ensure potential problems can be avoided.

What kinds of computers will Santa Fe students get? Boyd said it will depend on the needs of each school. Ramirez Thomas Elementary is one of the first schools to receive computers. Boyd said students there will receive iPads.

Even before implementation, the Digital Learning Plan received criticism because the $55 million project was not approved as a bond measure by voters.

Instead, a divided school board approved it by using Educational Technology Notes. Passed by voters in 1996 as an amendment to the state constitution, the notes allow school boards to impose a property tax on their own.

The measure passed on a 3-2 vote, with school board members Lorraine Price and Glenn Wikle voting against it.

“I thought it should go to the voters … Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” said Day, who added that she supports the plan now that it has passed.

“If it was a bond, we would have had to wait two years for the proceeds of the bond (to materialize) and that would have set us further behind,” Carrillo said. “I can say honestly and I’m not exaggerating, I only got three emails — three — from people that did not appreciate that we didn’t go to the voters.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Freedom Works boss: Tea Party ‘stronger, not weaker’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-13 09:01

THE PARTY’S NOT OVER: Matt Kibbe, the CEO of the political action group Freedom Works, says the Tea Party’s influence is not waning, but on the rise. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – They’ve been attacked by Democrats such as Harry Reid as “anarchists,” vilified by the main character on the cable show “The Newsroom” as “the American Taliban” and criticized by some Republicans who point to defeats in Delaware, Indiana and Nevada as possibly costing the party control of the U.S. Senate.

But one of the people responsible for creating the Tea Party says the movement is as strong as ever.

“A lot more of these activists are (focusing) more on local precinct captain divisions, local school boards, state legislators,” said Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of Freedom Works, a political nonprofit based in Washington D.C., that proclaims “lower taxes, less government, more freedom” as its motto.

“So they’ve gone local,” Kibbe told New Mexico Watchdog. “They still think nationally but they’ve focused on the mechanics on a local level. That to me is a sign of a stronger social movement, not a weaker one.”

Kibbe’s group was instrumental in organizing what became the founding event for the Tea Party movement — a Taxpayer March on Washington back on Sept, 12, 2009 that drew hundreds of thousands.

“We had zero advertising,” Kibbe told a crowd of about 75 Monday at a luncheon sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation. “It was all due to social media … That’s the power of decentralization.”

A little more than a year later, Tea Party favorites such as Rand Paul and Justin Amash were elected to Congress and Republicans took control of the House of Representatives.

But in 2012, Barack Obama won re-election and since then, there’s been plenty of speculation that the Tea Party is losing steam.

WHERE IT STARTED: A Taxpayers March on Washington in 2009 marked the beginning of the Tea Party movement.

While Kibbe emphasizes that Freedom Works and the Tea Party movement are independent — “They don’t work for us and we don’t work for them” — Kibbe thinks the Tea Party’s principles are alive and well.

“Very strong support for the Tea Party runs about 30 percent,” Kibbe said. “But if you look at the issues that we fight for — balancing the budget, limiting federal power, defending individual liberty — those issues are trending dramatically in the United States, in large part as a reaction against the Obama administration.”

But does the Tea Party split Republican power?

John McCain and Lindsey Graham have criticized some Tea Party-identified candidates such as Ted Cruz and Speaker of the House John Boehner has wrestled with the Tea Party caucus in the House.

“We don’t win ‘em all,” Kibbe said. “But what’s different is the extraordinary shift in the conversation … we’re all talking about the national debt, we’re talking about overreach in Obamacare. And if you if you look at the polling going into (the 2014 elections), it’s our issues that define this election.”

In New Mexico, a move to replace then-Speaker of the House Ben Luján with a more conservative Democrat was undermined when Tea Party chapters in the southern part of the state pressured Republicans to reject a power-sharing coalition, citing the chapters’ opposition to abortion. Luján survived and many of the GOP members later regretted the decision.

“There are certainly a lot of pro-life tea partiers,” Kibbe said. “But generally speaking, they don’t work on those issues as a group … It shifts and flows and I think that’s where its power comes from. It’s not directed from any top-down organization.”

A Grateful Dead aficionado, microbrew maven and fan of the movie, “The Big Lebowski,” Kibbe is a self-identified libertarian. His most recent book, “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff,” is called a manifesto of the virtues of small government. But he’s also a registered Republican. Which one comes first?

“They’re two different things,” Kibbe said. “I’m a small ‘l’ libertarian because libertarianism is a set of values and a philosophy. Republicans are a political party. And quite often, political parties are empty vessels that can be filled with ideas. I think on rare occasions in my life, Republican Party has lived up that standard.”

Kibbe’s book features “Six Rules for Liberty.”

“Saul Alinsky had 13 rules,” in Alinsky’s book, “Rules for Radicals,” Kibbe told the crowd Monday. “I came up with six.”

Among Kibbe’s rules? Honoring the importance of hard work — something that the actor Ashton Kutcher expressed earlier this year.

“He said, ‘opportunity looks a lot like hard work,’ ” Kibbe said. “He’s basically saying, ‘No one’s going to give this to you. You gotta go get it.’ That was controversial in Hollywood but it’s sort of a common sense notion that even a movie star got and that’s a good thing.”

Here’s the New Mexico Watchdog interview with Kibbe:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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