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Home / Articles / News / Features /  Top 10 of 2013
cover 12.25.2013
Illustration by Danny Hellman

Top 10 of 2013

SFR Recounts the Biggest News of the Year

December 24, 2013, 12:00 am
By SFR

“Iis a big issue within our church; we’re just way ahead of the curve,” Rev. Gail Marriner told SFR earlier this year [Big Picture, Feb. 6: “Gail Marry”]. The topic at hand was same-sex marriage, and as a “statement of conscience,” Marriner had stopped issuing marriage licenses at her Unitarian Universalist parish altogether—be they for heterosexual couples or otherwise. 

“The place that I get tangled, in this point in time, is that as a Unitarian Universalist minister, when I sign a marriage license for a mixed-sex couple, I give them access to 1,400 benefits under the law,” she said. “I have not signed a single marriage certificate since I’ve been here, and I won’t—until I can do that for any couple in my congregation that chooses to marry.” 

Legally, New Mexico was in  limbo in relation to same-sex marriage, as its state constitution didn’t explicitly prohibit it. It didn’t support it either. All that changed last week when the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality should have already been recognized. 

It was a decision the Legislature couldn’t make. Take, for example, House Joint Resolution 3, introduced by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, which proposed an amendment to Article 20 of the state constitution “to provide that the issuance of a marriage license shall not be denied on the basis that the sex of both applicants is the same.” 

The House Public Affairs Committee approved the measure, but it would soon fizzle when the Voters and Elections Committee defeated it in a 7-4 vote. Egolf would later petition in First Judicial District Court to compel Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to “perform her non-discriminatory duty” and issue a marriage license to his clients, Yon Hudson and Alexander Hanna. On June 6, the men requested a license at the clerk’s office. Their plea was denied. 

Protests, candlelight vigils and more legal action ensued. After the Santa Fe city attorney and mayor issued a memo arguing that state laws did favor marriage equality, 77-year-old Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins went rogue on Aug. 21 and started issuing same-sex marriage licenses. 

“Let me put it this way, some people have balls, some people don’t, alright? Some of them truly believe that they need direction from on high and they’re not willing to do a constitutional analysis,” Ellins told Talking Points Memo

Five other counties—including Santa Fe—soon followed. 

SFR was there on Aug. 23 when the Santa Fe Country Clerk’s office issued a license to County Commissioner Liz Stefanics and her partner of over 20 years, Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico. 

Hudson and Hanna were second in line. 

“I’m signing this one myself,” Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said, taking the couple’s document and making it official. Unlike Stefanics and Siegle—who married upstairs inside the Santa Fe County Commission chambers that same day—Hanna and Hudson decided to wait until the resolve was felt statewide.  

On Dec. 19, shy of two months after hearing arguments in the case, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution allows same-sex couples to marry. 

“Everyone’s on board,” Santa Fe Country Clerk Geraldine Salazar told SFR,  adding that as of 11:30 am that day, 28 marriage licenses had been issued to same-sex couples, bringing the grand total since that fortuitous summer afternoon to 557.

SFR reached out to Rev. Marriner the same afternoon. She was not yet aware of the news. 

“That’s fabulous,” she exclaimed. Marriner hailed the end of “asymmetry” in human rights and said “the decision reflects a recognition that love and family is important—whether it’s between two men, two women or a man and a woman.” 

Her self-imposed wedding ban ended the weekend after Santa Fe County started issuing same-sex marriage licenses in August with an “open wedding.”   

“It was a celebration of the right to marry,” Marriner explains. “We did nine weddings, three at a time, some of the folks that were getting married were gay, some were lesbian and some were straight—we treated them all the same.”

The idea, she says, was to “celebrate something that has been a long battle—recognizing love wherever it occurred and solemnize it with marriage.”

She hails the state high court’s decision as a monumental moment. 

“I think what is happening with each of these steps is that the rights of a group of people whose rights have been dismissed for a long time are being woven into the way that our society works,” she says. 

“The more interwoven it becomes, the harder it is to unravel,” the reverend continues. “The Supreme Court decision is one more stitch that really weaves that into the fabric of what it means to support all families, couples and children in this state.”

The day of the ruling SFR also contacted Hudson and Hanna. They’ve set a date for Sept. 6, 2014. (Enrique Limón)

Throughout his eight years in the mayor’s office, David Coss retained his popularity, topping SFR’s “best politician” category among local readers for the past three years. 

Coss’ announcement this summer that he would not seek a third term in the mayor’s seat sparked a crowded field of challengers to replace him. The contenders now number just three. But while the heated election continues, Coss is still the city’s top man.

Known for his allegiance to issues like the living wage, organized labor and climate change, Coss is one of the most liberal mayors in the United States. He’s also helped City Council pass symbolic legislation on issues that don’t directly affect Santa Fe—last year by introducing a resolution opposing starting a war in Iran and last month by introducing a bill urging President Obama to reject a permit allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Coss dismisses critics of this approach as “coming from a place that’s much more conservative than I am.”

“Usually when somebody says, ‘Go fix the potholes and don’t pay attention to anything that’s going on over there,’ that’s a right-wing conservative opinion,” he says. “I think it is the role of local government to be interacting with state government and federal government and to tell them what you think.”

But he’s also spent much of his time as mayor working on issues that directly impact the city, from helping save the College of Santa Fe from shutting down to restoring the Santa Fe River. 

Coss also touts his work on ensuring that the city’s high minimum wage is automatically adjusted with the Cost of Living Index. “If that is changed, then it will lose its meaning fairly rapidly,” he warns. 

For the next mayor, who will start serving right after the March 4 city election, he says the first important task is to build a relationship with the city councilors to help build a new city budget, which is due to state officials in June. He still ranks job growth as the most pressing issue facing the city. In 2010, Coss promised to add 4,000 jobs to the city. 

“Health care, film, technology, hospitality, that’s kind of where they’ve grown,” he says. “I still think those are good areas for us.” 

Coss lost a campaign for the state House in 2012, and he’s already expressed interest in another run for state representative in 2016. 

Meanwhile, will he be endorsing a candidate in the upcoming mayoral election?

“Yeah, but that wouldn’t be for a while if I do that.” (Joey Peters)

So the epic vote to legalize recreational cannabis in Colorado actually happened at the tail end of 2012, but since the last 12 months have featured a flurry of activity as our neighbors to the north prepare for the law to go into effect in full next week, this story still belongs on the list. 

What does this mean for the future of marijuana laws in New Mexico, a state that’s had a medical cannabis program for years? With a former prosecutor calling the shots on the 4th floor of the Roundhouse and a state Legislature that’s struggled to find cohesive leadership, the 2013 legislative session didn’t see any movement on a couple of proposals to lessen criminal punishments for possession or to study the fiscal impact of legalizing marijuana. But a poll by the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance showed increasing support among state residents who want those laws to see reform. 

Voters used an initiative plan to get their law on the books in Colorful Colorado, however, New Mexico doesn’t have that provision that puts a question on the ballot via petitions. Here, it could be up to cities to send the message.  Santa Fe, for example, allows local initiative.

Doug Fine, New Mexico author whose book Too High Too Fail, Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution came out on paperback in August, says he suspects the nation to rapidly move toward full legalization. Fresh back to the state from a European tour for his next book about industrial hemp, Fine says it’s cities there that are leading the charge. 

“In the Netherlands, the federal government has taken a step back and so municipalities are legalizing cannabis. So, you can get active in your community,” he says. “It speaks loudly if you have 15 cities in New Mexico that have unilaterally legalized cannabis like Portland, Maine, just did.”

Meanwhile, a recent state Department of Health survey confirmed what patients and cannabis producers have been saying for years: There’s not enough medicine in the state to serve all those whose doctors say they could benefit from it. Now the question is whether officials will respond by making changes to program rules. Or, will cannabis continue to pour over the state border, leaving its economic return behind in Colorado? (Julie Ann Grimm)

SFR’s summer revelation that the FBI had interviewed Gov. Susana Martinez staffers about a lucrative Albuquerque racino lease deal spawned plenty of backlash, to say the least. 

For the past two years, critics of the Downs at Albuquerque, which operates a racetrack and casino on the state fairgrounds, have alleged the lease extension was a done deal driven by politically-connected donors with ties to the governor’s office [cover story, Aug. 21, 2012: “Trouble at the Ol’ Racino”]. The night after SFR ran its report [news, May 29: “Downs Doings”], KRQE-TV aired a conflicting story deeming SFR’s reporting as “not accurate.” For the next few days, Martinez allies took to social media to discredit SFR’s reporting on the racino deal while praising KRQE.

“Nice for @krqe to show difference between journalism & smear job,” tweeted Darren White, a former KRQE reporter and now vice president of corporate affairs of the Downs at Albuquerque, the racino in question. 

By that weekend, however, Andrea Goff, a former finance director for Martinez, came forward. “Due to intense speculation and misinformation, I feel it is appropriate to come forward and acknowledge that I complied with a request from the FBI to answer questions related to various activities including those related to the Downs Racino,” she wrote in a statement. 

In November, the Washington DC-based National Journal followed up on the story when it obtained a text sent to Goff by Jay McCleskey, the governor’s top political advisor. The text message occurred one day after Goff’s father-in-law, Buster, who sits on the State Fair Commission, voted against the Downs deal. 

“Buster screwed us… he was supposed to pass it,” read the text, according to the National Journal.  After that story was published, author Daniel Libit told New Mexico PBS that Goff had been interviewed a second time time by the FBI. 

Expo New Mexico, which runs the state fair, has long denied any wrongdoing related to the awarding of the lease. In the meantime, the new Downs casino opened to much fanfare in July. 

One upcoming development may help clear the air. State Auditor Hector Balderas promises to soon release the results of a more than yearlong independent audit of the state fair. Evan Blackstone, chief of staff for Balderas, writes in a statement that his office delayed the audit over the past few months “to verify key information and documents” with the independent auditor and Expo. 

“That exhaustive process and the independent auditor’s test work are now complete, and we expect to release the final financial audit report in the coming days,” Blackstone writes.

Meanwhile, State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode’s term on the commission is up this month. When asked whether Rode, the commission’s most vocal critic of the Downs deal, could be reappointed, governor’s office spokesman Enrique Knell offered a brief response: “Nothing’s been determined or announced.” (JP)

With a cryptic entry on his LiveJournal blog, and a subsequent press conference a few days later, famed author and longtime Santa Fe resident George RR Martin made his acquisition of the dormant Jean Cocteau Cinema official.  

“I am a novelist and a screenwriter, not a theater manager. It won’t be me standing at the concession stand asking if you want butter on your popcorn,” he clearly stated, as a way of keeping rabid fans of his yet-to-be-completed
A Song of Ice and Fire series (and core of theHBO smash show Game of Thrones) at bay.

Martin would tell SFR [Cover story, May 1: “The Radness of King George”] that the purchase of the “terrific, old building” on Montezuma Avenue was not so much a lofty commercial venture but rather a way of giving back to Santa Fe, where he moved to in 1979. 

“I was living alone. I didn’t really know anybody in town…I went to a lot of movies. It was a good way to fill out the nights,” Martin reminisced. “There was something wonderful about the old, single-screen theaters and the old duplexes; they each had a unique personality.” 

The 129-seat theater opened on Aug. 9, a week ahead of schedule, with 1956’s Forbidden Planet, and offered a series of free screenings to get the buzz going. 

“It’s been an education…I’m sweating bullets here” a candid Martin said days prior to the relaunch [Arts Valve, July 31: “Shoot to Thrill”]. 

Since then, Martin and theater manager Jon Bowman have spiced things up, true to the promise of delivering “extremely eclectic” programming, and have booked live performances, author readings and near midnight screenings on the weekends. 

Up next for the arthouse? Bowman tells SFR  the venue’s liquor license just got granted and that a full bar design is currently in the works. 

“We’re going to try to have specials to match with the films,” Bowman advances. “So we’d have white Russians for The Big Lebowski, dry martinis for James Bond, whatever.”

Also on the docket is a special 10-week series of—wait for it—screenings of Game of Thrones season one through three, launching Jan. 6. Don’t put on your Khaleesi costume on just yet! Said screenings will be free. OK, get out some plastic dragons and cover yourself in soot— cast member appearances via Skype and a limited edition GoT Pale Ale are expected to be at hand. 

As for season four, which debuts on the premium cable channel in March, chances are the Cocteau will screen those as well. “Maybe,” a tight-lipped Bowman says. “We’ll see.” 

Special decapitation shots anytime a character gets axed sounds like a winning combo to us. Get ready. Epic hangovers are coming. (EL)

In February, the New Mexico Department of Human Services contracted with Boston-based firm Public Consulting Group to audit 15 behavioral health nonprofits that use federal Medicaid dollars to help provide services to vulnerable patients—many who are emotionally disturbed children and adults suffering from drug addiction and psychiatric disorders. 

State Auditor Hector Balderas
The firm found that the 15 agencies overbilled the Medicaid program an estimated $36 million between 2009 and 2012. The state then suspended Medicaid payments to the nonprofits and awarded no-bid contracts to five Arizona behavioral health organizations to take over providing those services for nearly $18 million. The behavioral health providers protested the payments suspensions and takeover, saying they weren’t afforded a chance to address the allegations contained in the audit. Some providers, however, agreed to pay the state in an effort to put the whole mess behind them. They  say they still don’t agree they did anything wrong. 

Meanwhile, New Mexicans have no way of verifying what happened. 

Neither HSD nor state Attorney General Gary King will let the affected agencies or taxpayers take a look at the audit. King says release of the document would jeopardize his office’s investigation of the alleged overbillings, and two District Court judges, one in Las Cruces and the other in Santa Fe, have backed him up in court cases brought by news outlets and an open government group.

Most recently, the office of the State Auditor, Hector Balderas, obtained a subpoena for the original version of the audit from the Human Services officials. Balderas says HSD altered the original audit before turning it over to his office. It turns out someone changed a key conclusion: That the contractor hadn’t found “credible allegations of fraud” in its review of the New Mexico behavioral health providers. That’s the justification HSD used to suspend the payments to the providers. “Under the federal law and regulations, HSD is the only entity that can determine credible allegations of fraud against a Medicaid provider,” HSD spokesman Matt Kennicott writes to SFR, saying Balderas’ statements in court filings have been “nothing more than a political stunt.”

Balderas disagrees. “The State Auditor has a duty to ensure oversight authorities and law enforcement agencies receive accurate information about HSD’s handling of Medicaid fraud investigations,” he says in a statement to SFR.  “[HSD] Secretary Squier risked impairing the integrity of those investigations when she violated the District Court’s Order and failed to disclose to auditors that she altered a state record.” (Justin Horwath)

Gov. Susana Martinez used a platform of transparency in her gubernatorial campaign. When the Republican governor first took office, she made notable strides to follow through on the pledge. She supported adding names and salaries of all government employees to the state’s Sunshine Portal, an online database of state budgets, contracts and employee salaries. When the legislature failed to institute webcasting, she sent her employees into the Roundhouse to make videos of its proceedings and posted the recordings on her website. 

But lately, journalists working in the trenches to obtain information about her administration under the state’s public records law have experienced repeated obstruction. As a result, Martinez faces lawsuits from one open government nonprofit and four separate media outlets for failing to produce public information. All of the lawsuits were filed in 2013. 

SFR’s case accuses the administration of withholding a wide range of public records—pardon documents, calendars and emails—along with violating the state Constitution’s Freedom of the Press provision for failing to respond to its questions in a campaign of retaliation against the paper. Las Cruces Sun-News, New Mexico In Depth and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) filed lawsuits against the administration and Democratic Attorney General Gary King for failing to allow inspection of a controversial audit that led to the state freezing Medicaid payments to behavioral health nonprofits. 

The latest lawsuit comes from the Associated Press, which sued Martinez for failing to provide full copies of her calendars along with expenditures made by officers on her security detail. The administration has denied it violated the law in all of these cases. It even went as far to assert that it’s the “most transparent administration in state history.” 

Yet by some measures, the Martinez administration is more secret than that of Gov. Bill Richardson, who did allow for inspection of his security detail’s expenditures. “Resisting access to public records is unfortunately something both parties are guilty of,” notes Gregory Williams, an officer for FOG and attorney. “Candidates for public office love to say during the campaign that they’re in favor of open government. But their tune tends to change once they’re elected.” (JH)

New Mexico became ground zero for the abortion debate this year the moment that anti-abortion activists swarmed an Albuquerque museum.

There, several out-of-state teens and college-aged volunteers affiliated with a California-based anti-abortion group, Survivors, demanded that the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum open an exhibit dedicated to exposing the “holocaust” of legalized abortion in America [news, Aug. 14: “America’s Auschwitz?”]. 

Needless to say, the plan didn’t work out. Nor did the bigger effort that Survivors came to New Mexico to raise awareness about—the first ever citywide referendum that would have imposed restrictions on abortion.

Albuquerque is home to one of just three clinics in the nation that perform abortions through the third trimester of pregnancy. The ballot initiative sought to ban abortions once a pregnancy reached 20 weeks. Though the late-term ban was only subject to Albuquerque’s city limits, the consequences would have reverberated through the rest of the state, as the Duke City is the only city in New Mexico with surgical abortion providers [cover story, Oct. 9: “Red Tape”]. 

But voters ended up rejecting the ban by a 10-point margin in a November special election, thanks largely to a coordinated effort put on by a coalition of pro-abortion rights groups collectively called Respect ABQ Women. Joan Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, attributes much of their success to reaching out past the “traditional white, middle-class Democratic woman-voter” to religious communities and people of color.  

She also cites a careful effort to make the message “respectful of women and their families” that sometimes sharply contrasted with the in-your-face messaging (blown-up pictures of bloody fetuses) of the anti-abortion side. 

But don’t expect the debate to go away. Tara Shaver, who with her husband Bud helped anti-abortion groups spearhead the ballot initiative, says Project Defending Life plans to launch an initiative in January that will feature educational outreach and “mass protests throughout the city and the state.” She adds that though the failing of the ballot initiative was disappointing, it still raised awareness locally and nationally. 

Activists from other cities have since told the Shavers that they’re considering launching similar ballot efforts in their communities. In response, Sanford has one thing to say to them: “We knew all along that the ballot initiative was a test case. They failed the test.” (JP)

On May 30, the New Mexico US Attorney announced a 14-count federal indictment against Jamie Estrada, a former State Department employee under President George W Bush who went on to become Gov. Susana Martinez’ campaign manager. Prosecutors nailed the Las Cruces native with 12 counts of breaking an old federal wiretapping statute for intercepting a dozen emails from the campaign accounts of Martinez and her associates. They also accused him of lying to the FBI about it. Estrada says he’s innocent.

Estrada’s tale of political intrigue begins with his departure from the Martinez campaign in December of 2009, roughly six months after he joined it. Martinez’ camp claims they fired Estrada, a man the governor later said she knew to be of “suspect character” who was disgruntled because he wasn’t given a position in the administration. Estrada, who began a run for the Public Utilities Commission shortly after he left the campaign, denies those claims.

Sometime around the summer of 2011, the charges against Estrada allege that he re-registered the domain under a fake username and began routing incoming email messages to his Gmail account. A year later, those emails created a firestorm after they were leaked to media outlets like SFR. The emails showed the governor’s staff was communicating over a private email network and pointed to questionable communications surrounding the controversial lease awarded to the Downs Racetrack & Casino in Albuquerque. 

The federal trial against Estrada, set to begin early next year, will be interesting for two reasons. Legally, a court might have to decide the thorny issue of whether a former employee of an organization breaks federal law if he used valid credentials given to him during his tenure to access a domain after his employment. Politically, the trial will be unfolding during Martinez’ reelection effort. A discovery motion filed by Estrada’s defense team already hints that it might try to make a case that Estrada was acting as a whistleblower. 

Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research and Polling, Inc., notes that the political ramifications of the trial will depend on what the judges rule to be admissible evidence by the defense. And either way, he notes, the federal government seems most concerned with Estrada intercepting emails that only have to do with private matters. The feds didn’t charge Estrada for intercepting the dozens of other emails that have to do with official government business. “The US Attorney is trying to keep it real simple,” Sanderoff says, and “making this a clean-cut case.” (JH)

The demand for water by thirsty residents, needy businesses, landscaping and gardens means that the Santa Fe River long ago ceased flowing through the city year-round. Two upstream reservoirs capture water in the eastern foothills for use in the municipal utility system, leaving little or nothing to flow downstream. 

Residents have been treated to short flows thanks to city rules that call for release of water to keep “a living river,” but the trickles were typically just days-long events. 

Not so this year. 

Thanks to steady rainstorms in an especially precipitation-laden September and a construction project that has the reservoirs out of commission, the Santa Fe River is acting like, well, a river.  In October, the city held its first youth fishing derby in a number of years—previous events were cancelled because of water shortage. 

The water has been good for thousands of saplings planted along the riverbanks as part of the city’s efforts at stabilization and riparian habitat restoration.  Also important, says River Coordinator Bryan Drypolcher, is that we get to see it. 

“To my eye, it’s beautiful water going by. It sounds wonderful, you see people out there enjoying the river and in particular with the new parts of the river trail downriver toward Frenchy’s, there are more and more people who see the river and experience it in that way.”

But don’t get lulled into a sense of complacency, he warns. 

“The Southwest is in a drought, and Santa Fe is in drought, and it’s not like a rainy September and a snowy November makes that drought go away. It takes a long time time get out of that kind of trend,” he says, “There is a bittersweet element to me. The water in the river is so wonderful, yet I and others know that we can’t be fooled that it’s something we are going to have all the time. We as a city are depending on those reservoirs and the water we pull from those reservoirs.” (JAG)

Artwork by Danny Hellman, Anson Steven-Bollen, Enrique Limón, Ursula Coyote, Pat Kinsella and John Lang.

 

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