Astorga denies killing in death penalty trial

Michael Astorga, already convicted of murder
NewsNM Swickard - I thought we already established he did kill the deputy since he was found guilty by a jury of his peers. Is this jury nullification? From - SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A man convicted of murdering a Bernalillo County deputy and faces the death penalty has denied killing the deputy. Michael Astorga took the witness stand Wednesday in his own death penalty sentencing trial and said he did not kill Deputy James McGrane Jr., nor did McGrane stop him. Under cross examination by District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, Astorga continued to maintain his innocence. Jurors will be asked to sentence Astorga, who was convicted in the 2006 killing of McGrane, to life in prison or to death, even though New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. Astorga is still eligible for the death penalty since the crime occurred before the repeal. read more

What’s up with the lizard?

The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard
From Capitol Report New - In little more than a month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has to decide whether to place the dunes sagebrush lizard on the federal government’s Endangered Species List. It’s a decision that is sure to inflame oil and gas industry supporters in New Mexico and Texas if the lizard is approved while angering environmentalists if the listing is denied. The Obama administration, sensitive to recent attacks from Republicans on soaring gas prices, seems to be trying to find a compromise. But will that satisfy either camp? The issue is coming back to the forefront as the June 14 deadline nears and in recent days, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe have been making the rounds with oil and gas industry officials in the Permian Basin, the site the three-inch reptile calls home amid the shinnery oak in the dry terrain that makes up West Texas and the Oil Patch of New Mexico. Environmentalists say the lizard’s habitat needs to be protected and say the area involved “will have a negligible impact on land owners … even oil and natural gas producers,” Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians said in a phone interview with Capitol Report New Mexico. But conservative legislators counter by saying that an endangered species listing could permanently harm the financial health of the area. “Regardless of the claims of this radical environmentalist group, the economic uncertainty caused in the region by this factor alone will have a damaging economic effect,” a spokesman for Congressman Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) said in an e-mail last year. read more


Legalized gay marriage in NM unlikely anytime soon

Obama now for gay marriage
From the Santa Fe New Mexican - Reactions in New Mexico to President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday fell along partisan lines, but both sides agree that a gay-marriage law isn't likely to become a reality in the immediate future. How Obama's stand might affect the upcoming presidential election, which many expect to be dominated by economic factors, is difficult to predict. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who in 2009 sponsored a bill to legalize civil unions -- which was voted down on the New Mexico Senate floor -- called same-sex marriage "the civil-rights issue of our time." But Wirth said accomplishing that by legislation is unlikely in the short run unless Gov. Susana Martinez changes her position. Martinez has repeatedly said she opposes gay marriage and would veto a civil-union bill like Wirth's, which would give same-sex couples many, but not all, of the same rights as heterosexual married couples. The prospect of the governor changing her mind doesn't seem likely. A spokesman for Martinez said Wednesday, "The governor has been very clear about where she stands on this issue." Other New Mexico Democrats said they agree with Obama on the issue. "Marriage equality is a matter of civil rights and treating all people who are in loving and committed relationships fairly," said U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., in a statement Wednesday. "To be clear, this will not force churches to change their practices or beliefs but reaffirms the American constitutional principle that everyone deserves equal protection of the law." State Democratic Party Chairman Javier Gonzales said, "This is an historic announcement, but it's based on a simple value that is part of the culture of New Mexico: Treat others the way you'd want to be treated. I just wish Republicans would realize they are behind the times and out of step with those basic New Mexican values." State GOP Chairman Monty Newman said in a statement, "The culmination of President Obama's 'evolution' on the issue of gay marriage is another political pander from our country's campaigner-in-chief. In keeping with the Republican Party of New Mexico's platform, we support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and oppose attempts to change that definition." The state Republican Party platform states, "We support strengthening the family and preserving the sanctity of marriage. We support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman." Since 2005, the state Democratic platform has been in favor of allowing homosexual couples to marry. Across the country, opponents of gay marriage have been successful in passing ballot initiatives to constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage. The most recent example is North Carolina, where on Tuesday voters overwhelmingly passed such a constitutional amendment. read more


East Plains Council Of Governments audits show financial mismanagement

From the Clovis News Journal - By Tonjia Rolan  - The first of seven government-mandated audits of the Eastern Plains Council of Government dating back to 2005 painted a picture of financial mismanagement and ineptitude that is likely to be repeated in consecutive audits, according to Sandy Chancey, executive director of EPCOG. Mary Gray, EPCOG executive assistant to the director, said yearly financial audits are required by the federal government in order for EPCOG to receive and disperse government monies. "How they continued to get state funding all those years without yearly audits no one knows," Gray said. Chancey, who took over as executive director of EPCOG in June 2011, said, "No financial audits had been done since 2005 and no auditable books had been kept." Allegations of mismanaged funds and possible embezzlement at EPCOG began to surface in 2008, when Tillman was still executive director, according to a previous Clovis News Journal story. EPCOG employee Lori Howard was convicted in 2010 of embezzling $145,000 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The overdue audits, spanning the last seven years, should be complete by July, when House Bill 411 kicks in which prohibits state agencies from contracting with any entity that does not have current financial audits, EPCOG hired Odessa Hamilton, an accountant with auditing and grant experience, to help build an accountable record keeping system for the organization, according to Chancey. "We will have books that can and will be audited for 2012. The seven years of delinquent audits will cost the organization $100,000 and will be paid for by the sale of two houses in Santa Rosa owned by EPCOG." read more

Snake Watch 2012: Possible boa constrictor sighting

NewsNM Swickard - house prices may fall a little in that neighborhood, eh? From the Carlsbad Current-Argus - A Carlsbad woman believes she may have gotten a glimpse of Hellboy, the red-tailed boa constrictor that escaped from an enclosure at a Standpipe Road residence last month. Carlsbad Police Lt. Jennifer Moyers said Tuesday that the woman, who remains unidentified, reported last week seeing about 5 feet of a large snake on Standpipe, near a ditch just before Union Street. According to the woman, the snake was very large around, tan in color with black spots and had a long, flat head. Moyers said the report was delayed by about a week and when Carlsbad Animal Control Supervisor Tina Dorado went to the area to search for the animal, she was unable to locate anything. Moyers said this report could mean the snake is still alive in the area and asked residents to continue to use caution in regard to this matter. read more

Air Force whistle-blowers to get protection

From the Alamogordo Daily News -AP - There will be no actions taken against two whistle-blower pilots who complained about problems with the F-22 fighter jet, including comments made during a recent "60 Minutes" television interview, the Air Force said Tuesday. Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday the pilots would get whistle-blower protections. The pilots spoke out about oxygen-deficit problems with the stealth fighter, which have resulted in pilot dizziness, blackouts and other hypoxia-like symptoms. According to the Air Force just two pilots have asked not to fly the F-22 or to be reassigned, and officials have said each pilot's request would be handled individually. The nation's F-22 fighter jets were grounded for four months last year after pilots complained of experiencing a lack of oxygen that can cause dizziness and blackouts. Air Force officials said they have taken steps against the problem, but still haven't pinpointed what's causing the hypoxia-like symptoms.  read more

Pro-Business Hobbs Beats Anti-Business Las Cruces on Center for Innovation, Technology and Testing

News NM Note (Spence) It wasn't much of a contest and the outcome was entirely predictable. The progressive-dominated City Council in Las Cruces is one of the most anti-business governing bodies in the state.
Business Week - A city in the heart of southeastern New Mexico oil and gas country has been selected to hum with the latest next-generation technology -- but there might as well be digital tumbleweeds rolling down the streets of this scientific ghost town.
Las Cruces City Council
The $1 billion residentless city to help researchers test everything from intelligent traffic systems and next-generation wireless networks to the latest in automated washing machines and self-flushing toilets will be developed in Hobbs and Lea County, officials said Tuesday.
Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said the unique research facility will be a key for diversifying the economy of the town, which after the oil bust of the 1980s saw bumper stickers asking the last person to leave to turn out the lights.
"It brings so many great opportunities and puts us on a world stage," Cobb told The Associated Press before the announcement.
Pegasus Holdings and its New Mexico subsidiary, CITE Development, said Hobbs and Lea County beat out Las Cruces, for the Center for Innovation, Technology and Testing. Read full story here: News New Mexico

Teacher's Union Will Fight to Force APS to Pay Two People to Do One Job

KRQE ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — A fight is brewing between the school board and the Albuquerque teachers' union regarding the new policy change that forbids APS employees, who are also legislators, from collecting their school salaries when serving in the Roundhouse.
"I would hope the union would think twice before they go to the mat for something like this," said board member Kathy Korte.  At issue is the board's decision last week to change district policy. A Larry Barker investigation found State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton has been collecting her APS administrator salary over the years while in Santa Fe. That was against the rules for Stapleton because she is an administrator.
For teachers, like Rep. Tim Lewis, and counselors, Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, taking pay was allowed because it was worked into their union contracts. Superintendent Winston Brooks and school board members said all APS employees should be treated the same. Board member Korte also said teachers should not be leaving their classes in the hands of substitutes for a month or two at a time. After much debate, the board decided no APS employee should be paid when they head off to Santa Fe. "We're paying for substitutes. We're paying for an APS employee to be away from their job and plus the state is paying per diem. We're asking taxpayers to foot the bill three times," said Korte. Read full story here: News New Mexico

Bankruptcies Down in NM

NM Business Journal - Bankruptcy filings in New Mexico were down 16 percent in the first four months of 2012 compared to 2011, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Mexico reported Tuesday.

Bankruptcy filings through April totaled 1,739 in 2012, the court said. Filings for the first four months of 2011 totaled 2,062, and for the first four months of 2010, 2,304. Read full story here: News New Mexico


Popular Santa Fe Fat Cat, Dead

KOAT - SANTA FE, N.M. - Meow may be gone, but it's doubtful he will ever be forgotten. The 37-pound cat that became a national sensation with his massive weight died over the weekend. Veterinarians said his respiratory system gave out. His family is heartbroken and devastated that Meow died. But they said they don't blame anyone for the cat's death. "I don't hold the shelter responsible. I praise them for all that they have done," said Marie Stewart, the daughter of the previous owner. It was a heartwarming sentiment to the people who took care of the famous cat at the Santa Fe shelter where Meow spent his last few weeks.
"I think people realized there was big, big personality in that big kitty and a sweet personality, and I do think people fell in love," said Mary Martin of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. Read rest of story here: News New Mexico

Valente-Compton Target of Super Pac Lies

Cara Valente-Compton
NMPolitics - When I decided to run against longtime, entrenched incumbent Sheryl Williams Stapleton, I set out to change the tone in Santa Fe and restore civility to the process. I knew it would be a hard-fought race. As a regular citizen, wife, mother of four and law student I was going up against a longtime power broker who would do anything to stay in power. People warned me that I would be called names, attacked, my character distorted and smeared – and that desperate people will do anything they can to keep power.
Recently, a shadowy outside group called the Independent Source PAC, a super PAC created out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, attacked me with outright lies. Read rest of commentary here: News New Mexico