Educator ready to serve her first term in the Roundhouse – Marisa Demarco, Source New Mexico
A political version of musical chairs concluded last week during a meeting of the Bernalillo County Commission, tasked with filling empty legislative seats over the last couple of months.
Democratic Rep. Flor Yanira Gurrola Valenzuela was surprised and honored, she said, to be selected Monday by the commission to fill the House seat in the N.M. Legislature left empty by former Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas.
Some expected commissioners to reappoint Marsella Duarte, who served the last 16 days of 2022 in the spot. Duarte is an elementary school teacher who has also worked in the Legislature as an aide and committee secretary.
But the commission — refreshed after November’s election with two new members who just took office — chose political newcomer Gurrola Valenzuela to represent District 16 on Albuquerque’s Westside for the next two years. D16 stretches between Montaño and Central on the north and south, and roughly the river and Unser on the east and west.
“I don’t have a political record so far. I’m a politician now — I think so,” she laughed. “But before this, I was there for the community. I was there for people around me.”
Her predecessor Maestas, who served in the House since 2007, was appointed to a state Senate seat in November by the commission after a bitter debate. Then-Sen. Jacob Candelaria had stepped down suddenly, saying he wanted to start a family.
After representing the area for 16 years, Maestas is probably somewhat familiar to its constituents. Gurrola Valenzuela didn’t campaign for the job and so hasn’t had a chance to introduce herself to her district in quite that way yet. But her record in education speaks for itself, she said, and plenty of people do know her work.
Appointed Monday and sworn in Tuesday, a week before the session starts, she’s doing her best to reach out farther than ever and connect quickly.
“I’m trying to be a part of every town hall that people invite me to,” she said. “I’m trying to meet with every community organization that is calling me.”
As a bilingual educator with the nonprofit Dual Language Education of New Mexico and former math teacher in Albuquerque Public Schools, she’s also trying to keep in mind what she used to tell students who would come to her and say, “I don’t know this.”
“It’s always, ‘You don’t know it yet,’” she emphasized, because she’s all about changing that mindset. “I’m very open. I love to learn. I don’t have free time right now because I’m only invested in this. So that’s how I’m getting ready.”
She said the organization she works for is supportive of her new position as a lawmaker and giving her time off to serve the state.
Gurrola Valenzuela moved to the U.S. from Chihuahua, Mexico, in 2000 and purchased a home in the district eight years later, records show.
She’s lived there for 14 years, so she said she has a decent understanding of what the area’s needs are. She will likely pursue some of the same priorities as Maestas, but because they come from different experiences, she added that there will likely be variations, too.
As to her focus, she’s passionate about education. It will always be a top concern, “and it is a priority in every district, especially in ours,” she said. “So making sure that the students have opportunities — not only at school and in the classroom, but definitely outside the classroom, too.”
Young people in her district need a safe place to go, she said. “It’s not easy to see the kids just hanging around, walking around the tracks, around the cars, because there is no place for them to hang out.”
At times, students have asked to speak to Gurrola Valenzuela outside of the classroom and shared things that are hard to hear about their lives beyond school. “And I know for teachers, it’s not enough just to listen,” she said. “We always try to do something about it.” Seeking resources for students, figuring out what’s available, that’s often an illuminating process, she said, and in some ways has helped her prepare for her role next week as a policymaker.
Gurrola Valenzuela is also thinking about elders on the Westside who need access to technology and transportation. She recalled a recent incident where a senior in a wheelchair was struggling to reach the bus stop. That kind of thing, she said, just shouldn’t happen. Gurrola Valenzuela stopped her car to help the person get to the stop, but doing so sparked a question for her about access to public transit, which she said will be another priority for her in her new position.
A registered Democrat in New Mexico since 2010, Gurrola Valenzuela said she’s found that she aligns with state party leadership about priorities and values heading into the session so far, especially around public school funding.
She said she would support a measure to preserve abortion rights in state law — a campaign promise by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last year.
Democratic lawmakers, including Maestas, have been reaching out all week, Gurrola Valenzuela said, to let her know that she can ask them any questions when she heads to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Tuesday for the start of the session.
As a newcomer, if there’s one thing she wants the people she represents now to know, it’s this: “I’m here for the people,” she said. “We need to be there for one another, so as a society, as a community, we can grow and have a better opportunity for one another, for our kids.”
Authorities probe reported shooting at a New Mexico refuge – Associated Press
Authorities continue to investigate the reported shooting of a man at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Roswell, but say the victim isn’t being cooperative.
Chaves County Sheriff’s officials placed the refuge’s visitor center and trails on lockdown Friday afternoon after a man was found bleeding from a gunshot wound.
He was transported to a hospital and authorities said he suffered injuries not considered life-threatening.
The man’s name, age and hometown still weren’t available Sunday and neither was a possible motive for the shooting.
Undersheriff Charles Yslas said the victim told authorities that the shooter was driving a black vehicle.
Authorities have processed the crime scene and searched unsuccessfully for the vehicle and a gun used in the shooting.
“Right now, the evidence that we have isn’t really matching up with the stories,” Yslas told the Roswell Daily Record. “The victim isn’t being very cooperative with us, so we are continuing to investigate it.”
The refuge is located about 7 miles northeast of Roswell.
New Mexico lawmakers seek to prohibit local abortion bans – By Morgan Lee Associated Press
Local governments across New Mexico would be prohibited from placing restrictions on abortion access under initiatives outlined by Democratic state legislators Friday.
A companion initiative aims to protect doctors who perform abortion and patients from harassment and investigations by out-of-state interests.
The two legislative proposals, still in the drafting stage, would shore up abortion rights across the Democratic-led state in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade and left legalization up to the states.
In 2021, New Mexico lawmakers repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures. But the city of Hobbs in the state’s southeast has adopted an ordinance designed to block abortion clinics from operating, and at least one nearby county has approved an anti-abortion resolution.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe said the initiatives outlined Friday are a direct response.
The aim is to “prohibit public bodies, including local municipalities, from denying, restricting or discriminating against an individual’s right to use or refuse reproductive health care, or health care related to gender,” Wirth said.
State Sen. Linda Lopez said in a statement that she will sponsor a bill that would provide accountability for organizations that share personal medical information related to reproductive health care.
That builds on an executive order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham barring cooperation with other states that might interfere with abortion access in New Mexico, including any possible arrest warrants or requests for assistance and information in seeking sanctions against local abortion providers.
Lujan Grisham won reelection in November while casting herself as a staunch defender of abortion access and vowing to channel $10 million in public funding toward the construction of a reproductive health care clinic in southern New Mexico that will offer the procedure.
Republicans in New Mexico’s legislative minority have characterized as extremist state laws that protect access to abortion at all stages of pregnancy.
New Mexico wildfires prompt bill to ban burns during season – By Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus
Hundreds of thousands of acres burned in New Mexico last spring as its two biggest wildfires ever were lit purposefully, but got out of control.
This year, New Mexico Sen. Ron Griggs of Alamogordo hopes to curb threats of devastating blazes during peak fire season by introducing a bill to ban prescribed burns — purposefully set as a means of forest management — between March and May of each year.
The Calf Canyon Hermits Peak Fire started April 19, 2022, burning up more than 530 square miles in northern New Mexico through San Miguel, Santa Fe, Mora, Taos and Colfax counties, according to the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
That fire was attributed to a prescribed burn set by the U.S. Forest Service that was stoked by heavy winds, amid seasonally parched conditions following New Mexico’s typically dry winter.
That was followed by the Black Fire in southern New Mexico that started May 13, burning 508 square miles, records show, in Catron, Grant and Sierra counties in the Gila National Forest. The latest reports cite it as “human caused” although the precise cause of the fire remained under investigation.
While no deaths were reported in either of those fires, the McBride Fire turned deadly after it started April 12, 2022, burning nearly 10 square miles in the Ruidoso area and Lincoln National Forest but claiming the lives of two residents.
Griggs, whose district includes portions of the Lincoln National Forest, told the Carlsbad Current-Argus that his bill, pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session, was needed to improve fire safety throughout the state and raise awareness for the most dangerous time of year.
If approved, the bill would add language to state law governing prescribed burns to place a ban on the practice between March 1 and May 31 of any year for private landowners, along with federal, state, local or tribal governments.
“The whole purpose is to let folks know the spring is a dangerous time to do it, so let’s just not do it,” Griggs said. “When that wind starts blowing, it has been deadly to people in our state and to the land.”
He said the bill wasn’t just in response to the historic blazes in 2022. Griggs said New Mexico has a history of dangerous, uncontrollable fires in the spring months.
He said the Forest Service was the main entity conducting the fires, but the bill was also intended to address fires set by other agencies and landowners.
“We can’t stand by and count on them to take of business. They’ve proven they can’t,” Griggs said of those conducting prescribed burns. “We can’t do prescribed burning in the spring.”
New Mexico drought sets the stage for wildfires
Drought conditions are also usually dire in spring throughout New Mexico, records show, when temperatures begin to heat up after minimal precipitation in the winter which follows the monsoon typically in summer and fall.
Those heavy summer rains can cause vegetation to grow and then dry out, providing fuel for fires.
As spring 2022 developed, New Mexico’s conditions did get dryer, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The Monitor’s report from March 1, 2022, showed about 3% of the state was in the “exceptional drought” status — the highest class of drought characterized by widespread water shortages leading to emergencies.
Exceptional drought conditions increased to cover about 46% of the state by the end of May and continued to grow over the following months, peaking at about 58% on June 28, records show, and then declined steadily for the rest of the year.
This combined with increased vegetation brought on by heavy summer rains can create conditions apt to fires starting and growing quickly, said Ric Gatewood, fire ecologist for the National Park Service stationed at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, amid last year’s fire season.
“It has a lot to do with the fuel build up over the past several years. That coupled with the drought and this unusual weather pattern. There’s a ton of fuel,” Gatewood said.
He said heavy rains during the summer monsoon are often followed by a perilous fire season the following spring, when high winds can quickly stoke a blaze and send it out of control.
“It’s extremely dry, we have a lot of winds. We have winds that last a longer time,” Gatewood said. “Coupled with the fact that we had a lot of moisture last year. Those factors set the stage for a lot of fire growth this year.”
In response to the fires in New Mexico and nationwide, the U.S. Forest Service last year placed a 90-day moratorium on prescribed burning from May 20 to September 2022, conducting a national review in the interim to devise better management practices.
Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said that while prescribed burns play a key role in reducing overgrown vegetation that can fuel fires, the practice must be conducted in consideration of worsening aridification across the U.S.
“Prescribed fire plays a vital role in creating healthy, resilient landscapes and reducing the risk of catastrophic fire to the American people and the lands entrusted to our care. We must work together to reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire and confront the wildfire crisis across the country,” Moore said in a statement.
To Griggs, his bill halting the fires in spring months would be a way to protect New Mexicans.
“Lots of people lost their homes. It’s been tragic for folks in New Mexico,” he said. “We just have to do better.”
Tiger cub found in crate to stay at ABQ BioPark for 30 days – Associated Press
A Bengal tiger cub found by Albuquerque police in a dog crate is being cared for by the ABQ BioPark zoo, but only for the next month.
Zoo officials tell KOAT-TV the animal, which is estimated to be 3 months old, is very “people-oriented.”
“It’s not something like a tiger that we want for us,” said Lynn Tupa, zoo manager.
Furthermore, the 20-pound cub will eventually grow to be 400 pounds with long claws that can easily kill.
All new animals at the zoo have to undergo a 30-day quarantine period. Meanwhile, Tupa says the zoo is committed to working with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to find the tiger a permanent home.
Officers served search warrants Tuesday on two residences in response to tips that a tiger was being illegally held at one of them.
Police said a man was found at a mobile home with a gunshot wound on one of his legs and may have been struck by a stray bullet.
Officers spotted a blood trail and followed it to an unlocked trailer and that’s where the tiger was found inside the dog crate.
New Mexico bans residents from keeping tigers as pets and federal law now prohibits private owners from keeping tigers as pets or for breeding purposes.
It is not the same animal sought since least year.
The department sought the public’s help to find a young tiger that had been whisked away last summer from an Albuquerque-area house where police reported finding drugs, guns, cash and a 3-foot alligator.
Authorities say the tiger from August is believed to be more than a year old and likely weighs 50-90 pounds.