On April 22, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she was extending the quarantine orders to May 15. According to the Governor, state officials will begin easing upon business restrictions with a “phase in” process. She announced a 3-step phased in plan. The governor did not say specifically when closed businesses might be allowed to reopen. The Governor also announced the creation of an “Economic Recovery Council”.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY COUNCIL
The 15-member Economic Recovery Council will provide the Governor’s Office with advice about a “slow reopening” of the state’s economy. The Economic Recovery Council appointed by the governor will include major business and health leaders from across the state. The council will includes industries hit hard by the pandemic including entertainment, hospitality, oil and gas, agriculture and banking. The group will be co-chaired by formerstate Representative Brian Moore of Clayton, a grocery store owner who worked in the previous Republican administration.
Council members include Guadalupe Regional Hospital Administrator Christina Campos of Santa Rosa, Brian O’Leary of NBC/Universal, Peter Trevisani of New Mexico United professional soccer team, a representative of the San Francisco-based renewable energy developer Pattern Energy and a representative of the New York-based mass media conglomerate NBC Universal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The council will help the governor decide when and what to open in New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham said last week that she will consult with a council of business leaders as the administration develops a phased plan for possibly relaxing restrictions on nonessential businesses and social distancing directives.
NOT SUBJECT TO OPEN MEETINGS ACT
The “Open Meetings Act,” NMSA 1978, Sections 10-15-1 to 10-15-4, is known as a “sunshine law.” Virtually every state has such a law, which are essentially motivated by the belief that the democratic ideal is best served by a well-informed public. Sunshine laws generally require that public business be conducted in full public view, that the actions of public bodies be taken openly, and that the deliberations of public bodies be open to the public. It is the New Mexico Attorney General who is authorized by Section 10-15-3(B) of the Act to enforce its provisions.
On April 28, Charlie Moore, the spokesman for the Taxation and Revenue Department raised more than a few eyebrows from the media and political observers when he said that the Economic Recovery Council is not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act and that its deliberations will be closed to the public. According to Moore, instead of meetings open to the public, summaries will be provided of the work by the Economic Recovery Council and Moore said:
“We do not at this point plan on opening the group’s discussions to the public. … The Recovery Council is an advisory group only and for that reason not subject to Open Meetings Act requirements.”
The Economic Recovery Council has not released meeting calendars and agendas.
According to the Governor’s Office, a bipartisan council of mayors also is being assembled to provide advice through the governor’s chief of staff, John Bingaman. It was unclear which mayors may participate.
PHASED IN REOPENING PLAN
The Governor has already announced a phased in business opening plan. The timeline for the state’s phased in reopening plan will depend on when certain criteria are met. Social distancing measures will be mandated to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said that without social distancing, it doesn’t matter how much testing you do, the virus will still spread. The phase-in reopening of the economy plan will include a timeline based on performance against criteria. Social distancing will continue to be a critical component. The Governor’s “phase in” business reopening plan includes at least 3 major phases:
– All individuals instructed to stay home
– Industry Councils to develop COVID safe practices (CSP)
– Define how businesses will protect employees and customers
– Vulnerable individuals instructed to stay home
– Some non-essential businesses permitted to reopen in compliance with CSPs.
– Certain businesses will still be closed
Phase Two and Beyond
– Additional businesses permitted to reopen in compliance with CSPs.
– Larger gatherings and events still restricted for the foreseeable future
– Other changes TBD
MOST NOTABLE ACT OF DEFIANCE
Governor Lujan Grisham has vowed to sanction businesses that flout restrictions on nonessential business. State Police officers have been dispatched to cities and small towns across the state to enforce the restrictions. As of April 28, the New Mexico State Police had issued 124 cease and desist orders to first-time violators and three citations on second offenses. Two individuals were referred to the Department of Health for repeated noncompliance and could face civil penalties.
The most notable act of defiance thus far has come from Democrat Grants Mayor Martin Hicks, who has reopened city hall and order city workers back to work. Mayor Hicks has encouraged businesses in his city to defy the governor’s orders and reopen to the public. On Monday, April 27, Mayor Hicks and several dozen supporters rallied with him as he encouraged business owners in his community to defy the governor’s lock-down order that shuttered nonessential shops to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
It turns out that those at the morning rally in Grants included political activists from elsewhere. They waved American flags as one person held a sign that read: “Open Grants Now.” The State Police did not send any extra officers to Grants due to the mayor’s earlier threats of a confrontation.
Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks vowed in defiance to allow all small businesses in Grants to reopen. Governor Lujan Grisham for her part has said the mayor’s plan makes “absolutely no sense whatsoever” and warned that State Police would continue enforcing the health order.
For related news coverage see:
ABQ CITY COUNCIL
Late Sunday, April 26, Albuquerque Republican City Councilors Brook Bassan and Don Harris held a press conference to announce they were introducing a City Council Resolution asking Mayor Keller to re-evaluate public health restrictions and consider reopening some local businesses. The proposed resolution will be introduced to the City Council at the May 4 meeting.
The Councilors suggested liquor stores, barbershops, salons, and small specialty shops as well as outdoor activities facilities like golf courses and tennis courts be allowed to open. They also suggested that if the businesses were allowed to re-open, they must follow public health rules like occupancy limits, social distancing and have employees wear masks and gloves. Both Councilors also asked Mayor Keller to immediately analyze the necessity of the continued ban on non-emergency medical procedures.
Republican City Councilor Don Harris had this to say:
“As necessary as the initial public health orders may have been, the economic, social, cultural, and recreational interests of the residents of Albuquerque have suffered immensely as a result of the ordered closures. These impacts have been especially hard on the city’s small businesses and service workers and we want to work with the mayor’s office to reevaluate the closure of non-essential businesses. ”
A spokesperson for Mayor Tim Keller’s office responded to the city councilor’s resolution with this statement:
“We announced last week that we’re already crafting data-driven plans so that businesses can re-open and stay open while the health care system maintains capacity. We have invited council to join us in our collaborative efforts with the State, area hospitals, and the local business community.”
Mayor Keller for his part has talked about opening a few businesses at a time, having a plan for COVID-19 cases in the workplace, and implementing rules like having employees wear masks and getting their temperatures taken. As for when that could happen, the Mayor said he’ll follow the governor’s lead.
JURIS DOCTOR DON HARRIS
Least anyone forget, a little over a month ago, Don Harris became one of the first elected officials to publicly question the Governor’s stay at home order to combat the coronavirus. Several hours after the first reported NM death from the virus was reported, Harris was quoted as saying to political blogger Joe Monahan:
“I am sensing that the Governor is going lockstep with places that have much different problems than we do, particularly New York. Testing there shows a very high infection rate, while in New Mexico it is two percent. You can’t treat the country as a unified entity when New Mexico is a sparsely populated state and has a a different climate than New York. … Hopefully we will have some good data by April 10 and be very cautious about extending it and with regard to whom and how long. We should talk about the young people resuming normal life and keep those people away from the elderly. I think we need to have an open discussion about the harm that the economic lock down is doing to people. ”
Harris also brought up the hot button issue of possible increased suicides among the millions of workers laid off because of the shuttering of much of the economy. President Trump brought up the same issue but the AP came with a fact check that disputes that notion. Harris, an attorney in private practice, urged an “open discussion” about the stay at home order saying his chief concern is that it could be extended beyond the scheduled April 10 expiration, causing extensive economic harm.
Harris wrote on Facebook that his speaking out was prompted by the state’s use of the emergency alert system to urge all New Mexicans to stay home:
“I received an emergency text from the Governor or her agency ordering me to stay home. At the time I was walking in the foothills. … Albuquerque ranks number one in the nation in per capita for land devoted to open space and we are the fifth least-densely populated state in the country with 17 people per square mile on average. We have a high-desert climate with lots of sun and virus killing UV radiation. We are not New York City.”
Harris also questioned Mayor Tim Keller’s order closing city golf courses by saying:
“People can stay six feet away from each other. Why not let people go out and golf?”
When Harris popped off to political blogger Joe Monahan, there was only one death attributed to the virus, a month later, 109 more people died from the virus. On Wednesday, April 26, a little over a month since Juris Doctor Don Harris decided to practice medicine and make comment to blogger Monahan, New Mexico reported 2,974 positive tests, 58,771 negative tests, 705 reported recoveries and 110 deaths.
In the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 10.9% of the state’s population was identified as Native American. New Mexico’s Native American tribes and pueblos have been disproportionately impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, according to data released by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration. Recent COVID-19 outbreak clusters on New Mexico tribal land, including on the Navajo Nation, have led to elevated infection rates, with Native Americans making up 36.7% of the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the state-level data. New Mexico’s Native American tribes and pueblos have been disproportionately impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, according to new data released by the Lujan Grisham’s administration. New Mexico’s Native American tribes and pueblo reservations are located in remote and sparsely populated areas of the state with plenty of New Mexico sunshine. The virus has still spread to the reservations which in an of itself seems to discredit more than a few remarks made by Harris regarding population and climate.
REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS GET INTO THE ACT OF SECOND GUESSING
On Tuesday, April 28, New Mexico House Republican legislators in the House in a letter to the Governor urged her to accelerate the lifting of restrictions. They argued that many businesses won’t survive if restrictions last through mid-May. They also said New Mexicans are growing restless and may take matters into their own hands. The lawmakers wrote there is a need “to keep the situation from devolving into social chaos.”
In a conference call with the media to release the letter, the Republican law makers went so far as to suggest that civil unrest and “social chaos” will soon occur if the state is not reopened for business soon and Republican House Minority Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington told reporters that the state needs to avoid a “Kent State situation”. Kent State was where the Ohio National Guard shot Viet Nam war protesters in 1970. Montoya told reporters:
“It’s just unpredictable as to what could happen. ”
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, called Montoya’s reference to the Kent State massacre “appalling” and said:
“Evidence-based decisions and protecting public health have been and will remain the foremost priorities. … The state is immensely grateful to the local community officials and stakeholders from all across New Mexico who recognize the importance of safeguarding public health and upholding the measures we all must undertake to minimize transmission of this virus and ensure New Mexicans are as safe and healthy as they can be.”
GOVERNOR GET HIGH MARKS FOR HANDLING PANDEMIC
On Apr 24, 2020, “The Majority Institute – Public Policy Polling” released its newest New Mexico survey. It found that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has a 62% approval rating for her handling of the coronavirus, to only 26% who disapprove for a net +36 rating. By contrast Donald Trump has a net -15 approval rating for his handling of the virus, with just 40% approving of the job he’s doing to 55% who disapprove. That is a net 51% difference.
Key findings from the survey include the following:
1. Lujan Grisham is getting overwhelming support from both Democrats (83/9) and independents (60/28) for her handling of the virus and receives good marks from 32% of Republicans as well.
2. 63% of voters in the state think the state’s response to the coronavirus has been ‘about right.’ Only 27% think it’s overreacting. By contrast just 35% of voters think the federal response to the virus has been about right, with 49% saying that the Trump administration’s response has been an under reaction.
3. 89% of voters in the state say they are at least ‘somewhat concerned’ about the coronavirus, with 61% saying they are ‘very concerned.’ Voters are more concerned that they or a family member will get the virus than they are about its economic impact.
4. Lujan Grisham’s overall approval rating shows a high degree of popularity, with 59% approving and just 32% disapproving of the job she’s doing. By contrast Trump has only a 40% approval rating, with 56% of voters disapproving of him.
PPP surveyed 1,009 New Mexico voters on April 20th and 21st. The survey was conducted half by calls to landlines and half by texts to cell phones, and the margin of error is +/-3.1% This research was conducted on behalf of The Majority Institute.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
A. MAKE ALL MEETINGS OF ADVISORY COUNCIL OPEN TO PUBLIC
Ever since assuming office on January 1, 2018, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has relied upon advisory groups to develop and advance major policy initiatives for the state. Two major advisory groups that come quickly to mind are the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) Pension Reform Advisory group that formulated major recommendation for changes to the PERA Retirement system and the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Advisory group that formulated legislation for the creation of an entire new industry. The Governor’s office has also announced that a bipartisan council of mayors is being assembled to provide advice through the governor’s chief of staff, John Bingaman.
The PERA Pension reform advisory group was chaired by one of the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Advisory group was chaired by an Albuquerque City Councilor. Both the Pension Reform and Recreational Marijuana Advisory Group held meetings that were open to the public and encouraged public participation.
Although it is clear that the Economic Recovery Council the Governor has appointed does not have to follow the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, it is a major mistake for it not to do so. It will have an impact of the credibility of the advisory group and on whatever recommendations that they make to the Governor. The New Mexico Open Meetings Act is motivated by the belief that the democratic ideals are best served by a well-informed public. The open meetings act requires that public business be conducted in full public view, that the actions of public bodies be taken openly, and that the deliberations of public bodies be open to the public.
Nothing can be more public than the discussions and decisions to open New Mexico again for business. During these very difficult times when the Governor is demanding so much sacrifice from the general public that is having a direct impact on their financial wellbeing, it is a major mistake for the Economic Recovery Council to do business and make recommendations behind closed doors. The spirit and intent of the Open Meeting Act needs to be honored by the Economic Advisory Council.
B. POLITICAL GRAND STANDING AT ITS WORST
The actions of Democrat Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks vowing in defiance to allow all small businesses in Grants to reopen is about as pathetic as it gets seeing as he does not have that authority and the Governor does. The interviews Mayor “Modey”Hicks gave to the news media looked like that of an unhinged fool of New Mexico proportions. His confrontation with a constituent taking issue with him said it all and can be viewed here:
Mayor Hicks has fired the city manager and has ordered city hall employees return to work. The voters in Grants need to recognize his antics for what it is: political grand standing at its worst, especially when it was revealed that the protestors included political activists from elsewhere. It was also reported that many businesses in Grants are ignoring the Mayor, which they should. Now that Mayor Hicks has gotten his few minutes of fame, perhaps Attorney General Hector Balderas should take aggressive against Mayor Hicks for his removal from office for his open defiance of the public health orders.
C. REPUBLICAN LAW MAKERS
Republican City Councilor Don Harris has a very well deserved reputation for doing very little, and some would say absolutely nothing, on the City Council and just draws his city council salary without doing any work. He is one of those City Councilors who once he leaves, no one will ever know he ever served, which is the classic definition of a “do nothing” elected official. To use Don Harris’ comments, the only “open discussion” we need to have is the discussion as to why his constituents keep electing this do nothing to the city council. Only now with a pandemic crisis being handled by Mayor Tim Keller and Governor Lujan Grisham does Don Harris decide to pop off and offer his observations.
It appears that Republican lawmakers cannot handle the fact that Governor Lujan Grisham is getting high marks for her handling of the pandemic. The Governor has said that it’s time for New Mexico to consider slowly relaxing its restrictions even though she has extended the current public health orders through May 15. She has made it clear that her Administration is working on detailed plans for reopening the state in phases. But none of that matters to the Republican law makers and they could not care less. The New Mexico Republican House leadership choose to promote a right-wing agenda more concerned about the almighty dollar and not people’s lives and health. They apparently want to reopen the state for business too soon and risk another spike or another wave of reported corona virus cases.
Notwithstanding the progress that is being made to come up with viable plans to reopen the state for business, both Republican House members and Republican Albuquerque City councilors are trying to force the premature opening of the state and the city. The holding of a press conference to release a letter to the Governor and holding a press conference to release a proposed City Council resolution should be called for what they are which is political grandstanding at its worst that stokes the fears of people to get a political advantage and news coverage.
Cool heads must prevail during these very difficult times, but the antics of some elected officials show the opposite. It is totally irresponsible for the Republican law makers to say civil unrest and “social chaos” will soon occur if the state is not reopened for business soon. The Republican lawmakers ignore that New Mexico citizens and businesses are in fact doing their very best to honor the restrictions placed upon them. To invoke images of students getting shot at Kent State during the Viet Nam war was beyond the pale of common decency and it sure hell was not leadership of any kind.