Biden Interior Department

In this March 5, 2020, file photo then-U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who co-chaired the Native American Caucus, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington. O.J. Haaland is serving as the first Native American secretary of Interior.


Native Americans aim to boost voting power

SANTA FE — A coalition of Native American communities has proposed redrawing New Mexico's political map to boost Indigenous voters' influence in elections.

The proposed changes from New Mexico's 19 Native American pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation, outlined on Sept. 20, would reshape a congressional swing district where Republicans regained control in 2020. They would also lead to more Native American potential voters in six state House and three Senate districts northwestern New Mexico.

"Through the proposed boundary changes, we worked hard to maintain tribal voting power, develop new voting districts with Native American influence, and to bring New Mexico closer to parity after a century of voter disenfranchisement and suppression," contributors to the proposals wrote.

The proposals were submitted to a committee that will provide recommendations to the Legislature at the end of October. The Democrat-led Legislature can draw its own lines. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham must approve the redistricting, and court challenges are possible.

New Mexico is home to 23 federally recognized tribes, whose growing political clout is reflected in the election of Laguna Pueblo tribal member Deb Haaland to Congress in 2016 and her promotion this year to secretary of the interior.

The share of New Mexicans who identify themselves as Indigenous by race or by combined ancestry is 12.4%. Alaska is the most predominantly Native American state, followed by Oklahoma and then New Mexico.


State’s oil production slips to No. 3 behind New Mexico

North Dakota regulators say the state has officially lost its status as the nation's second-biggest oil producer to New Mexico.

North Dakota produced just over 1 million barrels of oil per day in July, the most recent month for which data is available from the state Oil and Gas Division. The July production marks a 56,000-barrel-per-day or 5% drop from June, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Texas continues to lead the nation in oil production. The Permian Basin spans parts of New Mexico and Texas, and it's arguably the biggest competition for North Dakota's Bakken oil patch. The southern oil-producing region is closer to major refineries and export terminals, and it attracts significant drilling and investment within the oil and gas industry.

North Dakota ranked second, behind Texas, in oil production for nine years. It lost that status to New Mexico in July. The two states had been neck and neck for several months.

New Mexico had 82 rigs drilling on Sept. 18, far more than the 27 operating in North Dakota.

Aside from bragging rights, a state's position holds other implications. Rankings can affect an oil company's ability to find investors to fund a project in a state, North Dakota regulators have said.


Casper weighs employee vaccination incentives

Casper city officials are recommending a COVID-19 vaccine incentive program that would award fully inoculated employees $250.

Under a proposal considered at the Sept. 21 City Council pre-meeting, the program would also award $100 for each fully vaccinated spouse or dependent who lives with an employee. Additionally, employees would receive $50 for a COVID-19 booster.

The incentive program, set to run through the end of the year, would apply retroactively to employees who already received their vaccination. The retroactive portion would not apply to spouses and family members.

The proposal comes as the city deals with increasing numbers of employees who have needed to quarantine or isolate due to either COVID exposure or an actual illness. There were more than 40 city workers who began the week of Sept. 7 either in quarantine or isolation, city figures show. In July, that number was in the single digits.

The memo estimates vaccination rates within the city of Casper mirror that of Natrona County's overall vaccination rate, which stands at roughly 36%. The city is striving to raise that rate to at least 65%.

The total cost of the program to the city would be roughly $124,000.

The proposal comes as Wyoming continues to struggle with a low vaccination rate compared to the rest of the nation, along with strong political opposition to mandating vaccines. The city's program, in contrast, would be voluntary.

Other Wyoming cities and institutions have offered vaccination incentives including the city of Laramie and the University of Wyoming.


GOP Senate candidate stiff-arms Afghan refugees

PHOENIX — The United States should not accept Afghan refugees, including translators and others who helped the American military during the 20-year war, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon said, staking out a hardline stance against a group of immigrants that has had widespread support from both parties.

Rather than bringing them to the homeland, the United States should help Afghans who assisted in the war to flee the Taliban and resettle in the Middle East, Lamon told The Associated Press on Sept. 15.

"They should go to countries that are friendly to them and us," Lamon said. "We cannot continue to be the world's refugee camp."

Lamon is running in a crowded Republican primary to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in one of the most closely watched 2022 Senate races.

His stance on refugees comes as GOP candidates across the country wrestle with how to balance the base's skepticism of immigration with broad public support for providing refuge to Afghans who risked their lives assisting the United States.

A handful of former Trump administration officials are working to turn Republicans against Afghan refugees, looking to make the collapse of Afghanistan another opportunity to push a hard-line immigration agenda. But they support letting Afghans who obtain a Special Immigrant Visa settle in the United States.

Lamon is aggressively courting Trump's endorsement, going so far as to air a campaign ad in Bedminster, New Jersey, while the former president was visiting his golf course there.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, both Republicans, issued a joint statement last month welcoming Arizona's "fair share" of refugees and promising that the state's refugee resettlement office would help them settle in.


University ordered to reinstate transgender professor

OKLAHOMA CITY — A university in southeast Oklahoma that was found to have discriminated against a transgender English professor must reinstate the professor with tenure, a federal appeals court ruled.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Sept. 13 ordered professor Rachel Tudor to be reinstated with tenure at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and ordered a lower court to recalculate how much pay and attorney fees she is entitled to.

A federal jury in Oklahoma City previously awarded Tudor more than $1 million after finding the university discriminated against her and wrongfully denied her tenure. But the trial court later reduced that award because of a $300,000 state cap on non-economic damages. Both parties appealed.

Tudor began working at Southeastern in 2004. She began presenting as a woman in 2007 by wearing women's clothing, styling her hair in a feminine way and going by the name Rachel, according to her lawsuit against the university. After she was denied tenure in 2010, Tudor filed a discrimination complaint. She was fired the following year.

The U.S. Department of Justice also sued the university, leading to a settlement with Southeastern agreeing to hold mandatory anti-discrimination training and to implement policy changes to reduce discrimination.

In a statement, the president of the university, Thomas Newsom, declined to discuss the court's decision.

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