Beetles and Dragons

This combination of undated photos provided by Brett Ratcliffe in December 2018 shows, from left, Gymnetis drogoni, Gymnetis rhaegali and Gymnetis viserioni beetles from South America. Ratcliffe named three of his eight newest beetle discoveries after the dragons from the HBO series "Game of Thrones" and George R.R. Martin book series "A Song of Ice and Fire."

NEBRAKSA

Professor names beetle species after 'Game of Thrones'

LINCOLN, Nebraska— A Nebraska entomologist has named three of his eight newest beetle discoveries after the dragons from the HBO series "Game of Thrones" and George R.R. Martin book series "A Song of Ice and Fire."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Brett Ratcliffe named the new scarab beetle species drogoni, rhaegali and viserioni, The Omaha World-Herald reported. The names are Latinized versions of Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion, three dragons owned by Daenerys Targaryen, a contender for the royal throne of Westeros in the fictional work.

Radcliffe said he's a fan of the series, but ultimately chose the names to draw attention to biodiversity and the amount of undiscovered species.

"When you create names like these, you do it to gain a little bit of notoriety and bring public attention to it," Ratcliffe said. "We're still discovering life on Earth. One of every four living things on Earth is a beetle. We haven't discovered them all. We're not even close."

Ratcliffe said he's named hundreds of species over his 50-year career and creating new names becomes difficult. Naming rules recommend against using humor or insults, and are particularly useful to avoid having duplicate names, he said.

Ratcliffe said he went with the pop culture reference to have a little bit of fun.

"I've often thought that scientists take themselves too seriously," Ratcliffe said, "and this is a way to circumvent that."

Drogoni and viserioni can be found in Colombia and Ecuador, while rhaegali is in the French Guiana. All three have orange features.

NEW MEXICO

Governor suspends student testing system

SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has set in motion the replacement of the current statewide standardized testing system with a pair of executive orders that also calls for removing those exam results from teacher evaluations.

The orders by the newly inaugurated Democratic governor correspond with campaign pledges to do away student assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC — a system Lujan Grisham described as high-pressure and counterproductive.

The orders hold major implications for teacher evaluations that were more closely linked to student test scores under preceding Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in the name of accountability.

Appearing alongside teachers and education specialists including the state's new lieutenant governor, Lujan Grisham said her administration will follow a "bottom-up" strategy of consulting with teachers, parents and experts in education to find new methods of assessing teachers and students.

A state district court judge has ruled that New Mexico is failing its constitutional obligations to provide an adequate public education, especially among students from Native American, low-income and non-English speaking households.

Judge Sarah Singleton has set a mid-April deadline for the Legislature and governor to come up with a plan to address major educational shortcomings and increase resources to schools.

Lujan Grisham has pledged to work with lawmakers to satisfy the judge's order when the Legislature convenes Jan. 15. She said that negotiations already are underway with leading lawmakers about increases in teacher compensation to help reduce teacher vacancies and turnover rates. 

UTAH

GOP candidate sues after Navajo wins county election

SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican is suing after losing an election to a Navajo candidate in a Utah county dogged by allegations of discrimination against Navajo voters.

Kelly Laws wants a judge to overturn Democrat Willie Grayeyes' victory in the San Juan County commission race over questions about whether he is truly a Utah resident, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

San Juan County encompasses a large area of southeast Utah and abuts Colorado and Arizona. It includes the towns of Monticello, Blanding, Bluff and Mexican Hat as well as portions of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

County officials had tried to remove Grayeyes from the ballot before the election, saying an investigation sparked by a complaint from a different Republican hopeful found that he lives primarily over the nearby Arizona border.

A federal judge reversed that decision after deciding the county clerk falsified the complaint by improperly backdating it. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer did not rule directly on the residency issue, however. The new suit was filed in Utah state court.

Grayeyes said the residency question is a political attack as Navajos are poised to form a majority of the three-person commission for the first time.  He has been registered to vote in San Juan County since he was 18 and held leadership positions in Utah for decades, his lawyers have said.

Grayeyes acknowledged that he owns property in Page, Arizona, but said Navajo Mountain, Utah, is his home.

He compared his residency to that of newly elected U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, who has owned homes in several states, including his current residence in Utah.

Leaders of the sprawling Navajo Nation, which stretches into New Mexico and Arizona, have supported Grayeyes and pointed out that many people in the remote area must cross state lines for work, errands or even to collect mail.

Laws, though, argues in the lawsuit that Grayeyes lacks a Utah driver license, spends time with his girlfriend in Tuba City, Arizona, and owns a horse that he keeps at his uncle's home in Arizona.

The dust-up comes after the first general election since another federal judge re-drew county voting districts, saying the old ones were illegally created based on race and minimized the voices of Navajo residents who make up more than half the population.

WYOMING

TV show visits Casper in wake of Dick Cheney movie's claims

Inside Edition, a nationally syndicated TV show that focuses on celebrity news, visited Casper following a movie’s insinuation that former Vice President Dick Cheney’s mother-in-law died under suspicious circumstances.

The movie, “Vice,” focuses on Cheney’s political rise to the office of vice president. Christian Bale plays Cheney in the film.

The Inside Edition piece focuses on the 1973 death of Cheney’s mother-in-law, Edna Vincent, a former Casper Police Department and Natrona County Sheriff’s Office employee. It states that the film implies Vincent’s husband, Wayne Vincent, killed her.

Both Undersheriff Mark Sellers — whom the show’s reporter, Megan Alexander, incorrectly identified as sheriff — and Coroner Connie Jacobson appeared on the show and said case records indicate there was no reason to believe Vincent’s death was suspicious.

Vincent drowned in a pond and, according to the show, she had elevated blood-alcohol levels at the time of her death.

NEW MEXICO

State holiday proposed for Cesar Chavez, Dennis Chavez

ALBUQUERQUE — A state lawmaker is proposing a holiday in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez of New Mexico and the late farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez of California.

New Mexico Rep. Miguel P. Garcia has pre-filed a bill that would designate the first Friday of every April as "Dennis Chavez and Cesar Chavez Day" to honor two Hispanic figures who played a key role in Latino civil rights.

The proposal comes 17 years after New Mexico voters rejected a constitutional amendment to create a state holiday in honor of Cesar Chavez.

But Garcia said he decided to try again to push a Chavez holiday because New Mexico now has a more diverse state Legislature and he believed the new governor would be receptive.

A spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the governor has not reviewed the bill. Around 49 percent of the population in New Mexico is Hispanic.

The New Mexico-born Dennis Chavez served in the U.S. Senate from 1935 to 1962 and earned a reputation as a defender of Mexican-American civil rights.

The Yuma, Arizona-born Cesar Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Dolores Huerta. The pair organized boycotts and strikes to push for better working conditions for farmworkers. Chavez galvanized Chicano students in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his call for better farmworker wages.

Garcia said he didn't include Huerta, who was born in Dawson, New Mexico, in the holiday proposal since Huerta, 88, is still alive and active in many causes. Critics have often charged that Huerta's contributions to the United Farm Workers regularly get ignored.

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