Democratic field narrows to 1 for open U.S. Senate seat
SANTA FE — An unrivaled path to the 2020 Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate emerged at the end of October for Rep. Ben Ray Luján after his only challenger quit the race to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Udall.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse, a rising progressive voice in state politics, ended her bid and endorsed Luján, the No. 4 Democrat in House leadership, who has served six terms. He coordinated successful efforts last year to win back the House majority.
Toulouse Oliver, a former county clerk, came out with early calls this year for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and rejected campaign cash from corporate PACs — stances later adopted by Luján.
Luján's fundraising machine easily outstripped efforts by Toulouse Oliver, who built her political base in Albuquerque as Bernalillo County clerk before moving to Santa Fe to serve as the state's top elections and campaign finance regulator. Her term as secretary of state runs through 2022.
The Republican nomination is being pursued by two candidates who lost statewide elections in 2018 in landslides.
Albuquerque-based contractor Mick Rich unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich last year in a three-way race, while outpolling Libertarian former Gov. Gary Johnson. The GOP nomination also is being pursued by Gavin Clarkson, a former Trump administration official and professor on Native American economic issues. Clarkson lost a bid in 2018 to unseat Toulouse Oliver.
State’s high court examines 'warrior-gene' defense
SANTA FE — The New Mexico Supreme Court is considering whether evidence of a genetic predisposition toward violence should have been allowed in the trial of a man convicted of murder in 2015.
Oral arguments were scheduled on Nov. 4 in an appeal stemming from the conviction of Anthony Blas Yepez in the killing of his girlfriend's 75-year-old step-grandfather during a domestic dispute in 2012.
The state Court of Appeals says evidence was improperly excluded at trial that Yepez had a so-called warrior gene variant linked to aggressive and violent behavior. The appeals court also found the omission was harmless and would not have had a bearing on the second-degree murder conviction against Yepez.
State prosecutors fear the appeals court decision left the door open to an unsubstantiated scientific theory in court.
More than 400 inmates walking out of prison doors
OKLAHOMA CITY — More than 400 inmates are walking out the doors of prisons across Oklahoma as part of what state officials say is the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.
The Nov. 4 release of inmates, all with convictions for low-level drug and property crimes, resulted from a bill signed by new Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. The bill retroactively applied misdemeanor sentences for simple drug possession and low-level property crimes that state voters approved in 2016.
Stitt has made reducing Oklahoma's highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate one of his top priorities and has appointed reform-minded members to the state's Pardon and Parole Board.
The week before the release, the board considered 814 cases and recommended 527 inmates for commutation. However, 65 are being held on detainers, leaving about 462 inmates to be released.
Governor wants more monitoring after pipeline leak
BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum appealed to Keystone pipeline owner TC Energy to review its inspection and monitoring of the line after it leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons in the northeastern part of the state.
A Burgum spokesman said the Republican governor spoke on the night of Oct. 31 to officials at the Calgary, Alberta-based company formerly known as TransCanada.
The conversation came two days after the company shut down the pipeline after the leak was discovered and affected about 22,500 square feet of land near Edinburg.
Burgum said in a statement he received assurance from the company that the spill would be cleaned up "as thoroughly and quickly as possible."
North Dakota regulators said some wetlands were affected, but not any sources of drinking water.
The pipeline spill and shutdown come as the company seeks to build the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has drawn opposition from people who fear it will harm the environment.
Salt Lake Tribune gets IRS approval to convert to nonprofit
SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Tribune said on Nov. 4 it has received approval from the IRS to convert to a nonprofit in what it hopes will ensure its long-term viability in an industry in crisis.
The newspaper will be governed by a board of directors and rely on donations. But it will maintain editorial independence and enact a strict firewall between reporters and donors to prevent influence or sway, just as newspapers have long done with advertisers, the newspaper said in a news release.
The newspaper will keep its longtime and well-known editorial cartoonist, Pat Bagley, who routinely mocks the state's Republican leaders.
One difference, though, is that the Tribune editorial board will no longer make candidate endorsements.
The other large newspaper in the state, the Deseret News, is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church. The majority of the state's lawmakers and about two-thirds of the state's residents are member of the faith.
Tribune owner Paul Huntsman purchased the newspaper in 2016, and the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for a series of stories about church-owned Brigham Young University's practice of opening honor code investigations into students who reported they were victims of sexual assault.
But financial hardships endured, and one-third of the staff was laid off in 2018. That was the fourth round of layoffs since 2011 at the Salt Lake Tribune, which now has a staff of about 60, down from 148 in 2011, according to the newspaper's story about the announcement.
Huntsman is the of son of the late Jon Huntsman Sr., a wealthy industrialist who was the patriarch of one of the most influential families in Utah, and brother of former Russia Ambassador, Jon Huntsman Jr.
California condor chick is 5th found in Southwest in 2019
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK — Wildlife biologists say a record number of wild California condor chicks have been documented this year in the U.S. Southwest with the discovery in early October of No. 5, a nestling found in Grand Canyon National Park.
Biologist Miranda Terwilliger, Grand Canyon's condor project manager, says volunteer Bob George found the chick in a nest Oct. 10. She estimated the chick hatched five months before it was discovered.
There are four population areas for the birds in the wild: Arizona and Utah, Southern California, central California and Baja California, Mexico.
There were only 22 California condors left in the world in the 1980s, but after a recovery effort to save the species there are now 312 of the birds in the wild