We are pleased to announce our next in-person event, which will be co-sponsored by The Federalist Society. We will be hosting one of the nation’s top legal experts on limited government and emergency power.
Daniel Suhr serves as Managing Attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, where he spends every day on the front lines of the fight to preserve our rights and liberties. Daniel holds a B.A. and J.D. from Marquette University, and master’s degrees from Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Missouri-Columbia. When he’s not pursuing major constitutional cases in court, he can be found writing about them on op-ed pages like the Wall Street Journal, discussing them on Fox News, speaking about them at places like Yale Law School, or arguing about them with equally nerdy friends over beers.
Topic: Limiting Government in an Emergency: Vaccine Mandates, Lockdowns, and the Next ‘Crisis’
Speaker: Daniel Suhr
Date and Time: Thursday, May 5th, 2022, 11:30am-1:30pm
Location: Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North, 5151 San Francisco Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109-4641
(Albuquerque, NM) – The Rio Grande Foundation has filed a complaint with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) alleging that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has failed to disclose records relating to the governor’s attendance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
In their official capacity, Governor Lujan Grisham and members of her administration attended the conference as representatives of New Mexico. The expenses incurred for travel, food, and lodging are subject to inspection by the public, whether the expenses were paid for with taxpayer funds or otherwise. If special interests funded this excursion, the public has a right to know.
The Foundation submitted a request for records on November 1, 2021 asking for all documents related to these costs. On November 16, 2021, the request was improperly denied. The request to inspect records was expanded and a revised request was submitted on November 18, 2021 and was wrongfully denied on November 23, 2021.
According to the Inspection of Public Records Act, “public records” means all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.
Patrick Brenner, Vice President of the Rio Grande Foundation, said “We requested all receipts and documents associated with the administration’s attendance at this international conference. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has acknowledged that her attendance was in her official capacity as a representative of New Mexico. As such, the records related to transportation are subject to inspection, especially if they were paid for by a special interest or foreign entity. No disclosure of any in-kind contribution can be found in the latest campaign finance report. The administration’s continued devotion to anti-transparency is deeply disturbing and undermines the public trust.”
The Foundation maintains that the Office of the Governor has improperly and wrongly withheld documents that ought to have been made available for inspection by the public. We look forward to a swift response from the Attorney General.
The world is in awe that billionaire Sir Richard Branson has finally accomplished his 17-year goal of achieving spaceflight. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Unity reached 53.5 miles above the Earth with a crew including Branson. They spent a few minutes in zero gravity and returned safely to the runway of Spaceport America near the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Congratulations!
The international scene is abuzz with this latest and undeniably impressive addition to Branson’s resume: but at what cost? Branson launched his flight from Spaceport America, a project initially conceived as early as 1992 when the Southwest Space Task Force was formed to develop and advance New Mexico’s space industry. The project received seed funding through a taxpayer-approved initiative in April 2007 when voters in Doña Ana County approved the spaceport tax.
Almost every year since, supporters of Spaceport America have announced the “upcoming launch” from their facility or the need for additional tax dollars to expand the Spaceport and its capabilities. To bolster their claims for additional tax money, Spaceport America commissioned a study by the consulting firm Moss Adams of Albuquerque. The study made headlines with the implausible claim that Spaceport America began producing net benefits for New Mexico as early as 2013.
In March 2020, the Rio Grande Foundation tallied up the total costs to taxpayers, determining that New Mexicans have borne a total project cost of $275 million, while revenues approach only $54.3 million for the state over the last 12 years. The vast majority of taxpayer-funded spending related to capital projects and nearly $10 million in operational expenditures. In fact, new information shows New Mexico shelled out an additional $1.5 million in advertising expenses related to the Virgin Galactic flight.
Branson is already a billionaire. Why are New Mexico’s politicians lining the pockets of these already wealthy and successful entrepreneurs through taxpayer-funded, industry-specific subsidies? The impact of corporate welfare disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged, especially in impoverished communities like Doña Ana County and New Mexico as a whole.
In fact, New Mexico trails the southwest in employment recovery. A recent report by WalletHub highlights the state’s 620 percent increase in unemployment claims, referring to the change in the number of initial unemployment insurance claims in the week of July 5, 2021 compared to the week of July 8, 2019. How can a state in this state afford to help send a billionaire to space?
Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. But from my perspective as a New Mexican and taxpayer, he sure seems like a wild-west robber baron, holding up taxpayer stagecoaches of the poorest state in the country to fulfill his personal vendetta of beating fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the billionaire space race. He’s “Six-Gun” Branson, 21st-century robber baron, a stark reminder of our 19th-century industrial past.
In the end, his mission was accomplished. But Six-Gun Branson has only proven that he can launch his spacecraft from any airport with sufficient runway length. I’d hazard a guess that soon he’ll be riding off into the sunset while my fellow New Mexicans are left holding the $275 million bag.
Patrick Brenner is the vice president of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, he leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.
Anthony Fauci’s emails have been released, and they tell an interesting tale about the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. One particular email stood out to me from Fauci to Sylvia Burwell discussing masks.
Within the body of the email, Fauci asserts that the use of masks in a public setting is generally to prevent infected individuals from spreading a virus. More specifically, he writes that the “typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material.” This email was sent on February 5, 2020.
If the drug-store masks are ineffective, why were they forced on the general population for over a year? Did masks help contain the spread of COVID-19 at all? What else do we not know?
But I’m not here to argue about the efficacy of masks and Fauci’s handling of the pandemic. I’m here to emphasize the importance of why we are able to have this discussion today: open government and transparency.
Without access to these documents, the country might not have ever known to ask these questions. This is significant as we can analyze the events in early 2020 in a new light. Most importantly, we can hold individuals accountable if they recommended policies that were known not to be effective.
Here in New Mexico, we have a different ongoing dilemma, one that is also rooted in transparency. Thanks to the initial efforts of Searchlight New Mexico, the additional whistleblowers that have come forward since the initial Searchlight report, and some well-timed public records requests submitted by yours truly, we know that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration are still actively depriving the people of New Mexico access to public documents through permanent and automatic deletion.
In January of this year, a directive from the governor’s office was implemented by the New Mexico Department of Information Technology: delete all messages after 24 hours. This directive came before the governor’s press secretary acknowledged the use of a creative new term: “transitory.”
The deleted messages were broadly considered “transitory” in nature, a definition that has already been debunked in the context of transparency and is not a qualified exception under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), New Mexico’s government transparency law.
“Transitory” messages have been unofficially described as “employee banter, routine check-ins between workers and other insignificant exchanges.” The rub is that they’re all public documents and subject to inspection requests, regardless of whatever “transitory” qualification they try to apply.
Fauci could have used the same term to describe his seemingly innocuous email to Burwell about masks. What if Fauci had deleted that email because it was “just transitory”?
All this and the responses from Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office that there are “no records responsive to your request” underlines a seriously dangerous trend and contemptuous attitude within the Governor’s administration. The widespread and systematic “paper shredder” policy is nothing short of criminal.
New Mexico’s Attorney General agrees: “public bodies acquiring information should keep in mind that the records they keep generally are subject to public inspection.”
The governor’s press secretary Nora Sackett said that the governor takes transparency and open government “very seriously.” If that’s true, then Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration and all New Mexico state agencies should shed their cloaks of secrecy and immediately stop the destruction of public documents.
This is a clear assault on the people’s ability to keep a watchful eye on their elected government and should be alarming to everyone, especially those who care for our democracy.
As the far-left solidifies its stranglehold on all branches of New Mexico’s state government, more than ever we need an aggressive media and informed constituency to demand accountability in a system proven to produce abuses without. These abuses have never been more readily apparent than in the aftermath of a recent Searchlight New Mexico investigation.
In May 2021, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department fired two high-level employees. Their terminations came after the two employees raised concerns about the agency’s recent shift to the use of encryption and the automated destruction of public records.
The department recently transitioned to the secure text messaging app Signal to discuss a wide range of official business, including the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the care of children in state custody. Officials asserted that they relied on Signal primarily for “transitory communications”. But what is “transitory” in the context of the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), the state’s public records law?
CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock defines transitory communications as “employee banter, routine check-ins between workers and other insignificant exchanges not subject to public records laws”.
However, the New Mexico Attorney General’s IPRA guide addresses exceptions generally: “Because of the presumption in favor of the right to inspect, public bodies acquiring information should keep in mind that the records they keep generally are subject to public inspection.”
Wait: I’m confused. IPRA itself makes no explicit mention of the term “transitory”. In fact, IPRA only mentions a few and very specific exceptions under select qualified circumstances where a record is not to be disclosed. These exceptions include matters that fall under attorney-client privilege, certain personnel records, health records, and “protected personal identifier information” such as social security numbers and birth dates, as well as a few others.
These are reasonable exemptions to protect certain information of citizens. What does this mean? It means that no government agency will turn over your social security number to a requester. If a record contains a social security number, the number is redacted. This protects the privacy of citizens.
And protecting the privacy of citizens in this way is a good thing. One of the greatest freedoms we have is the freedom from interference or intrusion, the right “to be let alone,” a formulation cited by Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren in 1890. Remember: transparency is for the government, privacy is for the citizens.
But CYFD employees are employed by a government agency. Do they have a right to privacy? In the conduct of their job, the law says no.
If it was already difficult to obtain certain records, what happens if the agency moves to a platform where text messages are encrypted and automatically deleted? That task is now impossible.
According to the law, these text messages constitute public records, regardless of how “transitory” they are in nature.
The New Mexico Attorney General’s IPRA guide offers insight to contradict the “transitory” qualification: “‘public records’ means all documents, […] regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained”.
With CYFD setting a dangerous precedent, the governor’s office offered similar advice. “Every single text message that you send or receive likely qualifies as a ‘transitory record,’” the official guidance counsels. “We recommend that you delete all text messages which are ‘transitory records’ every ten days. You may delete them more often if you wish.”
This reminds me of George Orwell’s memory holes from his groundbreaking novel 1984:
“When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.”
Well, it’s 2021 and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the obligation to provide these records to requesters has not been absolved. Denying access to records, defaming those who stand up, and delaying a solution to the problem undermines the already troubled credibility of government institutions and their leaders.
Let us conclude with the most important question of all: why would records need to be destroyed if there wasn’t something to hide?
Patrick Brenner is the Vice President of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. He leads the Foundation’s open government and second amendment efforts.
(Albuquerque, NM) – The voters of Albuquerque voted against Democracy Dollars in November of 2019, and the Rio Grande Foundation played a pivotal part in the defeat of the ballot measure. Furthermore, the Rio Grande Foundation won an ethics complaint against the Mayor for hisuse of the City’s website (CABQ.gov) in which he specifically called for voters to approve Democracy Dollars and other bond measures.
Almost six months later, the Foundation has filedsuit over a lack of transparency and openness associatedwith Mayor Tim Keller’s decision to violate the law.
Specifically, the Rio Grande Foundation requested a reasonable collection of text messages and emails sent to and from specific City employees leading up to the posting of Mayor Keller’s pleas on theCity’s website to vote “YES”.
According to the Rio Grande Foundation, the public records request was filed under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records law and accepted by the City in December of 2019. After dutifully paying the invoice to receive the first portion of these records, the City of Albuquerque has failed to produce any records in response to the request from over five months ago.
Patrick Brenner, a Policy Analyst with the Foundation, filed the original request. Mr. Brenner has left no less than six voicemails and has sent dozens of emails and messages through the City’s open government portal imploring the City to fulfil its duty to provide public records.
On May 12, 2020, after exhausting all other avenues to obtain these public records, which includes receiving assistance from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government when Director Melanie Majors sent a letter of complaint to no avail, the Rio Grande Foundation filed a legal complaint in District Court against the City.
In the lawsuit the Foundation alleges that Ethan Watson, City Clerk, and the Custodian of Records, YvetteGurule, are creating artificial delaysin order todelay production of thesepublic records. Early in the process, the Foundation emphatically requested confirmation from Mr. Watson and Ms.Gurulethat these documents were not being destroyed. To date, no such confirmation has been received.
The Foundation recognizes that the ongoing response to the Coronavirus pandemic may have caused delays later in the request process. However, the Coronavirus does not excuse anygovernmental body from its obligation to timely respond and provide public records requested in accordance with the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.
In an effort to protect taxpayers in the aftermath of the global Coronavirus pandemic, the Rio Grande Foundation sent a letter to candidates for legislative offices requesting they sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The letter was sent as follows:
Dear New Mexicans,
As a member of the New Mexico Legislature or a candidate to hold that office, one of your primary goals is to help New Mexicans get back to work. This downturn has been driven partially by the economic shutdown associated with the Corona Virus, but also in part by steep decline in oil prices.
Whatever the cause of the downturn, New Mexico government plainly spent beyond its means in recent years and has plenty of spending to cut before tax hikes are even considered. While the economy remains largely shut down and the start of our economic recovery remains unknown, we do know that New Mexico’s economy faces a steep challenge that will not be assisted by tax hikes on businesses and other hard-working New Mexicans.
I want you to pledge to the people of New Mexico not to raise your NET taxes as a result of the current economic downturn. In practical terms, this means no tax hikes through the end of the 2021 New Mexico legislative session.
The candidates were asked to respond to the request and pledge to not increase taxes as a result of the economic downturn. For legislators and candidates interested in signing the pledge, kindly write to firstname.lastname@example.org and mention the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
State Representative Candidates who have signed the pledge:
Dinah Glenda Vargas (R)
for State Representative District 10
Adrian Anthony Trujillo, Sr (R)
for State Representative District 11
Kayla Renee Marshall (R)
for State Representative District 13
Ranota Q Banks (L)
for State Representative District 15
Ali Ennenga (R)
for State Representative District 15
Antoinette Bernice Taft (R)
for State Representative District 16
Scott Goodman (L)
for State Representative District 17
Kimberly Ann Kaehr-Macmillan (R)
for State Representative District 17
Michael Eugene Hendricks (R)
for State Representative District 20
Paul Ryan Mckenney (L)
for State Representative District 21
Stefani Lord (R)
for State Representative District 22
Ellis C Mcmath (R)
for State Representative District 23
Robert S Godshall (R)
for State Representative District 27
Robert Jason Vaillancourt (L)
for State Representative District 28
Thomas Ray Stull (R)
for State Representative District 28
Adelious De Stith (R)
for State Representative District 29
Randall K Sobien (L)
for State Representative District 30
John L Jones (R)
for State Representative District 30
Steven Ray Penhall (L)
for State Representative District 31
J Scott Chandler (R)
for State Representative District 32
Isabella Solis (R)
for State Representative District 37
William Parrish Kinney (L)
for State Representative District 38
Rebecca L Dow (R)
for State Representative District 38
Luis M Terrazas (R)
for State Representative District 39
David E Hampton (R)
for State Representative District 43
Jeremy B Myers (L)
for State Representative District 44
Helen M Milenski (L)
for State Representative District 45
Jay C Groseclose (R)
for State Representative District 46
Gail “Missy” Armstrong (R)
for State Representative District 49
John Foreman (R)
for State Representative District 52
Ricky L Little (R)
for State Representative District 53
Cathrynn N Brown (R)
for State Representative District 55
Candy Spence Ezzell (R)
for State Representative District 58
Greg Nibert (R)
for State Representative District 59
Giovanni Coppola (R)
for State Representative District 68
Nathan M Dial (R)
for State Representative District 70
State Senate Candidates who have signed the pledge:
(Albuquerque, NM) – On Friday, March 13, 2020, the City Council of the City of Albuquerque announced that it would be holding a closed meeting the following Monday, March 16, 2020. At that meeting which occurred this past Monday, the Council amended its Emergency Powers Ordinance which has been on the books for several decades.
The Emergency Powers Ordinance contains numerous controversial provisions which, under New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act, residents of Albuquerque have a right to participate in with their members of the City Council.
The language of the Open Meetings Act is very simple. It states in part that, “…all meetings of any committee or policy-making body of the legislature held for the purpose of discussing public business or for the purpose of taking any action within the authority of or the delegated authority of the committee or body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times.”
The Rio Grande Foundation asserts in the lawsuit which has been filed in New Mexico district court that the City has violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act by holding a City Council meeting March 16, 2020 without proper notice and without conducting such according to the provisions of the Open Meetings Act therein violating the Due Process owing to the citizens of Albuquerque.
Furthermore, the decades-old Emergency Powers Ordinance to which several amendments were made is itself unconstitutional. The Ordinance gave the Mayor power to restrict sales of firearms and ammunition. These provisions which were not amended on Monday violate New Mexico’s Constitution, which states:
“No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”
Said Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing, “The Rio Grande Foundation understands that we are in a crisis situation right now, but laws like the Open Meetings Act and our State and Federal protections on the right to self defense were intended for crises.”
The Foundation’s lawsuit states that both the Open Meetings Act and the long-existing firearms restrictions violate New Mexico Law and should be considered void.
Eddy County adopts Right to Work. What can they expect? Sierra and Roosevelt counties are considering Right to Work as well. What’s going on with them? Does Gov. Martinez support Right to Work? What is the State of New Mexico doing in the wake of the Janus decision at the US Supreme Court?
The issue of private prisons has suddenly become unpopular due to the furor over President Trump’s immigration policies. Is that fair?
Is New Mexico on its way to becoming like California?