Officers detain demonstrators during protest on UNM campus against conspiracy theorist Charlie Kirk – By Maddie Pukite, Daily Lobo
State Police in riot gear showed up at the Student Union Building on the University of New Mexico campus during a peaceful protest and detained three protesters of color on Wednesday night.
The protest was held in response to Turning Point USA’s UNM chapter hosting a speaking event on campus with Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of the national conservative group.
Kirk, in a now deleted tweet, said the organization was “honored” to send “busloads of patriots to DC to fight for the president” on Jan. 6 and is known for spreading false claims of 2020 election fraud and misinformation about COVID, among other far-right, extremist views. He’s also known for stoking racism, and for homophobic and transphobic hate speech.
At UNM, a crowd started gathering outside the Student Union Building around 5 p.m. intending to drown Kirk out with sound — blasting music, banging pots and pans, drumming on buckets and chanting. UNM Police and hired security looked on. Two hours later, when Kirk was scheduled to speak, fewer than 100 protesters remained with some on the ramp near the building.
That’s when State Police officers ran up in riot gear, formed a line, and began physically pushing demonstrators back.
“I really thought that if we were just standing there, that maybe they’d stop. I didn’t have any weapons. None of us did,” said community activist Lisa Christopherson. “And none of us were hitting, punching them or anything. Really just standing there.”
UNM Law student Diego Guerrerortiz saw Christopherson being tackled and pointed at her, he said.
“As soon as I raised my hand and pointed at her, I got hit in the gut from behind and then tackled,” Guerrerortiz said. They kicked him while he was on the ground, “and then threw me in some cuffs,” he said. The riot police detained Christopherson, Guerrerortiz and UNM Dental Hygiene adviser Georgia Moos, accusing them of disorderly conduct.
Guerrerortiz said he was also informed by two UNMPD detectives that he would face administrative action from the university.
“I don’t feel safe with how UNM uses police, let alone who they let on campus to talk,” Guerrerortiz said. “But for me, I’m more concerned about the police presence and how they use that as a weapon. That’s just crazy coming from the university.”
Christopherson fears her ribs were broken by the officers who detained her, she said, and has symptoms of a concussion. She was taken to the ER by paramedics after being detained by police. Because the hospitals were full and the wait was so long, she was not able to be seen by doctors and said she would head to a waiting room during the day on Thursday instead.
The Kirk event follows two other events held by Turning Point on campus this semester. Both were similarly met with protesters and a police presence. The first event, featuring Tomi Lahren, also denied students of color entry.
The UNMPD officers were sent to the event as security, according to Cinnamon Blair, university spokesperson. Blair said UNM does not fund State Police presence on campus, but the agency is a part of event management planning and the Emergency Response Team.
“ERT is deployed to ensure the safety and security of the university community and the campus, and engaged yesterday evening in response to the actions of multiple individuals failing to disperse from the event entrance ramp when requested,” Blair said in a statement.
Christopherson said she was never given any direct instructions to clear the ramp before being detained.
The protest was organized by students and local activists from the Southwest Solidarity Network, including Julie Bettencourt and Zach Smith. Their goal for the evening was to drown out Kirk’s speech outside the building, and have a continued presence against the organization and speakers to “let them know that we won’t allow that. That we’re going to be against it. And we’re going to come out every time. And we’re going to make some noise,” Smith said. “We’re not going to be silent.”
During the protest, students in Turning Point observed the crowd from inside the SUB filming with their smartphones. Kirk himself made an appearance outside waving down at protesters from the balcony on the top floor. One Turning Point member, Kalen D’Almeida, filmed protesters while standing alongside police until being asked by them to leave several minutes later.
Jay Littles, a protester there that night, said it’s hypocritical for the police to only detain those protesting.
“We are here. We got the right to peacefully protest. Yet, we are here being arrested on our own campus, which is by definition an open campus where we are allowed to speak our minds,” Littles said. That policy is why the Turning Point chapter was allowed to invite the speaker in the first place, he added.
Littles pointed out that the university advertises itself as a diverse campus but still allows events like this, which make him feel more unsafe on campus.
“That’s one of their talking points of getting us to come here. But they only use that in name,” he said. “They don’t really care about the population of the school.”
Turning Point’s UNM group did not respond to a request for comment before this article was published.
NM Health Department issues emergency order over pediatric virus surge – By Nash Jones, KUNM News
The New Mexico Department of Health issued a public health emergency order Thursday related to the early surge in pediatric respiratory viruses, which began in October.
The order requires all New Mexico hospitals to participate in a cooperative model of managing resources, including transferring patients, with DOH as a hub to their spokes.
The state’s three largest hospital systems said last month that they’d voluntarily begun collaborating in this way as they began operating at or above capacity.
In a statement, the health department said requiring hospitals to collaborate is necessary because the surge in RSV, COVID, flu and other viruses has now created an “unsustainable strain on healthcare providers.”
New Mexico has one of the lowest hospital capacities in the nation, which led several hospitals to activate crisis standards of care during a COVID surge last fall. A department spokesperson says the state is now approaching that level of capacity in its pediatric units.
Contributing to the surge is that New Mexico is seeing the highest rates of flu in the country this week, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, along with Tennessee and neighboring Texas.
State health experts urged people to avoid those with symptoms, stay home if sick, get vaccinated for flu and COVID, and only take a child to the ER if they have severe symptoms like trouble breathing.
Colorado expert hired as New Mexico education adviser – By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has hired an expert from Colorado to serve as her education policy adviser as the state struggles to reverse a long-term trend in which the majority of public school students fall short of reading and math standards.
The governor’s office announced Scott Groginsky’s appointment on Thursday, saying he will be focused on improving outcomes for K-12 students and continuing work to bolster access to higher education.
New Mexico for decades has ranked near the bottom when it comes to educational outcomes. Statewide student assessment results released earlier this fall showed only 25% of students tested were proficient or better in math and about one third were proficient or better when it came to science and reading and writing.
Officials in New Mexico and nationally have blamed the coronavirus pandemic for losing ground in the classroom. Lujan Grisham’s administration halted in-person learning in March 2020 and it would be many months before state education officials would ask districts to return to full-time in-person classes.
Lujan Grisham, who begins her second term in January, said Groginsky’s experience with evidence-based education policies will be invaluable.
“The governor is clear that improving the educational system at all levels is a critical step in lifting up all New Mexico children and families,” Groginsky said in a statement.
Groginsky previously served as the special adviser for early childhood to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and was the lead early childhood staffer for Democratic members of the U.S. House education and labor committee. He also worked for the National Head Start Association and the U.S. Department of Education.
The Albuquerque Journal reports a spokesperson for the Governor confirmed that he is also the spouse of Early Childhood Education and Care Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky.
Many educators around New Mexico have acknowledged that the release of spring assessment scores was a wake-up call and there will be more pressure during the legislative session that begins in January to make improvements.
Lawmakers and the Lujan Grisham administration also remain on the hook for ensuring New Mexico is providing an adequate education to Native American students, English learners and those who come from low-income families or have disabilities. In 2018, a state district found that students had unequal access to qualified teachers, quality school buildings, and other lessons that engage them tailored to their cultural background and needs.
The Legislature has increased recurring appropriations for public schools by more than $1 billion since the ruling. While some progress has been made, legislative analysts in a briefing made public in September outlined numerous recommendations for making sure the investments pay off.
The briefing stated that given the learning loss associated with the pandemic, New Mexico faces a heightened need to ensure resources are directed toward evidence-based programs to help students catch up.
Though NM outlawed the practice, hospitals are still suing folks with low incomes to collect debt – By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
Even after New Mexico made it illegal for hospitals to send collectors after people with low incomes who owe them money or to sue patients to collect medical debt, a review of court records finds that hospitals or their collection agencies have filed more than 700 lawsuits trying to do exactly that.
Over 200,000 New Mexicans are uninsured, which makes them more likely to incur significant debt when they need medical care, said Nicolas Cordova, health care director at the Center on Law and Poverty.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 17.94% of New Mexico’s population has medical debt, and the average amount owed is $2,692.
And about 40% of New Mexico’s nonprofit hospitals have uncollectible debt linked to patients who would probably qualify for those hospitals’ financial assistance programs, according to IRS data.
Lawmakers passed and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act in 2021, which limits aggressive collection efforts like referring patients to private collection companies, taking them to court or reporting them to their creditors.
Even after the law went into effect, there have still been over 700 medical debt lawsuits filed, according to data presented to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday.
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty reviewed court dockets and found these lawsuits are being filed mostly by Las Cruces Medical Center, Carlsbad Medical Center, the Credit Bureau of Farmington, Lea Regional Hospital and the Otero County Hospital Association.
Patients have filed two class-action lawsuits to enforce their rights under the new law, Cordova told the committee.
When it was still a bill making its way through the Legislature, an earlier version of the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act contained language that would have prohibited hospitals from charging uninsured patients more than patients with insurance for the same services, but it was taken out of the bill before final passage, Cordova said.
The law also requires the state Human Services Department to collect information from hospitals showing how they use indigent care money given to them by state and county governments meant to cover medical bills that patients with low incomes can’t pay.
“That process has not begun,” Cordova said.
DISPROPORTIONATE BURDEN ON THE UNINSURED
Even though the Legislature passed the patients’ debt law, lawmakers have “not yet gone further to address hospital pricing at the outset,” writes Fred Hyde, an independent health finance consultant hired by the N.M. Center on Law and Poverty.
New Mexico hospitals frequently charged uninsured patients more than they charge private insurance carriers and government health plans for the same services, according to a report by Hyde that was commissioned by the Center on Law and Poverty.
When hospitals charge uninsured patients more for health care, this inevitably leads to medical debt, Hyde wrote, which is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.
Some hospitals charge rates similar to what Medicaid pays, while others charge “eight to 10 times that rate for the same service or procedure,” the report states.
“In general, uninsured patients are frequently charged more than commercial insurance carriers and government health plans for the same services in New Mexico’s hospitals,” Hyde’s research showed. “The charges are not uniform or predictable, and there is extraordinary variability between the charges of each hospital.”
Hyde looked at services provided by 43 hospitals in New Mexico:
- Heart procedure
- Removal of an appendix
- CT scan of the head or brain
- Chest X-ray
- Basic and comprehensive blood panels
- Heart test
- Emergency-room visits
The average payment by a private insurer for a CT scan of the head was about $961, while the average list price was nearly twice as high, around $1,868. But the payment from an uninsured person sometimes reached more than four times the price paid by a private insurer, Hyde found.
Part of the reason people’s medical debts are so high is because hospitals have historically used their “chargemaster” rates when they send a bill to uninsured people, Hyde wrote.
Hospitals automatically charge uninsured patients the full list prices from the chargemaster, while private insurance companies and government plans negotiate with hospitals for much lower bills, Hyde wrote.
Some hospitals offer discounts to uninsured patients. But the calculation they use to reach the “discounted” price frequently begins with the highest possible price, Hyde wrote.
“The discounted amounts charged to the uninsured almost always exceed the payments which hospitals have agreed to accept from commercial health insurers,” Hyde wrote. “As a result, a disproportionate burden of out-of-pocket payment for hospitals’ services falls on the uninsured or under-insured patient.”
Biden pledges new commitments, respect for tribal nations — Felicia Fonseca, Fatima Hussein, Associated Press
President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged to give Native Americans a stronger voice in federal affairs, promising at the first in-person summit on tribal affairs in six years that he will bolster tribal consultations, inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in decision-making and funding for communities struggling with the impacts of climate change.
Biden spoke on the opening day of the two-day White House Tribal Nations Summit to representatives from hundreds of Native American and Alaska Native tribes, reiterating and announcing a series of new commitments. The summit coincides with National Native American Heritage Month, which is celebrated in November.
The Biden administration said its goal is to build on previous progress and create opportunities for lasting change in Indian Country, which isn’t guaranteed without codified laws and regulations.
“Administrations can bring in their priorities, but they shouldn’t be telling us who have lived here since the beginning of time how to manage our resources, which resources we can even access,” said Richard Peterson, president of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “These are things that are inherent in our sovereignty.”
Among the pledges from the Biden administration is to establish uniform standards for federal agencies to consult with tribes and go beyond a “check the box” exercise, finalize a 10-year plan to revitalize Native languages and strengthen tribal rights like hunting and fishing that are outlined in existing treaties.
Biden also said he intends to designate Avi Kwa Ame, a desert mountain near Laughlin, Nevada, that’s considered sacred to Native Americans, as a new national monument. Last year, he restored the boundaries for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
On climate change, Biden said $135 million in federal money is going to 11 tribal communities in Alaska, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Maine and Washington to help plan for and relocate to safe ground because of climate-related environmental threats.
“There are tribal communities at risk of being washed away,” he told summit participants. “It’s devastating.”
A 2020 study from the Interior Department found that $5 billion would be needed over the next 50 years to relocate tribal communities and Alaska Native villages at risk of severe infrastructure damage due to coastal erosion and extreme weather events.
On health care, Biden reiterated a commitment to push for $9.1 billion for the Indian Health Service, which provides health care for federally recognized tribes, and make the funding mandatory.
That news was welcomed by Lummi Nation Chairman Tony Hillaire. The tribe based in Washington state took out a loan to build a new health care clinic and plans to offer services to treat substance abuse, Hillaire said.
“Part of our understanding of the trust and treaty responsibility of the federal government is to ensure resources for the work we do in taking care of our people at home,” he told The Associated Press.
Whether Congress will act on the request for increased funding for health care and other tribal issues is another matter.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said he’s been advocating for a speedier process to get infrastructure projects approved on the reservation that stretches 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. He said it requires constant advocacy.
“Even when it’s legislated, it takes a significant effort especially when, at times, tribal issues take the back seat to larger, national issues,” said in an interview.
Thomas Lozano, chair of the National American Indian Housing Council, wants to see a federal grant program for housing in tribal communities reauthorized and a boost in funding that takes into account inflation and supply chain costs. Housing ensures tribal elders who are historians and children who will be future leaders are safe, he said.
“It’s important to keep a roof over their heads and not just in substandard living, but in comfortable living that every family deserves,” Lozano, who is from the Enterprise Rancheria tribe in California, told the AP.
Federal agencies in the Biden administration have been creating tribal advisory councils and reimaging tribal consultation policies with a goal of garnering consensus among tribes. Some of the more significant commitments from the Biden administration involve incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices into decision-making and federal research.
The Commerce Department is the latest federal agency to sign on to an effort to work with tribes to co-manage publish resources, such as water and fisheries. The Agriculture Department and the Interior Department have signed 20 co-stewardship agreements with tribes, and an additional 60 are under review, the administration said.
The tribal nations summit wasn’t held during then-President Donald Trump’s administration. The Biden administration held one virtually last year as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the U.S. and highlighted deepening and long-standing inequities in tribal communities.
Both administrations signed off on legislation that infused much-needed funding into Indian Country to help address health care, lost revenue, housing, internet access and other needs. The 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. received a combined $20 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money under the Biden administration.
Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which provided $8 billion to tribes and Alaska Native corporations but had more rigid guidelines on how it could be spent. The Treasury Department was sued over how that funding was allocated and faced harsh criticism for the time it took to get the money to tribes.
Biden’s Treasury Department said it prioritized tribal engagement and feedback in distributing funding from the latest aid package. A report released Wednesday by the administration outlines how tribes spent the money on more than 3,000 projects and services.
The Karuk Tribe in northwestern California, for example, used some of the aid for permanent and temporary housing after a wildfire that burned 200 homes in the Klamath Mountains displaced tribal members.
The Native Village of Deering and other tribal governments in Alaska pooled funds to ensure access to preschool and free meals, along with extra servings in an area where food has been scarce.
Other tribal communities across the U.S. have spent the money on housing for tribal members, transportation to veterans hospitals, after-school facilities, language and culture programs, emergency services and health care facilities.
Tribes celebrated the opportunity at the summit to visit in-person and connect with U.S. officials.
Biden promised to make official presidential visits to Indian Country, saying “the United States owes a solemn trust and treaty obligation that we haven’t always lived up to. I will do so in the enduring spirit of our nation-to-nation relationship, the spirit of friendship, stewardship, and respect.”
He stressed the need for “respect for tribes as nations and treaties as law, … respect for Indigenous knowledge and tribal consultations as a key part of federal agency decision making. “
Fonseca reported from Flagstaff, Arizona. Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
US agencies sued over fate of rare Rio Grande minnow — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
Environmentalists on Wednesday accused the U.S. government of not doing enough to ensure the survival of the Rio Grande silvery minnow as drought tightens its grip on one of the longest rivers in the West.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the group WildEarth Guardians asked a judge to force the Bureau of Reclamation and the Fish and Wildlife Service to reassess the effects of water management activities on the endangered fish.
They also want federal officials to develop enforceable measures to keep dams and diversions along the river’s stretch through New Mexico’s most populated region from jeopardizing the minnow.
The tiny fish was declared endangered nearly 30 years ago and has been the subject of much litigation over the decades. The challenges have only mounted in recent years as demands on the Rio Grande have escalated due to climate change, with snowpack melting sooner and strong winds further drying thirsty soil and limiting the amount of spring runoff that reaches the river.
Like the Colorado River and other western waterways, record-low flows are becoming normal for the Rio Grande.
Parts of the Rio Grande on the southern end of Albuquerque went completely dry earlier this year — something that hasn’t happened in more than 30 years. Teams of biologists scrambled to scoop up minnows from puddles in the riverbed before they dried up.
“It comes as little surprise that silvery minnow populations remain in crisis,” said Daniel Timmons with WildEarth Guardians. “It is time to move beyond Band-Aid solutions for the Middle Rio Grande and think holistically about how to save a living river and all the native species that call the river home.”
Timmons said the status quo is a recipe for extinction for the minnow.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation declined Wednesday to comment on the pending litigation.
Management of the Rio Grande is based on decades-old water sharing agreements that also involve Colorado, Texas and Mexico. Irrigation districts that provide water to thousands of farmers up and down the river valley also are part of an equation that includes the paramount water rights of Native American communities situated along the river and Hispanic enclaves that irrigate crops through traditional canals called acequias.
In some cases, changing the dynamics of the Rio Grande’s management would take congressional action.
The Bureau of Reclamation for years has worked closely with irrigation districts, tribes, the city of Albuquerque and other water rights holders to release water for the fish when the river was in danger of going dry or to mimic spring flows and encourage spawning.
This year there was no extra water.
A study funded by the bureau and published in October indicates the minnow’s status appears strongly dependent on ensuring sufficient seasonal flows and habitat conditions that will promote successful spawning.
WildEarth Guardians in their complaint blame “a century of unsustainable water uses and mismanage of the Grande” for conditions that barely allow the minnow and other protected species to survive. The group contends the Rio Grande has been turned into conduit rather than a “living river” that has variable yet persistent flows.
The environmentalists challenge the findings of a 2016 biological opinion adopted by the agencies that stated water operations in the Middle Rio Grande were not likely to jeopardize endangered species or negatively affect their habitat.
At about 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) long, the silvery minnow historically was one of the most abundant and widespread aquatic species in the Rio Grande, occurring from Espanola downstream nearly 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) to the Gulf of Mexico. Biologists say it has disappeared from more than 95% of its historical range.
There have been only three times in the past 26 years — in 1995, 2005 and 2017 — that population densities in the Middle Rio Grande have exceeded the density at the time the minnow was listed in 1994.
The Fish and Wildlife Service had set a goal of having at least 5 fish per 100 square meters. That has been met in two consecutive years only twice. In October 2022, the density was 0.17 fish per 100 square meters.
The lawsuit states that with respect to climate change, scientists predict that Rio Grande flows will decline by at least one-third and likely by half by the end of the century due to increased temperatures, significantly impacting the silvery minnow and its habitat.
The complaint also notes the effects of river management on the Southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.
NMSU coach offers condolences to family of slain UNM student — Associated Press
New Mexico State basketball coach Greg Heiar says he feels responsible for a fatal shooting that involved one of his players and has offered condolences to the family and friends of the deceased University of New Mexico student.
Heiar gave a news conference Tuesday and commented for the first time about the Nov. 19 shooting on the UNM campus in Albuquerque.
State police investigators said 19-year-old Brandon Travis conspired with two other students and a teenage girl to lure New Mexico State University forward Mike Peake onto campus, leading to a shootout that left the student dead and the 21-year-old player wounded.
Peake and his Aggies teammates were in Albuquerque to play their archrivals and the shooting resulted in the cancellation of the two NMSU men’s basketball games against UNM this season.
“I’m apologetic about what happened. I take full responsibility for what happened,” Heiar said. “We are going to continue to get better as a basketball team and put a great product on the court. I take full responsibility. I can’t say anything more than that.”
Heiar deferred to the school administration’s statements last week regarding discipline for players who have been identified as participating in an Oct. 15 brawl at the UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces that police now say was the precursor to the revenge plot.
The coach didn’t say how many players also broke curfew in Albuquerque in the hours before the shooting or identify them.
“I will say we found out we had multiple players out of their rooms that night and we are now confident that each of our players fully understand what is expected of them moving forward,” Heiar said.
Heiar said the decisions Peake made “resulted in consequences that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.”
But Heiar added that Peake is “still part of our family” and “right now, he needs us more than ever.”
Heiar said Peake is recovering after being wounded in the shootout.
Peake has posted on social media that he has had three surgeries.