SANTA FE – Troops, extra police details and fencing that have cordoned off the New Mexico state Capitol grounds and adjacent streets from public access have cost taxpayers at least $700,000 in police overtime, salaries for National Guard troops, equipment rental and other special expenses.
New Mexico’s unprecedented security measures were instituted by legislative leaders in the Democratic majority in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol amid warnings by the FBI about the potential for armed protests in the lead-up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
The Legislature convened on the eve of the inauguration in a solemnly quiet Statehouse that has been closed to the public as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, with participation in legislative hearings by webcast only. Republican legislators for weeks have called for an end to the extraordinary security measures outside the building that are making public protests all but impossible.
The State Police agency that traditionally oversees Statehouse security spent $399,504 in overtime and an additional $128,885 in per diem expenses from Jan. 19 to March 9. Concrete barriers and road signs were provided by the state Department of Transportation at no additional expense, State Police spokesman Lt. Mark Soriano.
The state Department of Military Affairs spent about $154,000 on payroll for troops who were deployed at the Capitol building during the first five weeks of the two-month session, according to agency spokesman Joe Vigil.
The state has been billed $15,577 for the rental of fencing at the Capitol as of March 12, according to the administrative office of the Legislature.
The tab for additional security precautions was unclear. Armored tactical vehicles were stationed at the Capitol in the opening days of the session by local law enforcement agencies, and portable arrays of security cameras remain in place on side streets near the Capitol.
In late February, Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said the security perimeter would remain in place through the end of the regular annual legislative session on March 20, based on the advice of State Police and other state security officials.
“We have not, thankfully, had an incident at the Capitol,” Egolf said. “I believe that that is due, at least in part, to the deterrent effect of having the women and men of the state police and the National Guard here. We saw what happened in state capitals in Michigan and in Idaho, when folks let their guard down.”
State Police representatives did not respond immediately to questions Friday about whether they are aware of continued threats to security at the Capitol.
Republican state Sen. William Sharer of Farmington told The Associated Press that the security perimeter is an infringement on political speech in a year of hot-button progressive reform proposals to guarantee abortion rights, limit wildlife trapping on public land, end police immunity from prosecution in state courts and institute new environmental regulations.
“We act like the people of New Mexico are enemy combatants, and that’s just disgusting to me,” said Sharer, who voices similar objections on a daily basis from the Senate floor. “We work for them.”
He said Republican legislative leaders have not been informed of specific threats to the Capitol.
“I would call BS on that,” he said. “If there is something out there, you can tell us about it.”
“For decades, people have been carrying guns in and around the Capitol, and nobody got shot,” he added.
Trump supporters staged roughly weekly protests at the New Mexico Capitol between Election Day, Nov. 3, and Jan. 6 that alleged voting fraud. They were largely peaceful, amid jeering at passing cars and at least one report of skirmishes with counterprotesters on the outskirts.
Republican Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, founder of the horseback parading Cowboys for Trump group, attended violent protests on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. He said he did not go inside, and has pleaded not guilty to entering a restricted area.