NM policymakers reflect on Capitol attack - Albuquerque Journal

NM policymakers reflect on Capitol attack

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A year after a pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of the presidential election, the country remains divided along party lines, investigations into and criminal cases related to the events continue, and lawmakers have tried to change voting practices in response.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján
Sen. Ben Ray Luján

Many Democrats, including members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, are marking the one-year anniversary by calling for voter-protection bills. They say the bills aim to curtail efforts by some Republican-led states that passed restrictive voting laws in the wake of 2020’s record voter turnout.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., at a news conference Wednesday called for passage of the Freedom to Vote, John Lewis Voting Rights and Protecting our Democracy acts. He said the bills are connected directly to what happened at the Capitol.

“It was all surrounding ‘the big lie.’ And what has happened as a result of Jan. 6 – the president’s big lie – state after state across America has enacted laws to make it harder for people to vote,” he said. “… They are absolutely connected, and they are absolutely related. It’s just another one of those symptoms that … shows us again how fragile our democracy is.”

The Freedom to Vote Act would expand voter registration, requires states conduct post-election audits and outlines criteria for congressional redistricting, among other provisions. The John Lewis bill would establish criteria for how states and political subdivisions can change voting practices. The Protecting Our Democracy Act relates to presidential pardons and conduct, foreign influence on political campaigns and the enforcement of congressional subpoenas.

The Brennan Center for Justice reported that, between Jan. 1 and Sept. 27, 2021, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that made it harder for Americans to vote. And, while many states passed laws expanding voter access during the same period, the result has been that access to voting increasingly varies state to state.

“Even after the attack on January 6, the insurrection didn’t really end. It just shifted to an effort in state after state to make it harder for people to cast their ballots,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a statement. “It shifted from an overt and violent insurrection to overturn the past election to a very concerted effort in Republican-led state legislatures all across the country to disenfranchise legitimate voters.”

Luján and other Democrats have said Senate filibuster rules should be changed so the voting rights bills can pass without Republican support.

“My Republican colleagues have proven time and time again that they are not interested in action on this issue,” he said.

First-hand experiences

Despite being 1,800 miles from the nation’s capital, New Mexicans were directly involved in the Capitol attacks. Four men from the state were among the hundreds who have been charged with various crimes in connection with the riot. Three of those cases are still pending, while one local defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

The unruly mob damaged property and disrupted what is usually a routine congressional action. Four people died the day of the riot and one Capitol police officer died the day after.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., on Wednesday recalled Jan. 6, when she was ushered to a small room with no windows as protesters breached the building. She said that, thinking back on the day a year later, she remembers walking through the Capitol building with her son after it had been reclaimed by police and the military.

Teresa Leger Fernández


“We were going back in to certify the election,” she said. “That’s a very important part as we reflect back on the one-year anniversary. Our resolve. Use (Jan. 6) to strengthen our democracy.”

She said she remains hopeful for a more united country in the future.

“I’m hopeful we can come together as Americans and recognize that we’re not Jan. 6. We are people who engage in debate about how big our government should be, and if and how much, we should invest in roads and bridges,” Leger Fernández said. “That’s the version of democracy I’m working for.”

Rep. Yvette Herrell, the state’s lone Republican member of Congress, voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump last year, joining a handful of senators and about 140 representatives. Herrell denounced the Capitol attacks. Her office did not respond to requests for comment this week.

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