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Local lawmakers lukewarm on summit

In this file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks during a news conference in Santa Fe. Lujan Grisham last week convened a summit on domestic terrorism in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. In attendance were lawmakers, prosecutors, cabinet members and law enforcement officials. (AP Photo)

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A domestic terrorism summit hosted last week by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised several issues that were met with bipartisan agreement, but two local Republican legislators who attended gave it lukewarm reviews.

Lujan Grisham — a Democrat — convened the bipartisan summit Aug. 14, composed of members from her cabinet, state legislators and some state and local law enforcement. Attendees met in the governor’s office for four hours to discuss measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of domestic terrorism.

“They didn’t get into any real specifics on what might be proposed, but it is certainly something that will be discussed in the next legislative session,” said State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, the top Republican in the New Mexico Senate.

The summit was called by Lujan Grisham after a man opened fire at an El Paso Walmart Aug. 3, leaving 22 people dead and 24 others injured. A briefing by the FBI on domestic terrorism was part of the summit. Ingle said the summit would have been more effective if legislators had more opportunity to talk to representatives from the FBI.

“And I was pretty disappointed by that,” said Ingle, whose Senate district includes a portion of Chaves County.

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State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who is the chair of the House Republican Caucus, said she thought the summit was “called in haste.”

The dialogue about domestic terrorism is something that should have happened within the Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee of state lawmakers, Ezzell said.

The Lujan Grisham administration, however, said they saw the summit as a success. Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said the summit went “tremendously well” with buy-in from local as well as state and federal government officials and both sides of the partisan aisle.

“I think that we really had a good representation of state and local leadership and it was bipartisan, and we left there, I think, all feeling like we were on the same page and we are addressing issues that we need to,” said Jackie Lindsey, New Mexico secretary of homeland security and emergency management, who was one of the presenters.

One of the issues discussed was the need to break down barriers between agencies at the local and state levels.

Ezzell said she told Lujan Grisham that the inability of agencies to share information on emerging threats was a major obstacle.

“And my exact words — quoting ‘Cool Hand Luke” — were, ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate,’” Ezzell said, referencing the 1967 film.

“When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, there is a problem,” she said.

Lindsey said issues of mental health, creating a state law that defines domestic terrorism and possibly establishing a state unit focused on domestic terrorism were among other subjects mentioned.

What such a unit would look like is something Lindsey is looking to other states and federal agencies to find out.

“What we are looking to do is find the best practices and adapt them to New Mexico, and make sure that we are ensuring that everything New Mexicans need to be safe is being taken care of,” Lindsey said.

Ezzell though said she is not convinced that a domestic terrorism unit is needed.

“Until these agencies talk and communicate with one another, it’s just one more agency that will not know what everybody else is doing,” she said.

Gun safety proposals have received renewed attention in the wake of the El Paso shooting, and Ingle said he thinks legislation that limits how many rounds a firearm magazine can hold could be among the proposals brought up in the next 30-day legislative session, in January.

Such proposals nationally, and at the state level in New Mexico, have been met by resistance from Republicans, who have said such measures will do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and make it harder for law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms.

“I will protect and defend our Second Amendment rights,” Ezzell said.

The summit though showed that people across the partisan divide and across New Mexico are committed to addressing the issue of domestic terrorism, Lindsey said.

“We can all agree that we want to protect New Mexicans, and we can see that these threats are real, they are important to prevent,” she said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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