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Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MDT

  • Africana Studies ex-director sues University of New Mexico

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — The former director of Africana Studies says the University of New Mexico retaliated against him for demanding that his program be elevated to a department. An attorney for Charles Becknell Jr. filed a whistleblower lawsuit in state district court last month alleging the school removed him from his position after he complained about the program's status. According to court documents, a dean told Becknell that the university was focused on elevating Chicano Studies to a department. But the lawsuit says after Africana Studies got state funding to become a department, Becknell was removed. The school did not immediately respond to an email.

  • Wasted kicks: Porta-potty seen rolling on Route 66

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A portable toilet in Albuquerque fell victim to another kind of whiff after strong winds blew it along Route 66. A virtual video this week shows the porta-potty rolling down a busy intersection of the Mother Road as curious motorists looked on. Severe gusts appeared to have dislodged the mobile toilet and forced it down a journey through a road that once connected Chicago to Los Angeles. The traveling portable toilet was seen by a number of motorists and passengers. No injuries were reported and it was unclear if anyone was inside. Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985.

  • New Mexico governor considers easing sports restrictions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It's possible that restrictions on youth sports and training could be eased if New Mexico continues to make progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham indicated during an online briefing Thursday that there's an opportunity to review the current restrictions but also acknowledged that the first priority is education and the safe reopening of schools. The current public health order will expire next week. The governor and state health officials say New Mexico's seven-day average case count has reached one of its lowest levels in months. The state has reported more than 26,420 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll stands at 816.

  • Republicans, Democrats deeply divided over pandemic response

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Deep political divisions over responses to the coronavirus pandemic are on display in New Mexico as the governor testifies to Congress in support further federal recovery aid. In remote testimony Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham described looming state budget troubles and highlighted the continued need for federal support to ensure economic recovery and fight the spread of COVID-19. Prominent state Republicans are joining mass rallies in defiance of emergency health orders and advocating for fewer restraints on business and schools that affect the economy. In Washington D.C., Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package. They say the proposal shortchanged too many pressing needs.

  • NRA backs Republican in New Mexico race for U.S. Senate

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A prominent lobbying group to the firearms industry has endorsed Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti for U.S. Senate in New Mexico. Ronchetti announced the National Rifle Association's endorsement on Thursday in a tweet. The former television meteorologist is running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján to succeed Sen. Tom Udall, who is retiring. Ronchetti campaign spokesman Jeff Glassburner said the first-time political candidate is a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and also supports instant background checks. Luján says he favors comprehensive gun safety laws that get "weapons of war off the street" and voted in 2019 to broaden federal background checks to more private and online sales.

  • New Mexico approves settlement over groundwater violations

CLOVIS, N.M. (AP) — State officials have reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Defense Department over groundwater violations at Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. The agreement announced Thursday addresses a compliance order that was issued over Cannon's lack of a groundwater discharge permit. The base also was accused of not providing state environmental regulators with information about chemicals left behind by past military firefighting activities. The state remains in a legal battle with the U.S. government over the cleanup of contamination at Cannon and Holloman air bases that is linked to chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

  • Republicans spar with Democrat over federal tax lien, loan

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico state House speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe says he has paid roughly $10,500 to the IRS, denying allegations of outstanding debts. In a news release Thursday, Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and allied House candidate Raye Byford of Santa Fe accused Egolf of hypocrisy for neglecting to pay taxes while his law practice benefited this year from a pandemic hardship loan. Egolf said he made an error in drafting a check to the IRS and paid off a lien promptly. Egolf accused Pearce of trying to distract from President Donald Trump's failures.

  • Albuquerque police chief stepping down this fall

ALBQUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque's police chief is stepping down. Mayor Tim Keller announced Thursday that Police Chief Michael Geier will retire this fall, with Deputy Chief Harold Medina taking over as acting chief next week. Geier has served as police chief since December 2017 and Keller's statement said Geier brought in a new leadership team, restructured the department, revamped the use of force training and policies and hired additional officers. Keller credited Geier with "righting the ship through our first year, getting new leadership in place, focusing on gun violence and getting reform efforts on track,"