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Meet the New Year, Same as the Old Year?

Many bottles of wine are lined up on a bar.

We meant to be back in this space with new journalism exactly one week ago. But one virus or another befell several folks on our team, including me, which left us scrambling to get a show on the air and a newsletter in your inboxes. I’ll begin this week with a thank you to Our Land Senior Producer Laura Paskus for hosting last week’s show — a collection of previously-aired pieces we thought you should see again — and to Antony Lostetter, Justine Collister and Antonio Sanchez for putting it together.  

All that sickness floating around made the beginning of 2024 feel like the beginning of 2021, our first of the pandemic era — and it offered a reminder that the world has missed too many chances to rein in too many diseases, with COVID-19 as the most recent example. Like other viruses before it, what we used to call the “novel coronavirus” is now endemic. 

This week’s show centers around something else that offers a bit of déjà vu: New Mexico’s nation-leading alcohol-related death rate and the Legislature’s failures to address it in a comprehensive way. Revelation followed by debate followed by recriminations followed by silence — that’s been the pattern on this issue for decades. 

The nonprofit Common Cause New Mexico is out with a new report — aptly and frustratingly titled “Still Under the Influence” — that dives into the long history of successes for the powerful alcohol industry and its well-connected lobbying machine in defeating per-serving tax increases and other reforms that could potentially have slowed the pace at which our state is drowning in a bottle of rye. The report’s two principal authors, retired journalist Steve Terrell and former Democratic state senator Dede Feldman, joined us in-studio this week to talk about what they found. 

Our two roundtable discussions also included a journalist, a state senator and two public health experts; they all brought insight and context to this seemingly intractable problem and, we hope, helped viewers understand the backstory, the players and some of the solutions that have worked in other states.  

In addition to the Common Cause report, journalist Ted Alcorn’s “Blind Drunk” series for New Mexico In Depth informed these discussions. I encourage you to read it if you have not, and I encourage you to reread it if you have before. Ted’s exhaustive, empathetic reporting has reinvigorated the conversation around New Mexico’s alcohol crisis, and it lights the way for change. 

NMID published Ted’s latest story this week, and it’s clear from reading it that advocates and some lawmakers are not giving up the fight, despite what may look like long odds. 

We’ll be following along and producing segments on this issue as the 30-day legislative session, which begins next week, moves forward. 

And speaking of the session, we’re excited about our plan to cover as many aspects of the lawmaking process as possible for the next month. Longtime correspondent Gwyneth Doland will have reports from the Roundhouse each week for the broadcast, and we’re expanding our coverage on the New Mexico in Focus website this year, too. We hope you’ll join us on-air and online — and in this space — all the way through the end of the session on Feb. 15. 

-Jeff Proctor, Executive Producer