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There won’t be many familiar things about the 2021 New Mexico Legislature.
Senators and state representatives will likely meet virtually rather than in their chambers in the Roundhouse. No one will look familiar, as they’ll probably be wearing masks. And some long familiar names – such as senators Mary Kay Papen and John Arthur Smith – will no longer be part of the proceedings.
However, The Bulletin is fortunate to have a familiar name reporting on the session.
Walt Rubel, a seasoned New Mexico political reporter, is returning as a New Mexico legislative correspondent for a collaboration of southern New Mexico media outlets, including the Carlsbad Current-Argus, KRWG-FM, The Las Cruces Bulletin and the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Rubel has been a Las Cruces journalist since 2002, and his column appears regularly in this publication.
This collaboration allows Bulletin readers to get timely legislative reporting.
“Supporting collaboration is one of our core values at the New Mexico Local News Fund (NMLNF),” said Rashad Mahmood, co-director of NMLNF, an organization that raises funds to support local news providers and journalists across the state.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Rubel said.
From 2004-07, Rubel was the Santa Fe bureau chief for the Texas-New Mexico Partnership (TNP), which included the Sun-News, the Current-Argus, six other New Mexico newspapers and the El Paso Times.
And while Rubel said he’s eager to return to covering the legislature again, he knows it will not be business as usual for either him or the legislators, given the impact of COVID-19.
“It’s certainly going to be different without the personal interaction,” Rubel said, recalling the beehive that is the Roundhouse during all other previous sessions, with the buzzing lobbies and busy stairwells and elevators.
“It will be different without the crowded meeting rooms and passing someone in the hallway to get a tip on a story,” Rubel said. “You learn so much from those interactions, especially late in the session, when they’re going until two and three in the morning. There are so many emotions among the legislators -- exhilaration, frustration. When you’re there for the whole 30 or 60 days, you see how each session has its own narrative.”
The NMLNF formed to bring this type of coverage back to southern New Mexico journalism.
“Our primary funder is the Democracy Fund, which is devoted to supporting local news ecosystems as a way to strengthen our nation’s democracy,” Mahmood said. “New Mexico got on their radar as a place that could use their support.”
NMLNF also receives significant funding from the Santa Fe-based Thornburg Foundation.
Rubel, who grew up in Denver, has spent his entire career in journalism.
He earned degrees in mass communication and journalism at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and was a sportswriter from 1982-97 at newspapers in Colorado, Wyoming, California and Kansas.
In 1997, in Hutchinson, Kansas, Rubel switched to the news side, and worked for two more newspapers in Kansas before arriving at the Las Cruces Sun-News newsroom in 2002. His stint as Santa Fe bureau chief ran from 2004 to 2007, when he returned to the Sun-News as managing editor. Later, he became the Sun-News’ opinion page editor, a position he held until 2019.
Since then, Rubel has been a southern New Mexico-based independent journalist whose work appears in The Las Cruces Bulletin, KRWG-FM, KTAL-LP FM, Desert Exposure and the Silver City Daily Press.
On a personal level, I’ve known Walt since 2007, when I moved from the Alamogordo Daily News to the Las Cruces Sun-News. We worked together for more than three years before I joined the Bulletin in 2010.
Few people I know care more about journalism than Walt, and he deeply believes in covering the government process and doing it well.
He’s also very diligent about fantasy baseball. He and I have played in the same league since 2010, and he always has my team’s number.