Top 10 News Stories of 1999 

Top 10 News Stories of 1999 
Posted by FoM on December 26, 1999 at 09:46:29 PT
By Richard Benke, The Associated Press 
Source: ABQjournal
The governor's attempt to start a debate about legalizing drugs resonated with New Mexico news media more than any other story of 1999. In a year-end survey, Associated Press newspaper and broadcast members voted Gov. Gary Johnson's drug debate as the year's top story. 
It received a third more points than the second-place story, New Mexico's prison problems, which included the deaths of six inmates and a guard in various incidents. The deaths of four inmates and the guard occurred in private prisons. The long-awaited opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad tied for third with the investigation of security breaches at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which led to the arrest and indictment of fired scientist Wen Ho Lee. Johnson's drug debate began last June at a meeting of New Mexico Republican leaders and spread nationwide at various conservative and Libertarian forums -- sparking talk of a Johnson Libertarian presidential campaign, which Johnson politely rejected. "It's the top story for a reason," Johnson said. "People are talking about it because it needs to be talked about. It wouldn't be the top story if that wasn't what people wanted to talk about and believed needs to be talked about." State GOP chief John Dendahl says Johnson's debate has been good for the state "on balance," but he emphasized that both Johnson and the state have paid a price for it. "We recognized that there was going to be considerable hell to pay politically," Dendahl said. "It was considered unthinkable to decriminalize drugs." The downside for the state was that the debate distracted from other issues, such as tax relief and school choice, Dendahl said. Johnson's proposal for school vouchers was ranked the No. 7 story of the year. Johnson's re-election was voted the top news story in 1998. Other runners-up this year were the Elephant Butte sex-torture case involving one murder and the alleged sexual torture of three other women; the shooting death of a 12-year-old girl at Deming Middle School by a classmate; Indian tribes withholding casino payments; and state Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon's now-terminated ties to Wackenhut Corrections Corp. There was a tie for 10th place between the proposed federal acquisition of the Baca Ranch, a 95,000-acre expanse near Los Alamos, and the five-county chile crop disaster caused by high winds and a frigid, soggy spring that included hail damage. WIPP opened March 26 after an all-night truck shipment from Los Alamos to WIPP, east of Carlsbad. Protesters lined the route, and one man was arrested for trying to block U.S. 285. The truck carried low- to mid-level plutonium-contaminated waste such as lab gloves and other garments and equipment used in nuclear research. Since then, 43 other loads have arrived from Los Alamos, the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, WIPP spokesman Dennis Hurtt said. "By and large, the program is working very well," Hurtt said. "In no case has there been any situation that has been a jeopardy to the safety of the public or the environment." The state alleged some mixed waste, containing hazardous chemicals as well as radioactive material, was improperly taken to WIPP, but the U.S. Department of Energy disputes that. The story of Los Alamos security breaches initially was linked to suspicions of Chinese spying, but federal prosecutors now say the case against Lee involves no espionage allegations. Lee is charged with 59 counts, most accusing him of downloading nuclear secrets from secure computers to non-secure computers and onto computer tape cassettes. In the Elephant Butte story, the only murder alleged so far is that of Marie Parker, 22, who disappeared from an Elephant Butte bar in July 1997. Dennis Roy Yancy, 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in her death. Prosecutors say Yancy told police he strangled her in a "torture chamber" on orders from David Parker Ray, who is charged with torturing three other women, but not with murder. Ray's live-in girlfriend, Cynthia Lea Hendy, and his daughter, Glenda "Jesse" Ray, are also charged in the kidnap-torture part of the case. Congress reached an agreement this year to set aside $101 million to buy the Baca Ranch, which includes trout streams, an elk herd, a wide swath of the Jemez Mountains and the remains of an ancient volcano, the Valles Caldera. The chile crop problems were most acutely felt in Chaves, Dona Ana, Eddy, Luna and Sierra counties, which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman declared federal disaster areas. Nine other counties -- Catron, DeBaca, Grant, Hidalgo, Lea, Lincoln, Otero, Socorro and Roosevelt -- were named contiguous disaster areas. Newshawk: SledheadPublished December 25, 1999Copyright  1997, 1998, 1999 Albuquerque JournalRelated Articles:DA Challenges Gov.'s Facts on Drug Issues - 12/15/99 Drug Discussion At School - 12/14/99 Continues Drug Legalization Crusade - 12/08/99 Drug War Runs Contrary To Common Sense - 11/19/99 
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