Inside the Capitol

Monday, October 18, 2010

10-27 GOP To Gain in Statehouse Elections

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Unlike Congress, the New Mexico Legislature is not teetering on the brink of a Republican coup this year. Democrats have firm control of both houses.
Democratic control of the Senate is assured for next year because no Senate terms expire this year. Senators like it that way. All the statewide offices are up for election this year. So senators can take a free shot at them without having to relinquish their Senate seats.
This year, Sen. Dianna Duran is the GOP nominee for secretary of state. Sens. Linda Lopez and Jerry Ortiz y Pino ran for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. And Sen. Linda Lovejoy is running for president of the Navajo Nation.
Rep. Janice Arnold Jones, on the other hand, had to give up her House seat in order to run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Democrats have a 45-25 edge in House seats going into the election. In order to gain a majority, Republicans would have to win 11 democratic seats and lose none.
Such a feat might be possible somewhere but it is unlikely in New Mexico. Our state is ranked 42 in electoral competitiveness. That ranking comes because our lawmakers have no term limits.
They get to design their own district boundaries so they design them for life. That means Democrats design safe Democratic districts and Republicans design safe Republican districts.
When outside, non-partisan bodies design legislative districts, the goal usually is to make all districts as competitive as possible. There are exceptions, such as creating districts in which minority candidates have a shot at winning.
There are other factors involved in redistricting, which we will talk about at length when that time draws near, probably late next year. For now, we'll just say the political makeup of the two legislative houses and the governor's office make this a very high stakes election.
Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority. In the House, that would mean a 47-23 vote, making it necessary for Democrats to pick up two additional seats in the House.
Democrats have a few seats targeted to pick up. But Republicans have even more seats targeted and have a much higher likelihood of succeeding.
Republicans lost three seats two years ago in the Democratic landslide. They will make an all-out effort to regain those plus pick up a few more. Some generous Republican oil money is being put into those races.
Republicans are putting up more challengers for House seats this year than they have in a decade. But they don't have a very large number of seats to work with. Of 70 House races, only 33 are contested in the general election. Three are open seats, with no incumbent. Seven are held by Republicans and the other 23 have Democratic incumbents.
Most of the political strategizing now seems to assume we will have a Republican governor. Voters have long shown a preference for checks and balances.
Since there now seems little chance for a Democratic governor and since there is little and no hope for a Republican House and Senate, independent voters, on whom most races depend, may be pretty happy already. This means legislative races may be decided more on local issues.
One other factor that must be considered in reapportioning decisions is the courts. Anyone or any group that can show a legitimate interest can challenge redistricting results in court. In New Mexico, courts often have made the final decision about where lines are drawn.
A decade ago the court decided the shape of our three congressional districts. The judicial choice changed as little as possible.
Former Gov. Bruce King happened to be in office during the 1971, 1981 and 1991 redistrictings. His advice to both sides always was to "keep it within the fence posts."
In other words, let's treat everybody right. And that's somewhat the way things turned out.
WED, 10-27-10

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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