Inside the Capitol

Monday, September 19, 2011

9-21 Session should be over

WED, 9-21-11

SANTA FE – As we enter the third week of New Mexico's special session on redistricting, we begin to see some signs of life. Some of the easier bills are popping out into public view.
The easiest bill is the one redistricting the elected Public Education Commission. The PEC is so inconsequential, it hardly exists. Its predecessor, the elective State Board of Education was powerful, indeed, making all the important decisions about education.
But in 2003, newly-elected Gov. Bill Richardson convinced New Mexico voters that in order for him to make the bold changes that education needed, he must have the power to accomplish it.
That fall, voters gave him the power on a bipartisan vote. An advisory elective Public Education Commission was created in order to make voters happy that they still had something to vote on – even though they never had been able to name a single member of the formally powerful board.
As evidence of the new education board's inconsequential nature, often no one ran for some of the positions on the board. Sometimes positions would be filled by last-minute write-in candidates.
A few years later, the board was given the authority to approve or disapprove charter schools. Now, at least, the board has an official duty. One wouldn't think that would be enough for map makers to make enough changes to carve two incumbents into the same district.
But it happened. The oversight now having been corrected appears to be in sufficiently good shape to move along to the governor for her signature.
But that may be the only bill to make it through the system without ending up in court. The Public Regulation Commission redistricting measure, which also survived without court attention 10 years ago, now has Democrats and Republicans battling over how to make the five districts lean either Republican or Democratic.
So we can add some more to the $3.5 million, plus inflation, that appealing this year's redistricting plans will cost taxpayers this year.
It is such a silly exercise. Lawmakers know the courts are not going to make any more changes than they must in order to draw the new districts. Lawmakers certainly are capable of drawing those same lines and avoiding what I'm guessing to be $5 million in legal fees for a judge to draw those lines.
There is no constitutional or court-ruled standard for districts to be politically balanced. The most important provision is that districts be as equally balanced in terms of population as possible. That's the one person-one vote rule.
The other important factor is not to dilute the voting strength of minorities. One other factor that redistricting is supposed to take into account is Most communities prefer not to be split between two districts. Also two similar communities in close proximity usually don't like to be split.
One exception is the state's Indian tribes and pueblos. In most cases they like to be in different districts. Evidentally they feel they have influence over more members of a public body that way.
Lawmakers have only until next Tuesday, September 27, to finish their work. They projected to be through by now. But unless they went into overdrive yesterday, they are nowhere near through.
The pace must really pick up in the next six days. Legislative leaders plan to get all redistricting bills to the Gov. Susana Martinez by at least three days before the end of the session so she will have to act on them by the end of the session.
That does not seem to give time to reach agreements among Democrats, Republicans and the governor in order to avoid disagreements that will end all these redistricting bills in court
The session can be extended to 30 days. But will lawmakers be willing to do it? And will the governor be willing to sign it?


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