Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9-23 Can't we just all get along?

FRI, 9-23-11

SANTA FE � As we predicted two days ago, the pace of this special legislative session on redistricting finally has picked up.
Both chambers have developed plans for redistricting New Mexico�s three-member congressional delegation, the state House and Senate, the Public Regulation Commission and the Public Education Commission.
The problem is that the Senate hasn�t developed much legislation that is likely to get through the House and none of the redistricting measures stand much chance of getting past Gov. Susana Martinez�s veto pen.
In the Senate, Democrats, with a 27-15 advantage, are moving plans through the system that never will get through the more evenly divided House, where Democrats hold a scant 36-33 margin.
That margin is even closer than it appears because Democrats lost their 37th vote last January when Rep. Andy Nunez, of Dona Ana County, bolted the party and became independent. Nunez nearly always has voted with Republicans ever since, thereby giving Democrats only a 36-34 advantage.
The result has been that anytime one of the 36 Democrats wants to gain some leverage, he or she will vote with Republicans, thus creating a tie that stalls legislation until that Democrat is satisfied.
That is exactly what Democrat Sandra Jeff, of Crownpoint, did last Tuesday to the House redistricting plan. As of this writing, on Wednesday evening, the bill is stalled until Rep. Jeff can be appeased. That still may not free the Democrats� bill because any other of the 36 Democrats could decide to copy Rep. Jeff�s example and threaten to vote with Republicans.
Any bill that House Democrats pass will sail through the Senate but that doesn�t help because it stands to reason that Gov. Martinez will veto anything that Republican lawmakers do not like. The only answer to this stalemate is for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground.
A two-thirds majority of each house can override a veto but that isn�t going to happen in the House so both sides might as well get together now. If the Legislature remains in session three days after the governor gets a piece of legislation, she has only three days in which to act on the measure rather than 20 days.

But that matters little either � another reason for getting together now. The three weeks for which the Legislature appropriated funding ends this coming Tuesday noon. Lawmakers usually have some extra money stashed away for emergencies but probably not enough to extend the session another week or 10 days, which would reach the maximum 30 days which special sessions can last.
Passing another feed bill to fund an extended session is a possibility, although it has never been done. That would give an advantage to the governor since she could veto the appropriation. The only remaining options would be to reach bipartisan agreement or for lawmakers to call themselves into extraordinary session, which requires more than a majority, and therefore, requires bipartisan agreement.
Here is the reality. Democratic-leaning areas of the state are growing faster than Republican-leaning areas. Democrats blew it in the 2010 elections, resulting in a Republican governor and close to an even match in the House. Both realities demand some give and take.
If common ground cannot be found, the state Supreme Court will craft a plan that attempts to treat both sides fairly. Attorney fees will cost the state money it can ill afford. Logic calls for working out disagreements now but the situation doesn�t appear to be ruled by logic.
No law or court decision exists that requires political districts be as evenly-matched as possible. That is what Republicans are seeking. Democrats are trying to make evenly-matched districts slightly more Democratic by switching in Democratic precincts and switching Republican precincts into districts that already are Republican.
That trend can be seen in the redistricting plans for our three House seats. Republicans are being switched out of the evenly-matched District 1, in the Albuquerque area into the southern District 2 and Democrats are being switched in from northern District 3.


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