Inside the Capitol

Sunday, September 25, 2011

9-28 Plenty of blame to go around

WED, 9-28-11

SANTA FE � New Mexico�s special legislative session on redistricting has adjourned. Everyone is blaming everyone else for not getting much done. They all are correct. Everyone bears some blame.
Democrats control both houses of the legislature so they could pass about anything they wanted. But they knew that Gov. Susana Martinez would veto it. So why go to the trouble of passing something they know she will shoot down?
It now will be up to the state Supreme Court to draw the lines for legislative and congressional redistricting. They know from experience that those lawsuits will cost millions. Some estimates run as high as $9 million.
Privately, Democrats likely figured the best strategy would be to get something before the court that is as favorable to them as possible. Let the court start from there. Everyone likes to talk about saving taxpayer money but it may be that none of the parties to this dispute had any intention to keep redistricting out of court.
All legislators who plan to run again for office want to make their district as winnable as possible. Usually the majority party is willing to allow minority party members to protect their seats. There are exceptions, such as eight years ago when Texas Republicans took over their legislature and decided to redistrict their congressional delegation that had been redistricted two years earlier.
That is when Albuquerque had a visit from Texas Democratic senators for several weeks. Numerous Texas Democratic members of Congress lost their seats over that redistricting.
When an area of the state falls behind in growth, such as frequently happens on New Mexico�s Eastside, someone has to go. That sometimes becomes a personality contest, in which the district of the least popular lawmaker reappears in a fast growing part of the state.
This year, Republicans knew they would see some of their districts squeezed out of some slow growing areas. They hitched their wagon to an argument that Democrats ought to be fair in designing districts that would give them a chance to win in future years. But there is no law requiring political balance in a district.
Republicans knew the governor had their back. If they didn�t get everything they wanted in the Legislature, she would be there with her veto pen. That allowed them to be much more demanding that if they didn�t have a governor in their corner.
The Senate pulled a fast one on the House, going into the wee hours Saturday morning to complete its business and then adjourning. That left the House with no ability to negotiate any changes in Senate bills.
That led to what may be another first in state history � a redistricting session that doesn�t produce a U.S. House redistricting bill. The court will not even have a place to start on that one.
Gov. Martinez was no help with redistricting. In fact, she may have been a hindrance, calling in legislators to lobby them on her issues during the session. She said she worked hard during the session but none of it was directed at facilitating agreement on redistricting.
The Legislature passed redistricting bills for the Public Regulation Commission and the Public Education Commission. Will the governor sign them? She says she hasn�t reviewed them yet.
It appears that redistricting will be a political topic in next year�s campaigns. Martinez often has said that voters should be given a choice of candidates in their legislative districts rather than to have legislators choosing their voters in a redistricting session. It speaks to creating politically balanced legislative districts rather than safe districts.
Three of the 11 items the governor presented to the Legislature during this special session were passed. In-state preferences for state contracts were tightened to cut down on companies opening an office in the state just to bid on a contract.
A food stamp supplement was passed to take advantage of federal money. And $86.5 million was appropriated for capital outlay projects.


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