Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 01, 2011

9-5 Redistricting causes some political deaths

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Get ready for a slam-bang legislative session beginning tomorrow. Redistricting sessions are especially brutal. At least one political death always occurs.
As usual, the Albuquerque metropolitan area is set to devour a few more legislative seats from the rest of the state. The size of New Mexico's legislature is set by law. So high growth in one region means seats will be lost in areas of slower growth.
But isn't there a way that districts can be redrawn so that no legislator loses a seat? Yes, there is, but the Legislature's redistricting consultant, Brian Sanderoff, says the map would be good only for comic relief.
Picture a map with many districts having tentacles reaching into the Albuquerque area from all over the state in order to grab enough population to remain in existence. It not only would be a comical map, it would violate federal guidelines and court decisions designed to prevent gerrymandering.
Sanderoff has presented numerous possible maps to a redistricting committee, which has been traveling the state this summer conducting public hearings.
Various versions of those plans are expected to be introduced during the upcoming special session. All lawmakers will be keeping their eyes on all plans to see which treats them most favorably.
They may develop amendments to those plans that will treat them better. In addition, lawmakers will be developing plans to redistrict New Mexico's three congressional seats and the state Public Regulation Commission.
And they will be lobbied by present members of those bodies and by challengers for those offices. Gov. Susana Martinez says only a few lawmakers will be busy handling redistricting so they will be free to consider a slew of items she would like to add to their special session agenda.
Martinez never has seen a redistricting session in progress so she does not comprehend how encompassed lawmakers become in the redistricting process.
Tension between governors and legislators always exists before and during special sessions, with lawmakers insisting that the governor is adding too many items.
That tension also exists during 30-day regular sessions such as we will have next January and February. That session is limited to budgetary items plus topics introduced by the governor.
Lawmakers usually seem to get most of the governors' extra items considered during 30-day sessions so Martinez is arguing that they can get her extra items considered during a redistricting session.
But that may not be correct. The Legislative Council Service reports that previous redistricting sessions never have considered extra items.
Gov. Martinez is correct that only a few legislative committees meet during a redistricting session. That requires fewer staff. But if additional items are introduced, additional committees need to meet and additional staff will have to be hired, which will increase the amount spent per day on the session.
Everything could get considered during the session if there were bipartisan agreement on everything going into the session. But that never happens, even on the redistricting questions.
Only once in the history of redistricting sessions have at least some of the results not gone to court, according to the Legislative Council Service. This doesn't appear to be the year when that will change.
The Senate Democratic leadership has expressed antagonism about the governor piling on extra items for the session. For awhile, it was a new item every day.
A few items can be agreed on quickly and they should be. But animosities could escalate to the point that legislative leaders decide they are going to stick to just redistricting issues.
That situation occurred during the first year of Gov. Bill Richardson's administration when he loaded down a special session with too much work, none of which he had discussed with leaders beforehand.
One item lawmakers have the power to add to this session is the impeachment of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. But consistent with their opposition to overloading the agenda, that will wait until later.
MON, 9-05-11

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



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