Inside the Capitol

Thursday, December 01, 2011

12-5 Redistricting always dirty

120511 Redist

SANTA FE – Redistricting of legislative and congressional seats has to be the most politically dirty activity in government. Any party in control will attempt to draw new districts to benefit itself in any way possible.
No one's seat is safe. The majority party leadership may be the safest. But a governor of the opposite party might be able, through a veto and subsequent court action, to make the road bumpy.
Former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez made it rough on himself by letting his district move closer to the Albuquerque Heights in order to give fellow Democrats easier precincts in the Valley.
The strategies involved in putting together district maps are complex and often very subtle. It is easy to spot a gerrymandered district when it looks like a salamander designed by its namesake Elbridge Gerry. But a district can be fairly compact and still have political or racial subtleties that are difficult to spot.
That is why a group of Republicans has asked for and received communications between Democratic leaders and Brian Sanderoff, the Legislature's redistricting consultant.
Democratic leaders claimed those communications were privileged but redistricting Judge James Hall ruled that even if they were privileged, they lost their status when Sanderoff's name showed up on the expert witness list provided by the legislative leadership.
The leaders claim the release will have "terrible policy implications" but the judge ruled that Republicans are entitled to know the instructions given Sanderoff so they can determine Democratic motivations.
Legislators always have maintained that the determination of legislative motivation protected by the state constitution. Judge Hall steered clear of that subject by saying Sanderhoff would have to answer all those questions on cross examination anyway.
This could be a crack in the dike that may be explored more fully on a future occasion. You can be sure Republican lawyers are, at this moment, sifting through all the memos, emails, notes of conversations and other documents in preparation for court hearings scheduled to begin today.
A very promising sign is the announcement to Judge Hall last week that a bipartisan agreement is in the works on the congressional redistricting map. The changes would be minimal. A few details need to be worked out before the hearing scheduled to begin today.
Changes in legislative district maps will be heard later this month and into January. No public word has been heard on any behind-the-scenes negotiations on those maps. The recent flak around release of the Sanderoff communications won't help any agreement there.
But possible agreement on congressional alignments would make New Mexico stand out nationally. All states are having problems.
Recently, I wrote about the only states in the nation with a fighting chance for agreement on redistricting are those in which citizens are allowed to put constitutional amendments on the ballot without them having to go through the legislature and being signed by the governor.
Those states have created independent redistricting commissions. But now the news has been pouring in showing that even in those states political leaders are doing everything they can to override the will of the people.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer fired the chairman of the independent committee even though she had no power to either appoint or remove the chairman. The state Supreme Court ruled she couldn't do it but the governor insists she is going to do it anyway.

I have a couple of final paragraphs to add but am still wrestling with this new computer and can't get them tacked on right now.


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