Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2 columns I neglected to send

22012 Redist
SANTA FE – Candidates for the state House of Representatives won't know the shape of their districts for quite a while, it appears. The fate of those districts currently is being reviewed by a retired state district court judge, the state Supreme Court and the federal district court in Albuquerque.
The Democratic-dominated Legislature appealed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's veto of its House redistricting bill to the state Supreme Court. The high court appointed retired District Court Judge James Hall of Santa Fe to hear the appeal.
Judge Hall sided with a plan presented by Gov. Martinez. The Democratic Legislature appealed Hall's decision back to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision and referred the redistricting back to retired Judge Hall with instructions to relax the equal representation requirements enough to keep from splitting communities, give Hispanics more representation in an Eastside county and produce a more politically neutral map.
So now Gov. Martinez has has appealed the state Supreme Court decision to the federal court in Albuquerque and asked it to adopt her plan or create new districts itself. Sound complicated? It is.
A jurisdictional battle could ensue but my guess is that the federal court will wash its hands of the matter and not accept the appeal. It has happened before and may already have happened again by the time you read this.
Meanwhile candidates for House seats are guessing what districts they may end up in and who their voters will be. March filing dates for House candidates may be pushed back and even the House primary election may be rescheduled. That has happened before in some House districts.
Gov. Martinez says the state Supreme Court's decision is laughable because it violates the U.S. constitutional mandate of one person, one vote. A five percent deviation above or below the ideal size district is allowed but districts only meet that standard in the first election held after redistricting.
By two years from now, House districts in rapidly growing areas already will be more than five percent over the ideal size. And by the last election of the 10-year cycle, some House members will be representing more than twice as many people as others. That obviously does not meet the one person, one vote standard.
If equal sized districts truly are the most important consideration in redistricting, the sensible action on the part of Legislatures is to deviate as far below the ideal population number as possible in fast growing areas of the state and deviate as far above the ideal number in slow growing districts.
But that is the opposite of what usually happens. Pity is taken upon the slow growing districts that have to be enlarged geographically. Otherwise, another county is added to a rural district and the legislator has to travel another 100 miles to cover his or her district. The result is that eventually a district has to be completely eliminated from a slow growing area of the state and inserted into a fast growing area.
Redistricting law also speaks to keeping communities of interest together, thereby enabling them to elect a representative of their own. New Mexico's smaller towns usually are kept intact. Occasionally they are split in order to keep them from electing one of their own. Reportedly some pueblos have said they don't mind being split because they can then have two representatives working on their behalf.
Deming, Silver City and Las Vegas are split in the Republican version of House redistricting that the governor is championing. Deming and Silver City have long worked together on legislative matters so this may not be a punishment. Las Vegas is accustomed to being split into east and west so it may not bother them.
But regardless of what Republicans and Democrats say about sacred principles of redistricting, it is all about gaining political advantage. The rest is just for show.
22412 Do Nothing
SANTA FE – Can the recent legislative session be called The Do-Nothing 50th Legislature? Some lawmakers think so. Not many of Gov. Susana Martinez's initiatives survived.
She did a little better than Harry Truman in 1948 when he went on a whistle-stop tour to rail against The Do-Nothing 80th Congress. Truman, his wife Bess and 24-year-old daughter Margaret rode a campaign train throughout the country, stopping at every city, town and village along the way.
I saw him as a 10-year old, in Deming, on a summer morning. His short train, coming from Lordsburg, rolled into the station and he emerged onto a platform on the rear of the train. He delivered a brief speech, with the crowd yelling "Give 'em hell, Harry."
People cheered for Margaret, a professional songstress, to come out and sing. She made an appearance, waved to the crowd and said it was too early in the morning. The real problem was the whistle stops had to be brief.
Truman pulled off a surprise victory that year, running against an obstructionist Congress. Tom Dewey, the GOP presidential candidate, seldom was mentioned.
Gov. Martinez does not have to run this year but she can campaign against Democratic legislators who thwarted her initiatives. Her main problem is the Senate where Democrats hold a 2-1 margin. The House, where Democrats hold the slimmest of margins, passed most of Martinez's priorities but she will go after them too.
I haven't heard anyone refer to this legislature as the 50th but it seems snappy. This is our centennial year and legislatures are two years long with a regular session each year.
Regardless of what Republicans call it, they will run against obstructionist Democrats who want to frustrate the governor's agenda in order to make her look bad. Democrats will counter that they were willing to go over half way but the governor insisted on all or nothing.
We have much the same picture on the national level but in reverse. The difference is that Republicans in Congress admit to what they are doing. When Rush Limbaugh and others on the right began saying the day after the president's inauguration that they want him to fail, Republican members of Congress quickly fell in behind them.
On some issues, Gov. Martinez has been willing to work with Democrats. The state budget has passed both years with little quarrel. If compromise is possible on the most important item of any session, why isn't it possible on other issues?
It may be due to Martinez and Senate budget powerhouse John Arthur Smith, of Deming, working well together. And it may be that budget issues don't grab people's attention like illegal immigrants, voter fraud and illiterate high school graduates do. Martinez believes the majority of voters are on her side on these issues.
Gov. Martinez and lawmakers had little trouble getting together on increased penalties for government corruption and reform of the Public Regulation Commission. Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez wanted to slow down both issues but he didn't have his troops behind him as much as he thought.
Sanchez was willing to approve the transfer of corporate registrations to the secretary of State's office, which handles other business filings. But qualifications of commissioners and creation of an independent Insurance Department, Sanchez thought needed further study.
But in a final-hour show of force, Think New Mexico and other supporters of the constitutional amendment package got other business stopped so that the rest of the package could be put on the November ballot.
Gov. Martinez is sure to use her veto pen on numerous items she didn't want to see passed. Chief among them are local pork projects that she would have preferred to go to statewide projects or to the needs of children.
It is hard to argue except that local pork does help business and create jobs in communities throughout the state.


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