Senate passes its redistricting bill

By Matthew Reichbach

The full Senate passed a redistricting bill that would pit two sets of incumbents against each other, including two from the same party. The bill passed the Senate on a party line vote with all Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans voting against it.

Republicans were not on board with the proposal in any way.

The proposal would put Sens. William Burt (R-Alamogordo) and Rod Adair (R-Roswell) in the same district. the bill would move Burt’s district into Rio Rancho, the fastest-growing part of the state. Rural areas have either stayed the same in population or lost population while urban areas, especially west of the river in Albuquerque’s metro area, have grown at a faster pace than the rest of the state.

Burt expressed concern that Alamogordo will not be represented fairly.

“If Senator Adair and Senator [Vernon] Asbill (R-Carlsbad) end up representing Alamogordo, that would just be wrong,” Burt said. He added this is not because of Adair or Asbill themselves but because neither reside in Alamogordo.

The district that is moved from southeastern New Mexico would move to a part of Rio Rancho that has more registered Republicans (42.8 percent) than Democrats (38.2 percent).

Sens. Dede Feldman (D-Albuquerque) and John Ryan (R-Albuquerque) would also be placed in the same district. Ryan’s current district, which stretches from Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights into portions of Rio Rancho, would move fully over to the westside.

The districts of Sens. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) and Eric Griego (D-Albuquerque) would also be combined. Griego is not running for reelection and is instead running for congress in Albuquerque’s 1st Congressional District.

Republicans also raised the possibility that Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, would veto the legislation. This would likely result in a court battle that would be costly to the state. The last time the state went to court when then-Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, vetoed House and Congressional redistricting in 1991. It ended up costing the state over $3.5 million in court costs.

Johnson also vetoed the Senate redistricting, but the Senate was able to go back and find a compromise bill before the Senate was up for election in 2004.

“Maybe, for some twisted reason, we have to start with something like this before we get reasonable,” Ryan said. “This is not reasonable.”

Democrats largely let the Republicans take the floor to speak about the bill. Only sponsor Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) and Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana) spoke in support of the bill before its passage.

“There are going to be losers. There are going to be those who will gain and that is the nature of the business that we are in at this point in time with redistricting,” said Lopez according to the Associated Press.

Afterward, Sen. John Sapien (D-Bernalillo) released a statement on Facebook saying that the map reflects the population shifts in the state of New Mexico over the past decade.

“Albuquerque and Rio Rancho have both experienced significant growth,” Sapien wrote. “These factors have led to the decisions regarding redistricting.”

According to the 2010 Census, 40 percent of the population growth statewide during the last decade occurred in a 20-mile narrow strip on the west side of Albuquerque.

House passes food stamp supplement unanimously

By Matthew Reichbach

The House of Representatives passed a bill unanimously that would take advantage of federal funds to shore up food stamp benefits as well as putting the rest of the federal stimulus funds towards Medicaid before the money reverts back to the federal government. The bill would provide $450,000 in funding for food stamp additions for elderly and disabled New Mexicans.

Rep. Dennis Roch (R-Tucumcari) said that his legislation, HB 18, needed to pass soon because the money would revert back to the federal government at the end of September.

“This cannot wait until January,” Roch told the House Appropriations and Finance Committee earlier Friday. “It absolutely cannot.”

The non-controversial bill cleared two committees before the House passed the legislation on Friday.

In addition to making sure that over $6 million in Medicaid funding does not revert to the federal government, the supplement makes sure that elderly and disabled New Mexicans receive at least $25 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding, even if the amount of federal funding dips down to $16.

This will fund the program through the next three quarters.

Some of the money in the fund could be general funds that were in there to match with the federal funds before it reverted back to the federal government, Roch said on the House floor.

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants) expressed concern over using one-time money, in this case federal stimulus funds, to cover a recurring expense.

Gov. Susana Martinez used federal stimulus funds to keep the program going in June. Otherwise, the program was set to end by July 1.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it must pass before Martinez can sign the legislation.

Odds and Ends

The House and Senate also both passed Public Education Committee redistricting legislation. The committee has the power over approving charter schools.

PRC redistricting bill passes key committee, but not without controversy

By Matthew Reichbach

A committee substitute to a bill to redistrict the Public Regulations Committee cleared the House Voters and Elections Committee and moved on to the House Judiciary Committee — but not without some controversy. Republicans on the committee were not happy with the amount of time they were given to look over the maps.

Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque) told Clearly New Mexico in a short interview that the actions showed that Democrats are “trying to jam bills through now.”

“It was sprung on us when we got in committee and we had a full 55 minutes to analyze a bill with very complex constitutional issues,” Gentry told Clearly New Mexico. “Most committee chairmen require a day in advance for committee substitutes and for good reason.”

Mary Helen Garcia (D-Las Cruces) said that this was the first that Democrats had seen of the committee substitute as well.

The legislation in question is HB 15, a bill to redistrict the Public Regulations Commission. The initial bill was one of the concept maps brought over from the interim committee. The committee substitute made some changes to the bill that Republicans said they did not have enough time to analyze.

Speaker of the House Ben Lujan (D-Nambe) suggested that the committee vote to pass the committee substitute. Floor Majority Leader Ken Martinez, (D-Grants), said he would defer to the will of the committee on whether or not to pass the bill along.

The committee substitute for HB15 now heads over to the House Judiciary Committee where Gentry will get another chance to look at the bill.

The committee heard two other bills but voted to table both. One was another PRC map, HB 36, carried by Rep. Ray Begaye (D-Shiprock). The other was HB 37 a state House redistricting map by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque), which would have taken seats from rural areas to compensate for the growth in the Albuquerque metro west of the Rio Grande.

For some lawmakers, redistricting takes backseat to tee time

By Matthew Reichbach

Usually when legislators are accused of playing golf during special sessions instead of doing the people’s work, they are circumspect. Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec), however, boldly brought his golf clubs with him to the House floor on Thursday and regaled the House with tales of himself and two other Republican lawmakers playing golf on Wednesday.

It was part of Republicans’ complaints that the legislature is wasting time and not having committees meet except for those to do with redistricting.

Bandy said that he hadn’t been golfing in about 40 years but went with his two fellow lawmakers to the Santa Fe Country Club. He made sure to point out that it is a public course.

Bandy said that the golf clubs don’t look like golf clubs like they did back when he used to play.

“Now they look like spaceships or flying saucers,” Bandy said.

Speaker of the House Ben Luján, who has faced the brunt of the criticism from Republicans, said, “We have a few Republicans who are out playing golf rather than watching and seeing how to form their districts, I guess.”

Luján has insisted that the House first focus on the once-in-a-decade and federally-mandated issue of redistricting before going onto the other issues that Gov. Susana Martinez added to the special session docket.

When Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, announced a Republican caucus, Luján asked if they would instead like to hold their caucus at a golf course.

Crook responded that the Republicans are able to get their work done expeditiously and still have time to golf.

As a parting shot, Luján told Republicans, “I wish you well at the golf course, we’ll keep working over here.”

The House Voters and Elections Committee and House Judiciary Committees announced committee hearings for later in the day.

The districts of all 70 members of the N.M. House of Representatives will be altered by the redistricting process, leaving no community unaffected.