ABQ City Council Redistricting Plan Passes on 5-4 Vote

By Matthew Reichbach

The Albuquerque City Council approved a redistricting map that will eliminate Commissioner Ike Benton’s district, which includes Albuquerque’s downtown area, and move it to the fast-growing westside part of the city. The map, which passed on a 5-4 party-line vote, uses the Rio Grande as a border.

Benton would be paired with Debbie O’Malley in a district that includes downtown and the North Valley areas of Albuquerque.

The map goes to Mayor Richard Berry who is likely to sign the redistricting map — but the battle likely won’t end there, as opponents say the map “packs” minorities in one district, diluting the minority voting strength, which would violate the Voters Rights Act.

The newly created Westside district, while expected to still be friendly to Democrats, would have a super majority of Hispanics — 82 percent. This is why opponents of the map say that the city council “packed” the district with minority voters at the expense of other districts. According to the U.S. Census, Albuquerque is 46.7 percent Hispanic.

Opponents also pointed out that with consolidation of most of the old District 3 into O’Malley’s North Valley District 2 will mean that almost all of the city’s federally designated “pockets of poverty” will be contained in a single district.

If opponents so choose, the redistricting map could join the New Mexico House of Representatives map in the courts, drawing out the process further. Insofar as the next Albuquerque municipal election is not until 2013, however, there may not be a great sense of urgency on the part of the courts in finalizing a new council map. This would be in sharp contrast to the legal battle involving the N.M. state House of Representatives map as the clock is ticking away with an impending primary election scheduled for the first Tuesday in June.

The big winner of the new map is Albuquerque’s Westside, which would have three full districts, an increase of the current two districts and a part of another.

O’Malley introduced a competing map, which was tabled, which would have extended borders across the Rio Grande and kept all five current city councilors in their districts. Opponents of that map say they preferred that the Rio Grande be used, when possible, as a natural border for districts, something that O’Malley says is divisive for the city.

The City Council said that Benton would be allowed to continue serving until his term ends in 2013, but court action could force Benton from his seat. In that case, the mayor would be allowed to appoint a replacement, likely increasing the Republican advantage on the city council from its current 5-4 advantage to 6-3.

Odds and Ends

  • Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis, the map’s sponsor, said before the hearing that the map was neutral because it was based almost entirely on a map created by Research & Polling. Ironically, Republicans involved in the state House redistricting case have made an major issue in their court filings of what they allege is the Democratic bias of the very same Research & Polling and its owner, Brian Sanderoff, which also performed the technical mapping work for the  state legislature.

Supreme Court reverses, remands House redistricting

By Matthew Reichbach

The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the New Mexico House redistricting decision of retired District Court Judge James Hall and remanded it back to district court.

The Court noted that “time is of the essence” and set a deadline for the district court to create a new map by February 27.

The Supreme Court ruled that the map was too tilted towards one party — the Republican Party. Judge Hall had ruled for Executive Alternative Plan 3 — a plan put forward by Gov. Susana Martinez.

A key ruling of the Court found that Hall’s decision to opt for “precise population equivalence” for districts had come “at the cost of other, legitimate state redistricting policies.” These include protecting minority-majority districts and leaving communities of interests intact among others.

The Supreme Court also found that, while Hall had looked at partisan bias in various plans presented before the court, the executive plan that Hall adopted  “did not undergo the same scrutiny for partisan bias” that most of the other plans had received. The Supreme Court said that the plan Hall adopted “increased Republican swing seats from five to eight over prior executive plans” and that “the number of majority Republican districts increased from 31 in the original executive plan to 34 in Executive Alternative Plan 3.”

Another partisan issue that the Supreme Court said “raises questions” concerned the consolidated district in Central Albuquerque.

“Despite combining a Republican and a Democrat seat, it resulted in a strongly partisan district favoring one party, in effect tilting the balance for that party without any valid justification.” The Supreme Court also found that the “resulting district is oddly shaped in an area were compactness is apparently relatively easy to achieve, suggesting, at least in part, that the district was created to give political advantage to one party.”

The order was not the formal opinion and the Supreme Court said the order “is intended to outline the holding of this Court.”

One of the legal principles cited by the Supreme Court was that “plans that the Legislature has passed but have failed to be enacted into law, such as House Bill 39, are due “thoughtful consideration.” The Supreme Court also noted that “Deviations from population equality are appropriate to address significant state policies or unique features.”

Other orders to the district court

The ruling directed the district court to consider whether the cities of Deming, Silver City and Las Vegas could be maintained whole within single districts. The plan produced by Hall original decision had split these communities into more than one district.

The Court ordered the district court to look more closely at House District 67 which Hall said is a Hispanic Majority district but the Supreme Court found does not have a majority of Hispanics who are of voting age.

Dissenting Opinion

Judge Jonathan B. Sutin, who took over for Judge Charlie Daniels after Daniels recused himself, dissented from the opinion.

“The stopping point of Judge Hall’s plan is eminently more wise and fair than the stopping point of the next, reconstituted plan, with no fair opportunity to follow allowing the party opposing the plan to obtain relief in this Court,” Sutin wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Here is today’s ruling of the Supreme Court:

New Mexico Supreme Court NM House Redistricting Order

 

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.

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.

Sarah’s Redistricting Lesson: The Dastardly Ways (VIDEO)

Sarah Kennedy’s back with her latest installment on the subject of redistricting. With the help of her trusty Connect Four board, she gives us the skinny on the Voting Rights Act — and the dastardly methods that mapmakers have used to dilute the voting strength of minority populations:

 

Slow second day wraps up at the Roundhouse

By Matthew Reichbach

Except for the bill to fund the special session and the introduction of some legislation, the second day of the 2011 was a slow one. The feed bill passed the House with some legislators questioning the expenses of non-redistricting measures, including the impeachment proceedings against Public Regulations Commission commissioner Jerome Block, Jr.

Meanwhile, the issue of repealing the law allowing undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses was relatively quiet, beyond Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch) introducing the legislation in the House.

Democrats continued to question the wisdom of adding on contentious legislation in addition to the always-contentious issue of redistricting. They also say that the constitutionally-mandated process of redistricting should take precedence over any of the other things on the governor’s call.

During debate on the feed bill, Rep. James Madalena (D-Jemez Pueblo) said, “I feel that we ought to hear redistricting first, and everything else second, whatever we have time, the duration that we are here.”

Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) suggested having a separate special session for “impeachment proceedings and other items that have been put on our agenda that should be put on the back burner.”

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants) said that he did agree that “the first and most important task is to make sure that all New Mexicans are represented equally.”

Martinez did note that Gov. Susana Martinez had the right to add issues she wanted heard to the special session’s call.

The Senate, meanwhile, heard another presentation from Research & Polling, Inc. president Brian Sanderoff on redistricting.

In an exchange that the Associated Press picked up on, Sanderoff mentioned that the redistricting debate could very well come down to a rural and urban divide.

“It would be impossible mathematically for new representation to not occur on the west side. The trick is this: If new seats are going to emerge on the west side other seats must be consolidated,” Sanderoff told senators on Wednesday as he outlined the population trends that will drive redistricting decisions.

The goal of redistricting is to equalize the populations of districts as much as possible. That was required under the legal doctrine of one person, one vote, to ensure that each resident’s vote is worth the same.

Sanderoff’s company has been contracted to help the legislature with redistricting and will even have an office in the Roundhouse for the duration of the redistricting debate.

Much of the population growth in the state has come in urban areas, while population growth in many rural areas has stagnated or even dropped. This means that rural districts must get geographically larger and larger to pick up enough population — and eventually some districts will grow so large that they need to be consolidated with neighboring districts.

This would bring the possibility of two incumbents running against each other, something legislators generally try to avoid.

Odds and Ends:

  • Susana Martinez is not open to a compromise on the drivers license issue like the one that passed in Utah, according to Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Trip Jennings.
  • The Santa Fe Reporter has a good look at the additional items that Martinez added to the special session agenda.
  • The subcommittee looking at the impeachment of Block will meet tomorrow morning.
  • The Senate Committees on Committee will also meet tomorrow morning. This committee decides whether legislation introduced in the Senate is germane to the call by the governor.
  • Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez announced that he had a guest today; Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. Yesterday, former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson was an announced guest in the Senate chambers. Sanchez and Wilson are facing off in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican was on hand for the unveiling of the United States Postal Service stamp in honor of New Mexico’s centennial.

Despite add-on agenda, Legislature prepares for redistricting task

By Matthew Reichbach

Before introducing the principles of redistricting, Research & Polling, Inc. president Brian Sanderoff joked that many legislatures must be tired of hearing his voice by now before addressing a joint session of the House and Senate. The presentation on the floor of the state House chambers hit many of the same notes he did during the months-long tour of New Mexico, one that some legislators heard many times.

In a nutshell, Sanderoff reminded the legislators that the districts must be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population. He also warned that districts cannot be crafted in a way that would dilute the voting strength of minorities, which includes Native Americans.

Before Sanderoff introduced redistricting to the legislators, Professor Michael Browde of the University of New Mexico School of Law and attorney Rich Olson of Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin, LLP spoke of the potential legal challenges that New Mexico could face because of the redistricting plans.

The message was that not passing a plan would invite costly lawsuits, much like the 2001 redistricting plan vetoed by then-Gov. Gary Johnson did. According to Browde, the state incurred $3.6 million in legal fees after Johnson vetoed the Legislature’s plan. The total cost to the state was $5.2 million.

Lawsuits against the state would face an uphill battle if there is a duly enacted plan, Olson explained.

“Where there is a carefully crafted, enacted plan, those who have to challenge stand a fairly serious burden,” Olson explained. “And given that all of the potential challenges are really federal civil rights claims, which only allow recovery of attorneys fees and costs to prevailing parties, careful evaluation by those who might want to challenge, careful evaluation of their chances of success really diminishes the number of challenges that are likely to occur.”

In 1981, there were challenges but those problems were caused “by some difficulty in our translation of the census data into data we could use.” (The use of the “votes cast formula” was struck down in federal court. See Sanchez v. King, 1982.)  In 1991, there were no challenges to the law. In 2001, there was no law and there was “a free for all” in Olson’s words.

A theme that should echo throughout the redistricting debate is that some districts in rural areas will likely need to be consolidated, in both the state House and Senate, and those districts added to the areas spanning from Rio Rancho to the southwest mesa area of Albuquerque. This could cause two incumbent legislators to face each other in the 2012 election.

The congressional redistricting should be easier, according to Sanderoff, because the population changes were “not nearly as dramatic.” Each of the three districts had areas with big growth; the 1st Congressional District has Albuquerque’s Westside, the 2nd Congressional District has Las Cruces and the 3rd Congressional District has Rio Rancho. Only about 22,000 people will have to be moved to make viable districts, according to Sanderoff.

The House did move forward on the impeachment of embattled Public Regulations Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, appointed a subcommittee to look at the impeachment of Block, a likely occurrence because of Block’s recent brushes with the law.

The subcommittee is made up an equal number of Democrats and Republicans

Odds and Ends:

  • While redistricting was the focus of the legislature today, Gov. Susana Martinez’s proclamation allows for a number of other issues to be considered.
  • The public will be allowed to draw their own redistricting proposals in room 324 of the Roundhouse, while room 310 will house Research & Polling throughout the redistricting process.
  • Because of the difficulty in crafting redistricting proposals, attempts to change the proposals will be limited to floor and committee substitutes. This is because small changes could have large ‘ripple effects’ that would render the maps useless.
  • Special sessions are limited to 30 days by state law.

Legislature brings redistricting committee road show to Rio Rancho

By Matthew Reichbach

The redistricting committee hearing took its roadshow to Rio Rancho and V. Sue Cleveland High School where about 75 members of the public gathered to hear about the redistricting proposals the state legislature will likely turn to whenit gathers for a special session on September 6.

Research & Polling Inc. president Brian Sanderoff gave another in his series of presentations on the redistricting process, outlining the basics of redistricting. Sanderoff focused on how it will affect Sandoval County specifically. This comes a day after the committee met in Albuquerque.

Much of what Sanderoff had to say echoed his first presentation in June, including the principles that the legislators must follow while drawing the new districts.

Sanderoff also presented concept maps for state House, state Senate, congressional and Public Regulations Commission districts, focusing on Rio Rancho, Corrales and Bernalillo as well as parts of the westside of Albuquerque including Taylor Ranch and Paradise Hills.

A theme among local dignitaries from Rio Rancho and Bill Sapien, who was representing Bernalillo, was that they all wanted to keep their communities intact in one district.

Sapien asked that Bernalillo be treated as a “whole community, not as a separate precinct used to balance off the numbers.”

Former legislator and current Rio Rancho mayor Tom Swisstack also requested that Rio Rancho, which had a 69.1 percent increase in population, be kept in one district.

Sanderoff said that Rio Rancho, due to its rapid growth over the past decade, will have a large impact on the redistricting process this year. He noted that Rio Rancho, one of the youngest communities in the state, in the past decade now has more population than Santa Fe, one of the oldest communities in the state, and now only follows Las Cruces and Albuquerque in size.

Because of the rapid growth in Rio Rancho and the westside of Albuquerque, these areas will gain seats. But this comes at a cost to other parts of the state, as the state constitution says that the state House is capped at 70 seats and the Senate at 42 seats.

Sanderoff said that every time a new seat is put in a community it, “a seat somewhere else in the state must disappear. And that’s where the legislature has such a difficult time.”

Currently, of the four state Senators who represent parts of Rio Rancho, none currently reside in Rio Rancho. And only one of the four districts, the 9th, is made up of a majority of Rio Rancho residents.

In congressional redistricting, Sandoval County will play a large role, Sanderoff said. This is because of the growth in Rio Rancho and its proximity to Albuquerque and the 1st Congressional District.

If Rio Rancho remains in the 3rd Congressional District, it could become “the big player” in the northern New Mexico district. However, if it and Albuquerque are put in an “urban “ district, Rio Rancho would “not be as big a player,” Sanderoff said.

Governor Susana Martinez indicated that she will call for the decennial redistricting special session beginning on September 6. In addition to the contentious issue of redistricting, Martinez will put the controversial issue of repealing drivers licenses for illegal immigrants on the special session call.