Court battle looms over redistricting

By Matthew Reichbach

The governor has vowed to veto redistricting legislation, setting the stage for a court battle for the second straight time in New Mexico. Redistricting of the House, Senate, Public Regulations Commission and Congress, which happens every ten years after the census, has been the subject of partisan battles throughout the special session.

So far, none of the redistricting maps have had bipartisan support, beyond the House redistricting bill which received the vote of Hatch independent Andy Nunez. One Democrat, Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, voted against the legislation.

Republicans claim that Democrats have their fingers on the scales and are crafting districts that will make it more difficult for Republicans to win. Democrats say they have done nothing wrong and are drafting maps that follow the principle of equal representation and the precepts of the Voting Rights Act.

One example of the large differences can be seen in the respective House redistricting maps. The Democratic map moves districts from southeast New Mexico and central Albuquerque to Rio Rancho and Albuquerque’s westside to address the explosion in population in that area of the state — but the Republican plan moves a southeastern seat and a seat from north-central New Mexico.

The court battle when then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed the redistricting legislation passed by the legislature in 2001 cost the state more than $3 million.

House remap plan clears two committees, goes to House floor

By Matthew Reichbach

A redistricting map that would consolidate a district in southeast New Mexico and one east of the river in Albuquerque and move the seats to Rio Rancho and Albuquerque’s westside cleared two House committees and appears poised to pass the full House on a narrow vote.

The House Voters and Elections Committee Substitute to House Bill 39 passed the House Voters and Elections and House Judiciary committees on party-line votes. All Democrats voted for the bill and all Republicans voted against the bill.

Republicans in the House Voters and Elections committee, in front of a relatively-packed room, objected strongly to the legislation.

Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque) questioned Research & Polling, Inc. president Brian Sanderoff on what he was told by the members who crafted the maps. Gentry asked about possible political motivations that the crafters of the map may have had when drafting the legislation.

On a PRC redistricting bill last week, Gentry told Clearly New Mexico that the legislators did not have enough time to examine the map.

Floor Minority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants) chastised Gentry in the House Voters and Elections for what he viewed as overly aggressive line of questioning towards Sanderoff.

Gentry also asked Sanderoff about the legal principles of redistricting in the House Judiciary Committee.

“It seems for some purpose that Rep. Gentry is trying a case and I don’t know why,” Martinez said.

“In looking at my new district, which is a bright-red precinct, it seems as if the number one goal simply was to reduce my [political] performance,” Rep. Conrad James (R-Albuquerque) said, referring to Research and Polling’s political performance measure which looks at how candidates from each political parties in close statewide elections performed in each district.

Rep. Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) read performance numbers in the House Judiciary Committee and said that the Democratic proposal had more competitive districts, when it came to using the political performance measures. He also noted that Democrats could have made a larger number of districts with broad Democratic majorities.

“There is a lot that is being left on the table if the Democratic leadership in the House wanted to press its advantage,” Egolf said.

While most Native American tribes were on board with the legislation, the Navajo Nation expressed concern about some of the districts with Navajo majorities. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Trip Jennings, two Navajo members of the legislature are split on the bill. Rep. Ray Begaye (D-Shiprock) supports the legislation while Rep. Sandra Jeff (D-Crownpoint) opposes the legislation.

Begaye told Jennings that the opposition was not the consensus of the Navajo Nation but a “certain elite few.”

If the Republicans vote in a bloc against the legislation and the all Democrats but Jeff vote for the bill, as expected, Rep. Andy Nuñez, I-Hatch, will be the swing vote on the legislation.

Odd and Ends

  • All requests of the Legislative Council Service in drafting legislation are confidential between LCS and the member. This includes Research and Polling, as a contractor of LCS. The legislators were reminded of this in both committees.
  • The House had to go to the floor between committees to approve the committee reports from the House Voters and Elections Committee before the House Judiciary Committee could begin.
  • The committees also passed Senate Bill 24, which is a Public Regulations Commission redistricting map. The House Voters and Elections Committee amended the legislation to move one precinct back into District 3 from another district. The committee amended the bill instead of using a committee substitute as the legislature has been doing for redistricting legislation because the bill originated in the Senate.
  • Republican legislators were concerned that Tucumcari was split into three legislative districts. “In redistricting, not every town is a winner,” Sanderoff said, noting that Rio Rancho has been hard-hit in the past.

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.

Senate passes congressional, PRC redistricting maps

By Matthew Reichbach

The state Senate debated and passed two redistricting proposals Monday. The Senate passed redistricting maps for both the Public Regulations Commission and congressional districts on party-line votes Monday.

Republicans objected to both plans and for different reasons.

Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), who proposed the congressional plan, noted that her map brings the west-Albuquerque areas of Paradise Hills and Ventana Ranch into the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District. The village of Corrales and Placitas were also moved into the 1st Congressional District. All were previously located in the 3rd Congressional District.

The map would also move the rural counties of Torrance, Guadalupe and De Baca to the 3rd Congressional district.

Rural portions of Roosevelt county were moved from the 3rd Congressional District into the 2nd Congressional District.

Rio Rancho, the fastest-growing part of the state over the last decade, would remain in the 3rd Congressional District in the proposal.

The Republicans proposed their own congressional redistricting map as a floor substitute sponsored by Sen. Kent Cravens (R-Albuquerque), but it went down on another party line vote. It would have placed a portion of Albuquerque’s North Valley along Fourth Street into CD3 and a larger portion of the South Valley into CD2.

Democrats expressed concerns about the significant encroachments into the core of the Albuquerque metro area by both the northern New Mexico district (CD3) and the southern district (CD2).

Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) observed that under the Republican plan, all three congressmen could potentially live within 10 miles of his house.

Republicans had a number of objections to the Democratic proposal. Sen. Cravens, who was the Republican who introduced his own map, said that Torrance County has historically been a part of the 1st Congressional District and that it should remain in the district that is generally considered the Albuquerque district.

Public Regulations Commission map clears Senate

The PRC plan that the Senate passed had less debate but was still controversial to some.

A common complaint from Republicans was that the PRC map would assure that four of the five PRC commissioners are Democrats, basing their numbers off the Performance Measure that Brian Sanderoff adds to the plans. The performance measure averages the vote in statewide elections in each district.

“Anything over 54% is going to be a lock, we know that,” Cravens said during debate on the bill.

Cravens suggested that the House “Go back to the drawing board and take a look at these things and make it a little more fair.”

Odds and Ends

  • Sen. Clint Harden (R-Clovis) accidentally voted for the congressional map. It was changed afterward but Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Belen) said that the Senate wouldn’t allow such changes in the future.
  • The Traditional Values Action Committee, a socially conservative non-profit which is pro-life and opposes gay marriage, said that they met with Gov. Susana Martinez last week. Sen. Bill Sharer (R-Farmington) and Dennis Roch (R-Tucumcari) were also at the meeting according to the group.
  • Committees in both the House and Senate continued to meet throughout the day.
  • The buzzword of the day on the Senate floor was “communities of interest,” as members argued what a community of interest meant. Redistricting the Nation says, “The term can be taken to mean anything from ethnic groups to those with shared economic interests to users of common infrastructure to those in the same media market.”

House passes PRC redistricting bill

By Matthew Reichbach

The House of Representatives voted Monday morning to clear a Public Regulations Commission redistricting bill. The bill, which faced some controversy during the committee process,

The bill passed 37-33 along partisan lines. The House currently is composed of 36 Democrats, 1 DTS, and 33 Republicans.

Rep. William “Bill” Rehm, R-Albuquerque, expressed concern over the plan’s 1st PRC district. He said that since the plan has District 1 extending north out of Bernalillo County, that district will combine areas that do not have the same interests.

The PRC is made up of just five districts. Historically, this has meant that districts have by necessity been composed of a diverse range of communities.

The bill had little debate on the floor before passing the chamber.

The bill now goes over to the Senate. The Senate has its own redistricting plan which the whole body is scheduled to discuss and vote on Monday.

Afterwards, the House had a moment of silence for longtime Ute Mountain Tribal Council member Ernest House Sr., who passed away Saturday following a motorcycle crash.

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.