Kathleen Burke of Fair Districts for New Mexico
By ROBERT NOTT
Three bills lighting the way for the creation of a redistricting plan in New Mexico are waiting for their moment in the legislative spotlight.
But as the legislative clock moves closer to deadline — Thursday was the midway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session — supporters and sponsors of some of those bills worry they might not get a hearing in time.
Kathleen Burke, project director of Fair Districts for New Mexico, an Albuquerque advocacy group pushing for a fair redistricting plan, said she doesn’t want to see Senate Bill 199 “go where legislation goes to die”.
Like its mirror image in the House of Representatives — House Bill 211 — SB 199 would create a seven-member redistricting commission and lay out requirements for choosing members.
It also would require the commission to hold at least six public meetings to generate input and would give it the responsibility of coming up with a number of options for redistricting.
The commission then would deliver those plans to the Legislature, which would act on redistricting during a special session later this year. The Legislature could select one plan without amendment and present it to the governor for approval.
But if the Legislature cannot agree on a redistricting plan, it will be required by law to select the plan the commission says best satisfies the requirements of the Redistricting Act.
A different piece of legislation, SB 15, would create a 16-member commission made up of state lawmakers who would come up with a plan for the Legislature to consider adopting. The political makeup of that commission would be proportionate to the number of Democrats and Republicans serving in the Legislature.
Democrats hold a large advantage over Republicans in both chambers, so there would be more Democrats on that commission.
Redistricting redraws electoral district boundaries for Congress, the state Legislature and the Public Education Commission based on census data. The goal is to make those districts as equitable as possible in terms of size and population.
Earlier this month, members of the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted to move HB 211 to the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Rebecca Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences and one of the original sponsors of the bill, said some 35 lawmakers from both political parties have since signed on as co-sponsors.
Meanwhile, the two Albuquerque sponsors of SB 199 — Republican Mark Moores and Democrat Jerry Ortiz y Pino — are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.
Ivey-Soto also is the sponsor of SB 15.
Ivey-Soto said he plans to schedule a hearing for both Senate bills in his committee within a week or so. He said compromise between the two bills is likely.
He said he supports an independent redistricting commission but questions the provision in the two competing bills that requires the Legislature to accept the commission’s recommendation if the legislative body cannot choose a plan itself.
“That’s not constitutional,” he said, citing a statute in Article IV of the state constitution that says, “No bill shall be passed except by a vote of a majority of the members present in each house, nor unless on its final passage a vote be taken by yeas and nays.”
He said nothing in the law mandates that legislators be involved in the redistricting process.
“Nothing stops any group interested in the independent redistricting process from making a proposal to the Legislature,” he said. “We don’t have to be part of a push for a commission.”
Former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez, a supporter of SB 199 and HB 211, said he wants to see the issue resolved by the end of the legislative session so a commission can start working on a plan for approval by year’s end.
He said he is not a fan of Ivey-Soto’s bill because it leaves the power to redistrict in the hands of politicians who stand to lose if the makeup of their district changes enough to include voters who may oppose them.
“This is about the voters. It’s not about the legislators,” he said.
Voting districts in New Mexico were last drawn in 2012 by a state District Court after then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, vetoed a redistricting plan drafted by a Legislature with a majority of Democrats following the 2010 census.
Given the 2020 census data is not expected to be released until early autumn, it’s unlikely the special session to choose a new plan would take place before November.