Reluctantly, painfully, every 10 years we suffer through politicians, lawyers and ultimately judge(s) deciding political election boundaries for house and senate seats and U.S. congressional districts. It takes almost two years, ends in court and no one is happy when it’s done, least of all citizens in the districts.
That’s because political parties are trying to either defend their territory or expand, trying to grab a neighborhood or two that is dominated by their party. Redistricting has nothing to do with fair representation and equal distribution of citizens. It has everything to do with what the party in power wants.
Poor Emilio Naranjo, Godfather of all things Republican but labeled Democrat, lost his seat because a sliver of Los Alamos County was tossed into his District 5 senate seat. Art Rodarte worked that group of Anglo Republicans and took Naranjo’s coveted seat.
Unusual population groupings such as Naranjo’s downfall are more common than not. To get around politicians and lawyers, a bi-partisan committee was formed to come up with rules for redistricting. We’re not suggesting the rules would be followed by Ds or Rs but it’s a start.
We were reminded of the way redistricting is handled politically when Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell beat Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, in the November general election for the District 2 seat.
State House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, made the remark along the lines of the District being Republican now but redistricting is coming. When called out on the comment, he said it was an innocuous remark about the changing populations inside districts and who knows what the district will look like in 2022.
Most everyone read into his comment the threatening overtone of “We’ll get you and your little dog too.”
Columnist Merritt Hamilton Allen volunteered for the committee and wrote a great column, published in last week’s Rio Grande SUN. In her column she states a 25-member task force worked for 12 weeks and arrived at what reads as a fair set of guidelines to create an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw the new lines. The impetus of the committee is to draft a bill that would force politicians and lawyers to do what the public wants, instead of drawing lines to meet sitting elected officials’ desires.
Hamilton Allen’s short list of requirements boasted common sense and fairness. Of course that dooms it in the Roundhouse. But here’s her list:
• equitable representation by population,
• full compliance with the Voting Rights Act,
• indigenous governances,
• communities of interest,
• integrity of governmental subdivisions,
• preserving the cores of existing districts,
• contiguity and compactness, and
• geographic barriers and features.
An honest person, with an eye toward voters’ interests and New Mexico’s future would embrace that list. You’d think. But not most of those who populate the Roundhouse, at least not the ones in power.
House Bill 211 was drafted by two former New Mexico State Supreme Court judges. Their bill creates the State Redistricting Commission based on these recommendations.
It is sponsored by several Democrat and Republican representatives.
The bill populates the Commission with one commissioner appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, one commissioner appointed by the minority floor leader of the house of representatives, one commissioner appointed by the president pro tempore of the senate, one commissioner appointed by the minority floor leader of the senate, two commissioners appointed by the State Ethics Commission (who shall not be members of the largest or second largest political parties in the state), one commissioner appointed by the State Ethics Commission (who shall be a retired justice of the New Mexico supreme court, or a retired judge of the New Mexico court of appeals. The last position would be the chairperson.
That’s a group of diverse people. Issue boxing gloves at the door.
Without getting bogged down in minutiae, this is a great idea and would work well, left to their own devices.
The bill flew through the House ethics committee. It now sits in the House Judiciary Committee, and is not even on the calendar to be heard.
The Committee is chaired by longtime representative Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo. Chasey is a lawyer. The Committee is co-chaired by Egolf, another attorney. We question whether these two really want fair redistricting.
Citizens deserve, really need balanced and fair redistricting. It determines how we’re represented. The right thing for legislators to do is give a real opportunity to this well thought out process of the citizen committee creating the guidelines and two State Supreme Court judges drafting the legislation.
Representatives must put political aspirations and personal needs aside and do the right thing. Pass this out of House Judiciary and get it to the House floor where the people can hear how their representatives will vote on it.