Weary of court drama, gerrymandering opponents shift their strategy

Discouraged by seemingly endless court battles, gerrymandering opponents in some states are shifting their strategy two years before the 2020 census sparks another round of redistricting for legislative seats. Voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah will decide in November whether to have independent commissioners, rather than state lawmakers, draw congressional maps and the lines for state legislative seats. Except for Colorado, where lawmakers added the ballot measure, activists got these initiatives on the ballot by gathering signatures. And earlier this year, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that requires bipartisan support for new lines, though the power to draw them returns to the majority party if several redistricting attempts fail. The new system goes into effect in 2021.

Safe Passage: Getting wildlife where they need to go

It can be scary to drive at night in rural New Mexico. There aren’t lights to see who might be on the side of the road, ready to race or saunter across. While we’re zooming along a ribbon of highway at 75 or 80 miles per hour—sometimes in a line of cars, sometimes all alone out on the highway—often, there are owls hunting, foxes looking for mice in the grassy median, coyotes bringing food home to the den, or elk on their way to water or higher ground. Even during the day, pronghorn or deer might dart across the road. When a car collides with an animal, it’s bad news for everyone.

More than 400 kids remain separated from their parents. Here’s one lawyer’s long-shot plan to reunite a family

Despite a legal team that includes celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy separated from his father under Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy remains in a shelter in Baytown with no end in sight. Byron Xol Bol, who was detained with his father after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas in May, is one of 416 separated children who have yet to be reunited with their parents, as attorneys scramble to untangle the details of the cases and the government fails to meet court-ordered deadlines to reunify the children with their families. The Trump administration launched a zero-tolerance policy earlier this year that led to more than 2,500 children being separated from their families, including the Xols. President Trump walked back the policy in June after public outcry, and signed an executive order on June 20 that essentially reverted to the prior “catch and release” policy that the president had criticized. Byron Xol is among more than 300 children whose parents have been deported, making reunification even more challenging.

States see energy boom along with economic expansion

An oil and gas bonanza in Southwestern states may be helping to drive the continuing national economic boom. The nation’s 4.2 percent growth in GDP, estimated last month by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, is the highest quarterly growth since 2014. State estimates aren’t due until mid-November, but many experts see oil and natural gas drilling, driven by higher prices, as a leading reason. “The states that contribute most might be the ones with strong increases in energy production,” including Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, said Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan and an economic analyst for the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. GDP measures gross domestic product, or the value of all goods and services produced in a given period of time.

NM Supreme Court strikes down straight-party voting

The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously struck down a controversial proposal to add a straight-party option to November’s ballot. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced last month that she would reinstate an option on November’s ballot to allow people to vote for all candidates of a given party with one mark on the ballot. That decision was challenged by the Libertarian and Republican parties of New Mexico, along with a Utah-based political action committee, a non-profit advocate group for independent candidates and one Democratic write-in candidate. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura called it a tough decision, but said only state lawmakers can add add straight-party voting to the ballot. “Until the legislature makes a decision one way or the other, the Secretary of State cannot,” Nakamura said.