January 29, 2016

Independent redistricting commission needs more work

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The State House of Representatives redistricting map adopted ahead of 2012 elections.

A proposed constitutional amendment on creating an independent redistricting commission had support but consensus that more work is needed in the House, Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Monday.

The State House of Representatives redistricting map adopted ahead of 2012 elections.

The State House of Representatives redistricting map adopted ahead of 2012 elections.

The committee is the first stop on the way for constitutional amendments that originate in the House. Constitutional amendments go to the voters for approval if they clear both the House and Senate; the governor does not get a say in them.

Most of the discussion in the committee came on a proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, that would create an independent redistricting commission and take the process out of the hands of the Legislature.

Trujillo echoed something that President Barack Obama said during the State of the State, “Politicians shouldn’t choose their voters, that voters should choose their politicians.”

Much of the discussion focused on the scope of the proposed constitutional amendment, specifically how much of the amendment should go in front of voters and how much should be left up to legislators later to fill in the details.

This requires what is called “enabling legislation” and was used recently in legislation to reform the Public Regulation Commission, where a constitutional amendment passed, but details were then passed the next year by the Legislature. In other words, basic framework would go in the constitution but how to do it would be filled in with statute, which can be more easily changed if needed.

The consensus from the committee was Trujillo’s proposal was “overdue” but needed more work; Trujillo agreed to bring the legislation back on Monday with a revised proposal, likely a shorter version.

Trujillo said that if they wanted to put all the information in the amendment they could make it 30 pages, but putting something that long in the Constitution would be problematic.

“I would like it to be a paragraph,” Trujillo said.

“Try to take much of the partisan bickering out and redraw these districting lines that are gerrymandered to not make much sense,” he said. He cited districts that look like “Chile,” presumably meaning the lengthy and skinny South American country and not the crop.

“We just think it’s really good for trust in government that we enact this and send it to the people and let them vote on it,” Bill Jordan of New Mexico Voices for Children said in support of the bill.

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, seemed skeptical about some things, including on the true cost of redistricting under the current process. Trujillo said that the last redistricting cost the state over $7 million, after the issue went to court and a judge ultimately drew the new districts.

“The total cost of the redistricting itself was far, far, far from the $7 million,” Alcon said. “The costs were the court costs.”

“A little bit of compromise would have saved the state of New Mexico at least $5 million,” Alcon said.

Overall, legislators appeared to want this to move forward, in some form.

“I’m upset that you didn’t come to me and let me sign onto this bill,” Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, said.

“This is an idea that is long overdue,’ Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said.

He said that he thought a lot of what was in there he felt should not be in the constitution and should instead be in statute, but that the overall idea should be in the constitution.

This idea seemed to win the day, and Trujillo agreed to go back and work with legislators to come up with another version.

Maestas said the idea was important and said that Washington, which has this already, “They don’t have districts that look like roadkill.”

A proposed constitutional amendment that had less success was brought forward by Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque. Martinez’s proposal would allow automatic voter registration.

He said that if New Mexico passed this, they would become the third in the nation to pass such legislation.

Alcon was concerned about language that said, “the state shall ensure that all qualified electors are registered to vote for each election, except for those who affirmatively choose not to be registered.”

He did not think it was possible for the state to ensure this. This language was amended to say that the state “shall take adequate and reasonable action to ensure.”

Even after the passage of that amendment, the bill failed on a party-line vote, with all Republicans voting against it.

The committee also heard a proposed amendment on an independent ethics commission, which passed unanimously. Chairman Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, indicated that they would need to come in on Saturday to hear more constitutional amendments that are on the agenda.

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