February 9, 2015

Independent redistricting commission fails in Senate committee

A piece of legislation that would put the decennial redistricting in New Mexico in the hands of an independent redistricting commission instead of the state legislature and governor failed in a Senate committee.

“This is big,” Sen. Bill O’Neill said in reference to the changes the legislation would make. “This is huge. This is seismic.”

The Senate Rules Committee voted overwhelmingly to table the bill, but not all because they disagreed with the bill itself or the sentiments the sponsor said brought him to introduce the legislation.

The legislation is that “both the legislature and the executive do not make the final determination on the lines when it comes to redistricting,” according to O’Neill. “Rather an independent commission makes that final decision.

Currently, the state legislature creates redistricting plans in a special session following the release of the U.S. Census numbers. The governor can then approve or veto the legislation. Each of the last two times New Mexico changed district lines, the governor vetoed the legislation and the lines were drawn by a judge.

The legislation, SJR 1, would require a constitutional amendment to change.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said he thought that O’Neill’s proposed constitutional amendment would just be “another way for the legislative body to just give up more power.”

“If we do this, all we do is write budgets and put up some really nice memorials,” Pirtle said.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, also said he opposed the legislation, but for a different reason.

“This very issue is in front of the U.S. Supreme Court right now,” Ivey-Soto said, referring to a case involving Arizona’s independent redistricting problem.

O’Neill told New Mexico Political Report that he knew he was “in trouble” when Ivey-Soto brought that up.

“Right now we threaten to put something on the ballot that may be unconstitutional and may not be done in a constitutional way,” Ivey-Soto said. He ended up voting against the legislation because of the implications of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“I went though this in 2010, I was part of the redistricting process and all I can tell you is that it is government at its worst,” O’Neill said following the committee hearing. “It’s not transparent, it’s backroom—and we’re not worse than any other states. I’m proud to be a New Mexican legislator, but we can do better.”

“I think you’re on the right track,” Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino said. “We’ll see what the Supreme Court says.”

O’Neill cited polling data from Common Cause that nearly 70 percent of New Mexicans support such a commission.

O’Neill admitted that the tabling for the third-year in a row was a blow to his morale, but said this wasn’t it for the legislation. He said that this year had the most discussion of the bill, however.

“I’ll be back next year,” O’Neill said. “I don’t feel like I’m Don Quixote. This is real.”