February 3, 2016

Proposal to take politics out of redistricting moves forward

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

A stripped down proposal that seeks to take partisanship and politics out of the redistricting process, as much as possible, passed its first test.

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

The State House of Representatives redistricting map adopted in 2011.

The proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Carl Trujillo cleared the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote on Wednesday.

The committee heard the bill for a second time, but in a very different form. Last week, members of the committee felt that the language was too detailed for the constitution. They instead preferred that specifics be left for “enabling legislation” that is in statute and not in the constitution. That legislation would only occur if the constitutional amendment passes.

Trujillo, a Democrat from Santa Fe, agreed and came back with the stripped down version.

“Some of it was dates, some of it was process where we could take care of it in the enabling legislation,” Trujillo told NM Political Report. “The new bill still formulates a redistricting commission, an independent redistricting commission, and we’re going to worry about taking care of some of the formalities or the procedural type stuff in the enabling legislation.”

The legislation calls for a five-person redistricting commission, with two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent. The independent would be chosen by the other four members and serve as the chair of the committee.

The redistricting commission would draw lines for State House and Senate, Congressional and Public Regulation Commission districts. Currently, the legislature draws those districts every ten years and they then must get approval from the governor.

In the past two redistricting sessions, the governor vetoed redistricting proposals and the lines were instead drawn by a judge.

Supporters say this would save the state money, as redistricting court costs

Trujillo said at the outset of the committee that if there were any parts that he removed from the original legislation that they would like back in, he would accept that.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, had one such section that he felt should remain in the bill.

The section outlined the priorities that an independent redistricting commission would follow while drawing boundaries that comply with federal law and say that “district boundaries shall be contiguous and relatively compact and, to the extent practicable, respect communities of interest and follow visible geographic features and municipal, county and other established political boundaries.”

Maestas said he thought that language was appropriate for the state constitution and said, “I think these principles trump partisan gerrymandering.”

A recent United States Supreme Court decision said that an independent redistricting commission in Arizona did not violate the U.S. Constitution, paving the way for New Mexico to explore such a commission.

PRC changes

A proposed constitutional amendment that would again reshape the PRC passed the committee with only two dissenting votes.

This proposal would make the PRC an appointed regulatory body instead of an elected body.

Trujillo sponsored a version as did Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. The two versions were very similar, and so they worked together on a substitute version.

Trujillo noted that the PRC used to be appointed. “We used to actually have an appointed commission for utilities,” he said.

The proposal would have Legislative Council select three nominees from each of the five PRC districts. Then, the governor would pick from that list. The positions would be subject to Senate confirmation.

Other details would be left for enabling legislation.

Bandy said he wanted to make the proposed constitutional amendment “as short and sweet as possible.”

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, expressed opposition, using the example of Lynda Lovejoy, the PRC commissioner in his district.

“When her position comes up, she’s going to be asking for votes from members of the Legislature from all over the state and not just from her district,” Alcon said.

Alcon and Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, voted against the proposal.

Both bills now head to the House Judiciary Committee.

If the proposals pass the House and Senate, they would then go to voters for approval.