Everybody around the state Capitol seems to have a favorite example. There’s the state House district in Northern New Mexico that is split in two by a mountain range and wilderness. You couldn’t drive across it if you tried. Then there’s the state Senate district that stretches some 180 miles from Santa Fe to Ruidoso. When it comes to political districts that have been precisely if nonsensically contorted, the New Mexico Legislature has got some real doozies.
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.
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 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.
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 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.”
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.