The Roundhouse will be full of cards next week. And maybe the next week.
State lawmakers will use them to find a rare, perhaps unattainable, treasure – a redistribution plan that will satisfy state and federal mandates and avoid litigation.
But the redistribution won’t be the only difficult issue lawmakers face in a special session that begins at noon Monday.
The legislature will also deal with the controversial appropriation of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a process that has already involved courts and controversy after lawmakers from both political parties teamed up for a lawsuit against Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. to determine which branch of government has the power to allocate federal funds.
The collision of mapping, politics and pressure should make for an interesting session – one that will almost certainly have long-term ramifications.
It’s a story that only grabs people’s attention once every 10 years. Indeed, based on federal census data collected each decade, states are required to draw new district boundaries for various political entities to reflect population changes.
In New Mexico, that means lawmakers will select new map lines for New Mexico’s three United States House Districts, the Legislature, and the Public Education Commission.
The stakes are high across the country, as the redistribution can determine which party holds political power, with implications for 10 years or more.
Additionally – and this is where it gets bumpy – New Mexico has a long history of redistributing lawsuits, with arguments that the process – and the cards – was unfair.
Litigation generally leaves it to the courts to draw the lines.
“There is always the possibility of a trial,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe said last week. “I guess there probably will be.”
Senator Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, also acknowledged the possibility.
“The last two [efforts] resulted in legal action. I don’t think it will be any different this time, “he said.” Whatever cards are decided, there will be legal action – someone will be upset. “
In 2012, New Mexico districts were randomly selected by a state district judge after the then government. Susana Martinez, a Republican, vetoed a redistribution plan drafted by a Democrat-controlled legislature following the 2010 census. Court costs associated with legal disputes ranged between $ 6 million and $ 7 million, according to the officials. media of the time.
But advocates of good government who helped advance a process that included public forums and soliciting dozens of cards through a constituency committee of citizens, hope this year will be different, Mason said, the director of the constituency project for the League of New Mexico Women Voters.
“We want to be as open as possible,” he said before noting, “We cannot control what goes on behind caucus doors.”
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat who participated in the legislative redistribution process a decade ago, said he believed the process would be more open in the past, in part because of changes made by technology.
“We need to publish the proposed maps as the committees start to discuss them,” he said. “And with our virtual capacity so extensive, I think we’ll have plenty of opportunities for the audience to see what we’re talking about, see what’s coming out of caucuses and what’s on offer, and then weigh in.”
In other words, if members of the public show up.
While the redistribution attracts the attention of politicians, members of the media, open government advocacy groups, and others most likely to be affected by the relocation of constituencies or district boundaries, it is not. not clear whether large segments of the public will also be interested.
“Most people don’t even know we’re going to be having a special session next week,” said Ortiz y Pino. “I’ve had people calling me all week to meet me next week, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to have a special session next week.’ And they ask, “Why are you going to a special session?” “
More than one reason
Well, money – and a lot of money – is the second reason.
In mid-November, the state’s Supreme Court sided with lawmakers in their lawsuit against the governor, saying it was up to the legislature to decide how to spend the remaining $ 1.1 billion federal aid. The state has already allocated about $ 600,000 of these funds to bolster the state’s unemployment insurance fund, which had been depleted by high unemployment rates caused by the pandemic.
But late last week, it was revealed that Lujan Grisham’s administration had used those funds to make two payments totaling around $ 283,000, which sparked fire from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. His administration said those payments took place before the Supreme Court handed down its ruling and that the credits would be canceled.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, agree federal funds should be focused on one-time projects rather than recurring spending.
Baca said the money can be used for state infrastructure projects, such as improving or building new roads and bridges. He said he would rather see the money spent that way rather than “make the government grow, create new agencies that are not needed.”
Wirth said the money must be used up by 2026 and the legislature does not have to allocate everything during this special session.
“There is no reason why we have to grab the money all at once,” he said, adding that lawmakers can also use the regular legislative session, which is due to start in January, to do it.
He said lawmakers would seek advice from the legislative finance committee and the governor’s office on how best to spend the money.
“I don’t think it makes sense to fund a bunch of new programs that haven’t been approved,” Wirth said.
Mapping the territory – once again
Plans for the special session on redistribution began during the 60-day legislative session last year, when a number of lawmakers put forward ideas for the creation of the Citizen Redistribution Committee to solicit, d ‘review and choose cards for the legislature to consider. The redistribution law passed by this legislature and enacted by Lujan Grisham still gives the legislature the ultimate right to choose, modify or reject these maps.
This redistribution committee held a number of public meetings and looked at dozens of maps proposed by citizens, rights groups, Native American communities and others. The committee was tasked with a variety of marks to hit, all ending with a desire to avoid gerrymandering – which would allow cards that would favor one game over another.
In mid-October, the committee selected three cards each for Congress, the State Senate, the State House of Representatives, and the Committee on Public Education.
That’s just 12 cards 112 lawmakers can look at, right?
Lawmakers also have the right to come up with their own cards. Some, including Republicans Ron Griggs and William Burt, who represent the Alamagordo region, are looking to come up with a map that would change the boundaries of the three proposed Senate maps, which currently places them in the same district.
This situation, known as the starting matchmaking, means that if neither Griggs nor Burt retires or leaves the district, the two will face off in next year’s GOP primary. Burt said he and Griggs are working on crafting a card that respects the integrity of the redistribution committee action while unraveling the challenge of matching the holder.
They aren’t the only two lawmakers caught up in the outgoing twins. Albuquerque Democrats Senators Bill O’Neill and Katy Duhigg are in the same boat. O’Neill said this week it was “ironic” that this had happened to him, given that he was one of the main sponsors of a redistribution committee bill.
“Twinning should be a last resort in my opinion, but something that is sometimes necessary,” he said. Like Republicans in Alamogordo, O’Neill said he and Duhigg were discussing a way to remedy the situation, although he said he did not have details yet.
“It’s like a puzzle,” he said. “You move a district or a constituency to a part of the state and it affects them all.”
The policy of self-interest
There are other potential issues that could arise during the recutting session. In a July 2020 Retake Our Democracy podcast, Ortiz y Pino and Senator Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, spoke about the infighting that occurs not only between the two main political parties but within a party.
“It’s a lot more of a night fight in the trenches when it gets to the caucus level – fights that happen when you’re trying to make sure your district is perfect for your election,” Moores said in this podcast. “And the horse trading and fighting going on at that level is much more intense than the conflict between Republicans and Democrats.”
When asked if she had seen lawmakers working to protect their own territory in previous redistribution sessions, Representative Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, replied succinctly, “Absolutely. That’s the truth.”
Senator George Muñoz, D-Gallup, put it this way:
Ortiz y Pino said the changes in the legislature, including many new faces that weren’t there for the redistribution efforts of a decade ago, could be a breath of fresh air.
“It’s kind of new ground for all of us,” he said. “I have been impressed with the conversations I have had with colleagues about their desire to be open-minded about this, to see their neighborhood remodeled in a fair way – although it may make it more difficult for them to ‘get re-elected. ”
The duration of the session is unknown, particularly now that spending for federal relief funds is on the table. Most lawmakers are preparing to be on Capitol Hill until December 19, although the League of Mason Women Voters doesn’t think it’s necessary.
“They could make it work very easily and quickly, if they just adopted the [citizens committee] cards, ”he laughed.