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Supporters push for independent redistricting

Legislative staffers set up Plexiglas dividers on the House floor in preparation for the start of the 60-day session. The dividers are intended as a safety precaution due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – About one-third of New Mexico’s legislators have signed on to a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent redistricting commission designed to reduce political influence in the drawing of congressional and legislative boundaries.

But the House version of the legislation has advanced through only one of the two committees it’s been assigned to so far. An identical measure in the Senate hasn’t received a hearing yet.

The lack of progress has supporters of the legislation fearing it won’t make it through both chambers in time to reach the governor in the next 30 days, or that they’ll face other roadblocks.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the Senate measure, said passage of the bill is critical to ensuring commonsense districts are drawn to reflect community interests, not political considerations.

“We want to have a system,” he said, “that the voter can have confidence in – and that should not include a criterion of incumbent protection.”

Republican Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences said Thursday that the independent redistricting legislation in the House has 30 co-sponsors in that chamber – just six short of a majority.

But it’s one of several bipartisan measures that, she said, simply “are not getting hearings.”

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Thursday that the redistricting legislation is in the queue and should be heard in its next committee, House Judiciary, late next week. The committee chairwoman, he said, usually takes up bills in roughly the order they arrive in her committee.

On the Senate side – where redistricting proposals have been assigned to start in the Rules Committee – the chairman, Democrat Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, said he is a strong supporter of an independent redistricting commission. There is no effort to hold back the bills, he said.

But Ivey-Soto, a lawyer, said legislators must scrutinize the independent redistricting legislation carefully. The state Constitution, he said, prohibits enacting a law that would require lawmakers to accept, say, a redistricting map without amendment. But his attempts to revise the Constitution in past sessions, he said, failed to advance.

“I don’t want – out of an abundance of enthusiasm for a de-politicized process – to start with a faulty legal premise that will guarantee a judge is going to throw it out,” Ivey-Soto said.

Democrats hold substantial majorities in both chambers at the Capitol and control the Governor’s Office, putting them in an unusually powerful position when new districts are drawn to reflect 2020 Census information. Court intervention has helped shape districts in recent decades after disagreement between Republican governors and Democratic legislative majorities.

House Bill 211 and Senate Bill 199 call for a seven-member redistricting commission designed to reduce political considerations. A retired justice or judge would lead the board, with members selected by the State Ethics Commission or party leaders in the House and Senate.

The commission would deliver proposed maps to the Legislature, which would pick one without amendment.

Senate Bill 15, sponsored by Ivey-Soto, would establish a legislative committee to propose districts. It hasn’t had a hearing yet.

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