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For ethics’ sake, we must redo the state redistricting commission

During our pandemic-borne podcast, EthicsNOW (www.ethicsnow.org), we asked guests what “ethics” meant to them. Collectively, guests spoke of honesty, integrity, keeping one’s word, thinking of the other not just ourselves, doing the right thing, creating equitable opportunities. High school students who responded to our essay contest prompt in 2019, “What does being ethical mean to you?” chose to write about many of the same things.

All of the work New Mexico Ethics Watch undertakes has the same goal: to improve the ethical culture in New Mexico – encouraging public officials, citizens, our youth to value ethics, to practice and demonstrate identifiable ethical principles and actions. New Mexico and New Mexicans will be better for this practice.

A recent Albuquerque Journal editorial, “Redistricting redux: Voters deserve a do-over,” published Sunday, June 13th, highlighted how far from the ethical mark committee appointers fell with regard to appointments to the newly-created Citizens Redistricting Committee. How, in practice, the appointments, collectively, did not hold to a high bar reflecting integrity, keeping one’s word, thinking of the other, doing the right thing and creating equitable opportunities. Although the editorial only mentioned the word “ethics” in the State Ethics Commission’s title, the failure in practice can be called an ethical failure.

It is true that the Redistricting Act did not mandate coordination or networking between the appointing authorities – various lawmakers and the State Ethics Commission – but, as the Journal editorial points out, the Redistricting Act calls for appointments “with due regard to the cultural and geographic diversity of the state.”

As an appointing authority – particularly if you’ve voted on the legislation, but hopefully even if not – you are aware of what is essentially a pledge or a promise to appoint a culturally and geographically diverse group of citizens. But we did not get that with the appointed committee. Instead, we got a committee made up of six men and one woman, a committee with no Native American or African American members, a committee where six of the seven members live in Albuquerque, and the seventh in nearby Belen.

How is that equitable? How is that ethical? How is that representative of the state? It’s not. And so, the Journal proposes a do-over. Might a tangent to ethical principles be the ability to admit when something has gone wrong and to take the care and consideration to try again for a better result?

Cynics might say that the Citizens Redistricting Committee, with its lack of ability to impose map choices upon lawmakers, is just for show, has no power, was a compromise without teeth that lets lawmakers trumpet – or even whisper – their support for ethical, nonpartisan redistricting. Even if this is so, why don’t we let our public officials know that it matters to us – New Mexicans, citizens, voters – and that we want to hold legislators to their word and have them act more ethically in appointing a diverse, representative committee? We can and we should.

As far as who goes and who stays in this do-over? While the appointment of retired Justice Edward Chávez to chair the committee is unassailable, lawmakers would do well to appoint people from outside central New Mexico, a Native American member and an African American member, reflecting our cultural and geographic diversity.

The particulars are up to the appointing authorities, but creating a more transparent selection process, like that undertaken by the State Ethics Commission, and using that process in a coordinated, second attempt at creating the Citizens Redistricting Committee will assist in building trust among the public – a public wary of politics and that is most likely tired of political “business as usual.”




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