Senate halts work amid redistricting talks with Native leaders - Albuquerque Journal

Senate halts work amid redistricting talks with Native leaders

Eli Cuna, center, and Matilde Miranda, right, from Albuquerque, and around 125 others rallied Monday in support of the People’s Map — a plan for congressional redistricting — outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Some participants also urged lawmakers to stick with legislative redistricting plans backed by Native American tribal leaders. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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SANTA FE – A week after it began, a fast-moving special session ran aground Monday as New Mexico legislators paused to focus on private negotiations with Native American leaders – who had objected to a plan for redrawing legislative boundaries.

The halt came on the Senate side, where a floor session was at first postponed and then canceled for the day.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, met with tribal officials for seven hours at the Capitol to go over redistricting proposals for the 42-member state Senate.

The talks came after pueblo governors and other tribal officials abruptly walked out of a hearing Sunday when a Senate committee voted against a map reflecting a delicate consensus among more than 20 tribes.

The committee advanced an alternative plan with bipartisan support that would ensure two Republican incumbents wouldn’t end up in the same district – a vote that divided the Senate Democratic caucus.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart backed the bipartisan proposal, and Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez supported the Native consensus plan. Stewart and Lopez are both Albuquerque Democrats.

In an interview Monday, Stewart said she is optimistic the extra time will help the Senate reach agreement with tribal governmental leaders on a map for the chamber.

“We’ve just paused,” she said, “and we’re going to continue to consult and collaborate with them, even if it take 24 hours, day and night.”

After talks wrapped up Monday evening, tribal leaders suggested they are holding firm to the consensus plan they developed over the course of eight months of negotiations.

Casey Douma, a Laguna Pueblo attorney and co-chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors’ redistricting committee, said Native leaders have focused on the principles outlined in the Legislature’s own guidelines for redistricting work by a state committee, de-emphasizing consideration of where incumbents live.

“Preserving communities of interest, respect for self-determination and increasing the opportunity to elect candidates of our choice have always been at the forefront of our redistricting principles,” Douma said. “Protecting a seat of a sitting senator wasn’t one of those priorities.”

Regis Pecos, a member of the Cochiti Tribal Council and former Cochiti Pueblo governor, said it was important for legislators to recognize the work of tribal leaders and avoid the history of “paternalism and arrogance that somebody else knows what’s best for us.”

At stake for legislators is the potential pairing of Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen and Sen. Joshua Sanchez of Bosque into one district, a change that would force them to run against each other or move to keep a seat in the Legislature.

There is also debate over where to place Senate district boundaries in the Gallup area and northwestern New Mexico.

Wirth said he would deliver an update to Senate Democrats on potential next steps. He was one of about seven senators who participated in talks throughout the day.

Wirth described the meeting as a “very productive, respectful discussion about the various options.”

Legislation on hold

The pause in Senate work follows a much faster pace last week. A new congressional map, for example, won final approval from the Legislature on Saturday and is on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The House also has approved a redistricting map for its 70 seats, legislation that would make technical changes to the state’s medical malpractice law and a budget measure that would authorize the spending of about a half billion in federal stimulus funds.

Those proposals are awaiting action on the Senate side.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told members of his chamber Monday to be ready to act if the Senate makes changes to the House-approved legislation, requiring it to come back to the House again for agreement.

“We don’t know when the Senate is going to get back on track, so to speak,” he told House members Monday morning. “I wish we had more certainty about what’s happening in the other chamber, but we just don’t, so we’ll have to be flexible.”

Christmas carols played over the speakers in the House chamber at one point Monday as most seats sat empty.

Redistricting rally

Outside the Capitol, about 125 people marched, chanted and rallied – in English, Spanish and Indigenous languages – to support the congressional map adopted by the Legislature.

The “People’s Power, People’s Maps” coalition said the legislation reflects the principles outlined in their own proposal, designed in part to amplify the voices of Hispanic voters in southern New Mexico.

The proposed map heading to the governor would split Albuquerque into two congressional districts and establish a Democratic lean for all three of New Mexico’s seats. Republican lawmakers opposed the bill, contending it would dilute the voting strength of rural residents and divide communities of interest.

The proposal, Senate Bill 1, was approved largely along party lines in both chambers, where Democrats hold large majorities.

Next steps

Wirth said the Senate is ready to act on the House-approved budget legislation and other priorities following the redistricting consultation with tribes.

Stewart said action on medical malpractice legislation – necessary, physicians say to ensure outpatient clinics can continue to operate after Dec. 31 – remains on the Senate’s to-do list.

Attorneys for the Senate, she said, were evaluating the proposal, House Bill 11, to determine whether changes are necessary.

A coalition of doctors, lawyers and patient advocates is asking lawmakers for emergency approval of the bill to ensure independent physicians can continue to work at hospitals and to allow small clinics to stay open after Dec. 31. The changes are needed to respond to legal liability questions raised by insurance carriers, the coalition says.

The special session began Dec. 6. It doesn’t have a specific end date, though by law it must end within 30 days.

Members of the House, at one point, thought they’d finish their work within a week. Instead they spent much of Monday waiting around while senators had closed-door meetings.

“I’m ready to go home,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup.

Dan Boyd of the Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this article.


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