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Legislators made sacrifices to ensure our right to vote

A recent Saturday, I got to watch my boys’ soccer game. I cheered them on with the other soccer dads, moms and grandparents. Afterward we enjoyed lunch and wandered the Farmers’ Market.

I know of several other mothers whose children’s soccer-Saturday was cut short.

Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque took her son to his soccer game, but she didn’t get to watch him play the second half because she had to rush to Santa Fe for the redistricting session. She is not the only one who didn’t get to see their kids or grandkids’ run, race or revel in victory over the last few weeks. Rep. James Strickler missed his son’s football game. Sen. George Munoz from Gallup missed watching his kids compete in roping contests.

These legislators gave up their jobs for three weeks. They gave up their evening dinners with their families. They gave up time with their kids, taking them to school or picking them up from practice to come to Santa Fe to engage in one of the most important constitutional exercises our Legislature faces every 10 years — ensuring that every citizen’s vote is equal.

Redistricting is mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution so that you and I, and all of our communities, can be fairly represented in Congress and in the state Legislature. I participated in this constitutional exercise on behalf of several New Mexico pueblos and tribes.

There were those politicians or pundits who attacked the Legislature for wasting money or wasting time. I think that is the wrong approach. Instead, I looked at the legislators through a prism that believes that our democracy and our societal health are dependent on the cooperative and generous nature of individuals.

Indeed, as science has proven, it is the very nature of our ancestors’ cooperation that led to our evolutionary gains.

Arguably, there were those legislators over the last few weeks who acted selfishly, who thought solely of themselves and their political future. There were many more who thought of a greater good — for their political party, for constituents, for communities or groups of color who were often not their own. In this redistricting session, the most personal of all legislative exercises, there were those who proved themselves generous beyond belief.

But regardless of where any individual legislator fell on the selfish to generous scale, I found myself admiring each and every one of them for their service.

These are, after all, citizen legislators. They are not paid. They are not full-time employees of the state. They receive no paycheck, no benefits, no health care and often no gratitude for their work.

Wherever they sit on the political scale — from progressive Democrat to conservative Republican — none benefits in comparison to the long, demanding hours they put in on behalf of the state of New Mexico.

I went home after spending 10 or 12 hours working, negotiating on maps or testifying in committee. The legislators, on the other hand, stayed for hours, long past my children’s bedtime, in floor sessions, in caucus or bipartisan meetings — important exercises in consensus building that we might improperly dismiss as merely partisan.

Whether we believe the Legislature did the right thing during this special redistricting session in the maps they drew, debated and adopted, I offer up that their volunteer work should be applauded.

Without these volunteers’ willingness to contribute their time, we would be without the legislative branch of our state government. Without them, we could not process our different political viewpoints in a civilized manner.

Too often we fail to truly appreciate the people who keep our communities and our state working. So I give my thanks to the 112 legislators who came to Santa Fe for three weeks, and are now free to go home to their families and their lives.

Teresa Leger de Fernandez is writing a book titled “The City Generous” about the power of cooperative work, generosity and volunteerism.