Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday vetoed the Legislature’s plans for redistricting of the state House and Senate, saying they were drafted to serve the political purposes of Democrats.
The Republican governor said in veto messages that the Democratic plans for the House and Senate packed too many voters into urban districts, particularly in the Albuquerque area, effectively leaving them underrepresented. She said the packing was done “in order to promote partisan goals.”
The state Democratic Party chairman, Javier Gonzales, said in response, “Democrat legislators refused to rig the next decade of elections in Republicans favor, and that’s not what Susana Martinez wanted, so now she is sending us into an unnecessary court battle costing taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Martinez contended in a news release that, “The Democratic leaders chose to pack thousands more New Mexicans in the districts of certain areas, including Albuquerque and its fast-growing West Side, in the House plan, to avoid creating new districts that would provide New Mexicans with the representation they deserve.
“That tactic is clearly unconstitutional, and I have no choice but to veto these plans,” Martinez said.
Martinez also vetoed the Legislature’s plan for redistricting of the state Public Regulation Commission, which oversees utilities.
Martinez said she vetoed the PRC bill because one of the state’s five districts, District 3, has 35,000 more people than another, District 5.
“In the context of this redistricting plan, these deviations are improper dilutions of the votes of certain New Mexicans,” Martinez said in the PRC veto message.
In anticipation of Martinez’s vetoes, Republicans and Democrats filed lawsuits in state district courts within days of the Legislature adjourning its redistricting session on Sept. 24. Judges might end up doing the necessary, 2010 Census-based redistricting before the 2012 election.
In the state House and Senate redistricting adopted by the Legislature’s controlling Democrats, slightly higher population numbers in many urban districts fell within a 5 percent population deviation that has been upheld by prior court decisions. Martinez argued, however, that the Supreme Court has ruled that use of those deviations to avoid moving an incumbent’s district is unconstitutional.
In the state House redistricting plan, Martinez said, Democrats should have added a third district around Albuquerque’s West Side or Rio Rancho — areas that have had huge amounts of growth in the past decade.
“However, for purely partisan reasons, the Democratic leadership refused to consolidate Democratic districts in north-central New Mexico to provide the justified third West Side district,” Martinez said.
The north-central area of the state has long been a Democratic stronghold and consolidating districts in that region would probably mean fewer Democratic senators and representatives in the Legislature.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Námbe, said the House redistricting bill met all constitutional requirements, including getting the blessing of Native American groups across the state.
Lujan said the House bill was fair to both political parties, as it paired — or combined two incumbents into one district — one Democratic district and one Republican district to create two new districts in the West Side of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
“If anyone chose to make it partisan, it is probably her and her staff,” Lujan said, referring to the governor.
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, said Martinez’s complaints Friday were the exact opposite of what Republican lawmakers argued during the redistricting special session last month.
The slightly lower population numbers put into rural districts were part of an effort to preserve more Republican districts on the state’s East Side, Jennings said.
“It’s obvious she didn’t communicate with her own Republicans,” Jennings said.
Jennings alleged that Martinez was planning all along to veto the legislation for Republican political gain.
“She puts a political tent on everything that she does and has a hard time working with us. She never showed up with a plan she had,” Jennings said. “To criticize all of us and never show a plan shows a lack of leadership.”
The Legislature failed to pass a congressional redistricting plan for U.S. House districts.
Martinez signed the only other redistricting bill on her desk earlier this week, approving the Legislature’s plan for the Public Education Commission and commending lawmakers for bipartisanship on that plan.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal