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Friday, February 28, 2003

Rules Committee Dems Pass Redistricting Bill

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE A proposal to reopen New Mexico's congressional redistricting cleared its first legislative hurdle on Thursday when a Democrat-controlled committee advanced the bill with no Republicans present for the vote.
    The Senate Rules Committee, with all five Democratic members present and none of its four Republican members in attendance, voted to send the bill (SB 667) on to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
    "This is not my idea of democracy," Sen. Allen Hurt, R-Waterflow, said after the committee action. "It looks more like a railroad."
    Hurt and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said they learned of the Democratic action after they arrived at the committee meeting. Ingle noted that the bill was not listed on the committee schedule for Thursday.
    Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, said Republicans had been informed the night before about the committee meeting and had only themselves to blame for not showing up on time.
    "They knew full well that bill had the capability of moving at any time," Romero said. "It wasn't on the schedule because it was on the table."
    Romero has acknowledged that he and other Democrats view the bill by Sen. Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint, as an opportunity to make the map of the state's three U.S. House districts more Democratic-leaning.
    A week ago, the congressional redistricting bill had stalled in the committee, which deadlocked 3-3 on several votes.
    Tsosie has said his bill is aimed at unifying several Indian communities in a single congressional district. The communities were split under a court-drawn congressional map in 2002.
    New Mexico's redistricting battle, using the 2000 Census, ended up in the courts after the Democratic-controlled Legislature and former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson failed to agree on a new congressional map in 2001.
    The state's overall redistricting effort, including a 17-day special session and two court trials, cost taxpayers more than $4 million.