Veto showdown, court fight looms on redistricting

September 23, 2011 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democrats in the Legislature headed Thursday toward a veto showdown with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over proposals for changing the boundaries of New Mexico’s districts for elective offices.

If no redistricting plan is enacted, the fight likely will shift to the courts in the coming months and a judge could end up drawing new district boundaries.

That’s what happened 10 years ago when the Democratic-controlled Legislature and another Republican governor — Gary Johnson — tangled over redistricting plans for seats in Congress and the state House of Representatives.

Similar partisan divisions are on display this year.

Democrats pushed through a House redistricting plan in the 70-member chamber shortly after midnight Thursday. However, Martinez immediately made it clear she doesn’t support the proposal.

The measure passed the House on a 36-34 vote, with one Democrat joining Republicans in opposing the measure. The chamber’s lone independent, Rep. Andy Nunez of Hatch, formerly a conservative Democrat, sided with Democrats to provide the needed vote necessary to pass the bill.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell called the plan a “partisan gerrymander.”

“House and Senate Democrats have spent more [auth] than 15 days and hundreds of thousands of dollars assembling radically partisan redistricting maps that do not reflect any attempt to compromise, and which they know will be vetoed by the governor,” Darnell said.

“Republicans and Democrats still have an opportunity to work together to craft a fair and bipartisan compromise and as she has said from the start, the governor will be a willing partner in that effort,” he added.

Senate President Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, complained that the governor’s office has been unbending in its demands and objected to the veto threats on redistricting.

“This is a place of negotiation and compromise. It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice every value you ever had,” said Jennings. “It does mean you can come to some level of consensus and move forward.”

Democrats disagree that their proposals are unfair to Republicans.

“This is not a Darwinian power move by the majority,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said during House debate.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said a redistricting plan touted by GOP leadership as a compromise would hurt Democrats and “is a dramatic shift away from a compromise proposal.”

A Senate redistricting plan cleared the 42-member chamber on Wednesday with only Democrats backing it.

Each of the redistricting plans must pass both chambers before going to the governor. But the House isn’t expected to change the Senate’s proposal unless that’s requested by Senate Democratic leaders. And the Senate will give deference to the House redistricting plan unless there’s a leadership agreement to revamp it.

The Legislature also is trying to finish work on a congressional redistricting plan and several proposals unrelated to the political task of reconfiguring district boundaries.

Headed to the Senate floor for debate are proposals to:

—Finance $86 million in capital improvements statewide, including computer upgrades, new state police cars and $15 million to help cover the state’s share of water rights settlements with Indian tribes. The governor had recommended nearly $213 million for projects, including highway maintenance.

—Shore up the state’s unemployment compensation program. A Senate committee endorsed a bill for a $15 million increase in taxes on businesses next year. Martinez vetoed a larger tax increase earlier this year but the veto is being challenged in court.

—Allocate $450,000 to supplement federal food stamps for nearly 5,000 elderly and disabled people. The proposal also provides as much as $12 million for Medicaid by tapping into money that otherwise will go back to the federal government if it isn’t allocated by the state.

Barring a change of mind by Democrats, the Legislature’s special session could end in the next few days with lawmakers waiting for what they already know is coming on redistricting plans — a veto and a rush to the courthouse by Democrats, Republicans, Native Americans and other groups with a stake in how elective office boundaries are drawn.

Those district maps will establish the foundation for elections during the rest of the decade because they determine whether a candidate will run in an area favoring Republicans, Democrats or is potentially a competitive swing district in which either party has a chance of emerging the winner.

“We’re going to spend in the millions of dollars probably going to court unless we can correct this problem before we get out of here,” House GOP Whip Donald Bratton of Hobbs told his colleagues.

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