New Mexico's Redistricting
the Lines (excerpt)." December 17, 2001
"Damn Mad" About Redistricting
New Mexico Republicans testified last week that a Democratic-drawn House map that a court is reviewing would end their longtime dominance of the House delegation by drawing a Hispanic-majority seat in the state¹s southern reaches.
The region is currently represented by Rep. Joe Skeen (R), 74, a potential retiree. The current 2nd district is now 48 percent Hispanic.
But the Democratic plan would help at least one Republican. It is designed to protect Rep. Heather Wilson (R) by shoring up the GOPstrength of her swing 1st district based in Albuquerque.
New Mexico redistricting is being reviewed this year by a state district court, to the apparent chagrin of the presiding judge, Frank Allen, who said Thursday that he's "damn mad about sitting up here and trying to do somebody else's job."
"I'm wondering why the Legislature just fooled around and didn't do anything. ... Did the governor do anything?" he said to several lawyers and spectators in court Thursday, the second day of the three-day non-jury trial.
Allen directed the comments to state Sen. Rod Adair (R), a demographer who drew one of the six plans - three from Republicans and three from Democrats - that were submitted to him.
Earlier this year Gov. Gary Johnson (R) vetoed the map lawmakers sent to him by state lawmakers, which split Wilson's Albuquerque base and made the southern 2nd district a majority-Hispanic seat, jeopardizing one of the two districts now held by the GOP.
Republicans are happy with the new District Court judge named to hear the pending congressional redistricting case, but a GOP lawyer still questions whether a trial can begin next week.
The state Supreme Court moved the redistricting case from Santa Fe to Albuquerque on Tuesday when it named state District Judge Frank Allen Jr. to handle the case.
Allen replaces state District Judge James Hall who was removed from the case at Gov. Gary Johnson's request.
Johnson, a Republican, is one of the defendants in the redistricting case, which seeks a judicial ruling on new boundaries for the state's three congressional districts.
The boundaries, by law, must be redrawn to reflect Census 2000 population figures for New Mexico.
The Legislature and Johnson were unable to agree on such boundaries during its special session on redistricting held earlier this fall.
Pat Rogers, an attorney representing Republicans, said he considers Allen an acceptable alternative to Hall, even though Allen was not on a list of judges the GOP wanted to oversee the cases.
Allen, a Democrat, was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Bruce King. He mostly hears criminal cases.
Rogers said Allen wasn't scheduled to get information on the case until today, leaving him just five days to prepare for the first of two trials.
"I just don't think it's feasible to start Monday," Rogers said. "But we better get ready."
The first trial, scheduled to start Monday, deals with political boundaries for New Mexico's three congressional seats.
A second trial, dealing with the 70 districts that make up the state House of Representatives, is scheduled for Dec. 17. Allen will also preside over that case.
The trial schedule for the cases was set by Judge Hall, who was in charge of the case since it was filed in September by lawyers representing several voters and two Democratic legislators.
Johnson successfully removed Hall from the case using a legal maneuver that allows him to ask for a change without giving a reason.
Democrats accused Johnson of trying to delay the state case in order to persuade a federal panel of judges to take over.
The federal panel ordered the case to continue in state court.
The Supreme Court's decision to replace Hall with Allen means none of the parties in the case can do anything more to challenge the naming of the judge without a reason.
Chief Justice Patricio Serna ordered Allen to continue with Hall's schedule.
Attorney Joseph Goldberg, who represents Democrats, said he is counting on Allen to stick with that order.
"Unless there are reasons why he cannot, I'm expecting to go to trial," Goldberg said.
After the trials, Allen would presumably start working on new district maps for the congressional and legislative seats.
Legislative leaders have tried to negotiate compromise plans to settle the issue out of court.
But Democrats and Republicans have made little progress since the end of the September special session.
The new boundaries have to be drawn before the 2002 election.
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered state District Judge Frank H. Allen of Albuquerque to take over the redistricting lawsuits and begin holding hearings next week.
The appointment of Allen, a Democrat, pleased the leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties, who had been squabbling over which state judge would hear the redistricting cases.
"The Republican legal team is very satisfied with that appointment," said minority leader Rep. Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque. "They feel he is a very fair judge."
Majority floor leader Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, agreed with Hobbs. She said she knows Allen by reputation and believes him to be a thoughtful judge who knows the law well.
Allen will replace state district Judge Jim Hall of Santa Fe, who was excused last month by lawyers representing Republican Gov. Gary Johnson.
In his order, Chief Justice Patricio Serna directs Allen to try and stick to the hearings schedule established by Hall - meaning redistricting could go to trial by Dec. 10.
Ernest Ortega, a spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office, said it is important for the 2002 elections to get the redistricting disputes resolved as quickly as possible. Candidates for state offices are charged with gathering hundreds of nominating signatures by Feb. 12.
However, until the redistricting fight is settled, candidates for both the state and U.S. Houses of Representatives, among others, won't know where their districts are located to solicit signatures from would-be constituents.
Democrats were alarmed by what attorney Joseph Goldberg called Johnson's "11th hour and 59th minute" excusal of Hall from the lawsuit the day before Thanksgiving.
Parties named in the case are allowed to excuse judges without giving a reason. However, parties may not exercise that privilege in cases where the chief justice of the Supreme Court assigned the judge to the case.
Democrats have raised the specter of Republicans excusing judges for the next month, then complaining to the federal courts that state court is unable to accomplish redistricting in a timely manner.
State GOP chairman John Dendahl said last month that Republicans don't trust the Democrat-dominated state court system and would prefer redistricting be decided by the federal courts.
A federal court panel of three judges remains looming in the background. It ruled earlier this fall that redistricting should be settled by New Mexico either by its Legislature or its state court system.
The panel warned, however, that it would step in if the state couldn't get the job done in time for the 2002 elections. The redistricting battle moved into the courts after Johnson vetoed plans approved by the Democrat-controlled Legislature following a special session in September.
Despite the imminent court hearings, lawmakers said Tuesday they remain hopeful an 11th-hour compromise redistricting plan can still be reached.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-NambÈ, said he plans to present Hobbs a possible legislative redistricting plan late this week.
"I still feel this is something that should be done by the Legislature," said Lujan, the highest-ranking Democrat in the state House of Representatives.
Hobbs agreed redistricting should be a function of the Legislature and not the courts and said he was still open to a compromise.
"Am I still open? Yes. Am I optimistic we will come together? No," Hobbs told reporters Tuesday.
The longer it takes to resolve a redistricting lawsuit, the greater the likelihood that next year's primary election could be pushed back.
But legislative leaders said they're not worried yet, despite delays in court and an impasse between lawmakers.
A key deadline in a state redistricting lawsuit passed Monday when legislators and Gov. Gary Johnson failed to come up with a compromise plan.
The missed deadline, the result of a stalemate between the Democrat-led Legislature and the Republican governor, means two trials will go on as scheduled in December.
But the timing of those trials could be affected by another legal maneuver filed last week by the governor's attorney.
Johnson's attorney, Matthew Hoyt, filed a motion in state District Court in Santa Fe attempting to replace the judge who had been overseeing the redistricting case.
But Johnson may have waited too long to try to remove state District Judge James Hall from the case, according to a ruling by the court clerk who represents the 1st Judicial District.
Parties in civil cases typically have one chance to remove a judge without stating a reason. But court rules set a 10-day time limit for such removals.
Hall scheduled an emergency hearing today at noon to resolve the issue.
Earlier this month, Johnson tried unsuccessfully to move the case from state court to federal court.
The three-judge federal panel has twice ruled it would give the state court the first crack at resolving the case.
House Majority Leader Danice Picraux said the delays could hurt the chances of drawing new legislative and congressional boundaries before the June 2002 primary election.
Candidates for New Mexico's three congressional seats must turn in petition signatures to the Secretary of State's Office by February. Legislative candidates have until March to gather nominating signatures.
Picraux said she thinks the courts will continue to move quickly and discourage more delays.
"I suspect the judiciary will press that it's this once and no more," Picraux, an Albuquerque Democrat, said of Johnson's motion. "They're (judges) not interested in seeing this become a tango of delaying tactics. We're pushing against our deadlines."
Hoyt predicted the legal delays last month when he told federal judges they should take the case rather than wait for the state court to decide.
But one of the federal judges told Hoyt the same kind of delays are just as likely in federal court as they are in state court.
House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs said Monday that he will continue to hope for a negotiated plan, even while the courts deal with the legal roadblocks.
But Hobbs, an Albuquerque Republican, said he's waiting for Democrats to make the next move.
"I have nothing from the Democrats," Hobbs said, noting that House Democrats rejected a Republican plan earlier this month. "My door is open. I'm waiting for them to put something on my desk."
A three-judge federal panel sent the redistricting of New Mexico congressional and legislative seats back to state courts Tuesday, denying the governor's bid for a federal takeover of the case.
The panel said Republican Gov. Gary Johnson's attorneys failed to make a case for removing the issue from state court jurisdiction.
Last month, Johnson vetoed a redistricting plan passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Because of the deadlock, state Judge Jim Hall scheduled trials to redistrict the state's three congressional seats and 70 New Mexico House seats.
"We're obviously pleased with the decision," said Luis Stelzner, among the attorneys seeking to prevent federal takeover. "The court went right down the line with what we had argued in our briefs."
The governor wanted the Republican-dominated federal panel to redistrict the state. Democrats argued Johnson acted improperly and the state should retain jurisdiction.
Attorney Matt Hoyt said the governor was assessing the order and studying options.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, Republicans have held two of New Mexico's three House seats for nearly 20 years.
"Each side is doing its best to either stay in or get in to the forum where their interests lie," said State Republican Party chairman John Dendahl. "We feel the Democratic control of the state judiciary makes remanding to state court perilous for Republican interests."
States must reapportion congressional and legislative districts after each 10-year census.
Reading the judges' decision in a Texas redistricting case reminded me of why the average voter probably doesn't give a darn about who wins or loses when political boundaries are drawn.
The three federal judges in the Texas case shied away from making any major changes to the 30 congressional districts there, except to add two new seats to account for population growth.
The judges, in a Nov. 14 opinion, claimed to have taken a "neutral" approach to drawing lines, arguing it is not their role to engage in political gerrymandering.
"We do so because our role is limited and not because we see gerrymandering as other than what it is: an abuse of power that, at its core, evinces a fundamental distrust of voters, serving the self-interest of the political parties at the expense of the public good," the judges wrote.
In other words, the judges are saying the political dirty-work should be done by legislators and the governor.
That brings us back to New Mexico, where political solutions are few and far between - especially with redistricting.
In fact, the partisan finger-pointing in the Roundhouse seems to have gotten worse, not better.
The state Republican Party paid for a newspaper ad last week that accused Democrats of carving out a legislative district, consisting mostly of Anglo voters, to help incumbent Rep. Max Coll, a Santa Fe Democrat, get re-elected.
The assertion is not new. Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, made the same claim when he vetoed redistricting plans passed by the Legislature in a special session in September.
But the GOP took the issue a step further in its appeal to the public.
Republicans accused Democratic leaders in the Legislature of creating a "Gringo-Mander," which they defined as a "special application of gerrymandering to protect a Democrat Anglo incumbent."
As you would expect, Democrats were infuriated. In an e-mail message to Democrats, party officials accused Republicans of "race-baiting."
Democrats point out that past court orders created three majority-minority districts in Santa Fe, which in turn, leaves one Anglo-majority district.
Judging from the back-and-forth between the two parties, at least, it sounds like there's no inclination to compromise.
So, if this issue is truly to be decided in the courtroom, it's worth it to take another look at what happened in Texas.
For example, much has been made in the New Mexico case about the number of majority-minority districts.
A group of Democrats backed a plan in New Mexico that would carve up Albuquerque among all three congressional districts. One of the reasons, they said, was to create an Hispanic-majority district.
Republicans argue that Democrats are just trying to draw the lines so two of the three districts favor Democrats.
Interestingly, the Texas court decided against creating African-American-majority and Latino-majority districts - to the dismay of organizations representing Latino and Black voters.
The judges said they paid special attention to protect the majority-minority districts already in place.
But they said it's not the court's role to make political decisions about whether to create additional districts that benefit Latino or Black voters.
"To do so would render our effort to keep our thumb off the political scale an illusion," the judges wrote.
Gtallegos' Political Notebook appears Mondays in The Tribune. He can be reached at 823-3670 or at [email protected]
A panel of three federal judges will consider Monday whether to take over a redistricting lawsuit from a state judge.
The three-judge panel scheduled an 11 a.m. hearing in Albuquerque to decide whether to go along with Gov. Gary Johnson's effort to transfer the redistricting lawsuit from state district court in Santa Fe.
Lawyers for a group of Democrats, including legislators, oppose removing the case to federal court.
The Republican governor's lawyers filed a notice Wednesday to transfer the lawsuit to federal court. The move happens automatically, and it's left to the federal court to decide whether to keep the case or send it back to state court.
Democrats filed the lawsuit, asking the state court to draw new boundaries of congressional and legislative districts because Johnson and the Legislature couldn't agree on new maps.
The panel of three federal judges decided in October to stay out of the fight over redistricting, giving the Legislature and a state court a chance at settling the dispute.
The judges ruled that they would not immediately proceed with a pending federal lawsuit over redistricting, but they retained legal authority over the case. That allows the federal court to move ahead later if state proceedings fail to produce redistricting maps. The court also reserved the option of setting a deadline for state action.
The Legislature already faced a state court deadline.
District Judge James Hall had planned to start a trial on congressional redistricting on Dec. 10 unless the Legislature and governor agreed on new boundaries by Nov. 26. Hall had scheduled a trial a week later on redistricting the 70 House seats.
Democrats in the state Senate, already facing a contentious leadership shake-up, will also take up the politically volatile issue of redistricting when they meet Wednesday in Santa Fe.
Senate Democrats are poised to consider a new redistricting plan crafted late last week by a bipartisan group of senators.
Senators who served on the special committee, formed by Senate President Richard Romero, said it was too soon to tell whether they can sell the plan to their colleagues.
"I don't think any of us left with the idea that we got exactly what we wanted," said Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and one of eight members of the committee. "But it should be positive. We'll take this stuff back to caucus and go from there."
The redistricting debate within the Democratic ranks comes on top of planned leadership battle set for Wednesday in Santa Fe.
The Democratic caucus has been split into at least two factions since last month's vote to elect Sen. Manny Aragon, a South Valley Democrat, as majority leader.
Some senators challenged the validity of that vote, arguing that they were misled about the substance of the September caucus meeting, which they did not attend.
Supporters of Aragon argued the leadership vote was not a secret. But they nevertheless agreed to vote again on Wednesday so all 24 Democrats have another chance to make the meeting.
Democrats will decide whether to go along with the plan to elevate Aragon to majority leader in place of Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat who served in the number-two leadership post since 1996.
One of Aragon's allies, San Jose Sen. Phil Griego, has also positioned himself to replace Sen. Linda Lopez, a South Valley Democrat, as caucus chairman.
Aragon said Monday he has not seen the redistricting plan produced by the committee, but he said he is eager to get a glimpse.
Aragon said he hopes Democrats can get past their disagreements over leadership struggles and find common ground on issues like redistricting.
"It's time to move on and work together," Aragon said. "Let's get off this argument about what happened. It's history."
Senate Republicans will also consider the redistricting plan during their own strategy session, probably on Wednesday, said Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort of Albuquerque.
Wilson Beffort said she is optimistic that the Senate can still agree to a plan before a judge takes over the process.
"I feel it was a respectful, sometimes aggressive conversation, but very respectful," Wilson Beffort said of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats. "In the end I think we all agreed to a good plan that would be good for the citizens of New Mexico."
Legislators are facing a short timeline as they try to forge out-of-court agreements over redistricting.
Several voters, minority groups and legislators have sued the state because the Democrat-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Gary Johnson failed in September to agree to ways to carve up political boundaries.
The Legislature has until Nov. 26, a deadline set by state District Judge James Hall, to come up with compromise plans for the state House and New Mexico's three congressional districts. If legislators can't get the job done, Hall has vowed to take over the process himself.
Hall has not made the Senate a priority since the next round of elections is not scheduled until 2004.
But senators are still exploring options in case a second special session is called.
Legislative leaders have said they would probably have to meet in another session on Nov. 19, 20 and 21 in order to vote on redistricting plans before the Thanksgiving holiday.
But those leaders stress that they would resist another session if agreements are not worked out ahead of time.
House leaders are still negotiating possible ways to end the stalemate in that chamber.
The sticking point both in the House and the Senate continues to be how much ground, if any, Democrats should give up to Republicans who want to gain more political clout.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 42-28 in the House and 24-18 in the Senate.
Johnson has vetoed past redistricting plans that he considers to give unfair advantages to Democrats.
Despite expressions of optimism about resolving New Mexico's redistricting woes, state lawmakers on Wednesday appeared no closer to reaching a compromise before the court-imposed deadline of Nov. 26.
After that time, state District Judge Jim Hall of Santa Fe could begin issuing redistricting plans from the bench.
Rep. Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, said that state lawmakers have been spending their time trying to reach an agreement on a redistricting plan for state legislative districts - not on the federal congressional plan or the state Board of Education.
He predicted that the U.S. House of Representatives districts will likely wind up being drawn by a judge.
Republican legislators on Wednesday rejected a proposed "compromise" redistricting plan for the state House of Representatives that Hobbs said didn't offer the GOP any real gains in the House.
That plan was put forth by a bipartisan task force made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, Hobbs said.
Hobbs, the House minority leader, said he will offer House Democrats yet another redistricting plan this week aimed at giving Republicans a fair shake.
"We ought to be moving toward parity," Hobbs said. "Not a majority, but parity" with Democrats. He placed the legislature's chances of reaching a plan acceptable to both parties at "fifty-fifty."
Democrats outnumber Republicans 42-28 in the House, but Hobbs contends that nearly half the votes cast for House of Representatives candidates statewide are cast for GOP candidates.
Hobbs said the goal of the Republican party is to be able to challenge the Democrats for majority control of the House of Representatives within a decade.
The GOP leader said he doesn't expect Democrats to "embrace with open arms" the Republican plan he will offer this week, but hopes it keeps the lines of communication between the parties open.
Ben Lujan, D-NambÈ, said he doesn't believe Republicans are universally opposed to the compromise plan and accused Hobbs of violating an agreement to keep partisan politics out of the redistricting debate.
"It seems to me Ted can't lead without getting his marching orders from the Republican hierarchy," Lujan said.
Hobbs said Republican lawmakers reached a consensus to oppose the compromise plan that he said doesn't give Republicans parity with Democrats. No formal vote was taken, the consensus was reached in a private caucus of Republican lawmakers held Wednesday.
Lujan said that if a formal vote was taken, some GOP members would have gone along with the compromise redistricting plan.
Both Lujan and Hobbs agree that the redistricting dispute would be better solved by the Legislature than the courts.
Hobbs said that if the courts do wind up sorting out redistricting, between 25 and 30 percent of incumbent lawmakers are likely to wind up losing their seats.
Lujan said a court-ordered solution isn't likely to please anyone in the Legislature.
If a plan acceptable to both parties is reached in the next 10 days or so, the lawmakers said a special legislative session might be called for the days prior to Thanksgiving.
Legislators met for much of September in an attempt to hash out acceptable redistricting plans.
The Democrat-controlled Senate and House of Representatives approved redistricting plans for both houses of the Legislature, the U.S. Congress, the Public Regulatory Commission and the state Board of Education.
Republican Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed the approved plans with the exception of the Public Regulatory Commission.
Due to what lawmakers are calling a clerical error, the Legislature inadvertently passed the wrong PRC plan, giving Republicans control of an additional commission district.
House leaders say their last chance at political compromise over redistricting is dwindling away, meaning court trials scheduled for December may be the only realistic way out of the stalemate.
House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs said Republicans on Wednesday rejected the latest round of plans produced by a bipartisan group of legislators.
And while Hobbs didn't hold out much hope for a breakthrough with Democratic leaders in the House, he stressed that he is still open to negotiations.
"We should try to decide this in the Legislature," said Hobbs, an Albuquerque Republican. "We should keep working on this before we go to the courts."
Hobbs accused Democrats of manipulating the latest plans so they continue to favor Democratic incumbents. He added he was finalizing a counterproposal to pitch to Democrats as a last-ditch effort to settle the issue out of court.
The Legislature is facing a court deadline of Nov. 26 to agree to new district boundaries for the House, Senate and New Mexico's three congressional seats. If lawmakers can't produce new plans that meet the approval of the Democrat-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, several lawsuits pending in state court will move to trial in December.
The sticking point between the two parties continues to be whether Democrats should give Republicans more chances to gain seats in the House.
Democrats currently hold a 42-28 majority.
House Speaker Ben Lujan said he was disappointed Republicans rejected the latest plans. He said a group of four Democrats and three Republicans crafted several options meant to appease some GOP concerns.
Lujan accused Hobbs of acquiescing to the state Republican Party, which he said opposes efforts to compromise.
"It seems to me that Ted just simply can't lead without getting his marching orders from the Republican Party," said Lujan, a Nambe Democrat.
Lujan said he nevertheless would consider any plan Hobbs proposes. He envisioned analyzing it with Democratic leaders, and possibly with all 42 Democrats, before deciding whether to negotiate further.
Both Lujan and Hobbs reiterated they would encourage Johnson to call another special session of the Legislature only if a deal is struck ahead of time.
The Legislature failed to reach an agreement with the governor during a special session in September. Johnson vetoed all but two redistricting plans sent to him.
While the House struggles to strike a new deal to spark a second special session, a bipartisan group of senators will start meeting today to craft its own compromise.
That group of four Democrats and four Republicans, formed by Senate President Richard Romero, is scheduled to start meeting today in Albuquerque.
Romero, an Albuquerque Democrat, said he hopes the group can come up with plans for new Senate districts and the congressional seats.
However, even if the group can agree to new plans, it is not clear how any plan will be received by the full Senate following a leadership shakeup last month.
Sen. Manny Aragon, the former president of the Senate, appears to have enough votes to elevate him to the position of majority floor leader.
Romero replaced Aragon in the Senate's top job earlier this year after forging a coalition with two Democrats and all 18 Republicans.
In an effort to get redistricting out of the courts and back to the Capitol, the state Senate's Democratic leader on Tuesday appointed a bipartisan committee to try to come up with new plans.
"It has always been my firm belief that redistricting is a legislative, not a judicial, responsibility," said President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque.
He appointed four Democrats and four Republicans to the committee and said their task is to try to reach agreement on new district boundaries for members of Congress and the state Senate.
The House is working separately on its own plans.
A state district judge said that beginning in December, he will take over the job of drawing new boundaries if lawmakers and Gov. Gary Johnson don't reach agreement on congressional and House plans by Nov. 26.
Johnson, a Republican, vetoed plans passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature last month for congressional, legislative and state Board of Education districts. He signed a plan for the Public Regulation Commission.
Romero said the Senate committee will meet for three days, beginning Thursday.
Any plans they agree on would be reviewed by the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
That could be complicated by a fracture within the Democratic caucus, where a leadership battle is under way. Sen. Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque - whom Romero ousted in January - recently wrested the majority leader's job from Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, in a disputed vote. Another vote is scheduled Nov. 14.
Some senators have suggested there is no hurry to draw new Senate boundaries - since they don't run again until 2004 - and they should wait until a new governor takes office in 2003.
In the House, a bipartisan seven-member committee has come up with proposals that are being reviewed first by House Republicans.
If lawmakers could agree on redistricting plans, Johnson could call a special legislative session.
Members of the Senate's redistricting panel: Democrats Leonard Tsosie of Crownpoint, Michael Sanchez of Belen, Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and John Arthur Smith of Deming; and Republicans Lee Rawson of Las Cruces, Carroll Leavell of Jal, Sue Wilson of Albuquerque and Dianna Duran of Alamogordo.
State Democratic Party leaders have chastised Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero for voting with Republicans to oppose a redistricting plan that would divide Albuquerque-area voters among New Mexico's three U.S. House districts.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Denish and other Democratic leaders told Romero it is of "great symbolic importance" for him, as Senate leader, to vote with the Legislature's Democratic majority.
"As the highest ranking Democrat in the state Senate, this vote on final passage sends a message of disarray and dissension to Democrats throughout the state," Denish wrote, on behalf of the state Democratic Party's executive committee, in a recent letter to Romero. "Several county chairs reported that loyal Democrats within their counties had expressed concern, frustration, and even an unwillingness to continue to contribute financially or otherwise to a party who cannot demonstrate unity on such a crucial final vote."
Romero and Sen. Cisco McSorley, both Albuquerque Democrats, were the only Democratic senators to vote against the congressional redistricting plan, which was vetoed by Republican Gov. Gary Johnson earlier this month. In the House, Rep. Bengie Regensberg, D-Cleveland, cast the sole Democratic vote against the plan because it also would split Colfax County.
The plan would create a Democratic-leaning, Hispanic-majority 2nd Congressional District, which presently is represented by Republican Joe Skeen. The redistricting issue now is before the courts, with state District Court Judge James Hall giving the Democratic-controlled Legislature until Nov. 26 to reach a compromise with Johnson.
Denish told me the executive committee decided unanimously during a Sept. 29 meeting in Albuquerque to send the letter to Romero because of concerns about a lack of unity among Senate Democrats. She said 30 members of the executive committee were at the meeting, including 22 of 33 Democratic county chairs.
"This is all about unity. It's not about redistricting plans. We didn't even discuss the specific plan," Denish said.
Romero, who opposes splitting Albuquerque among the state's three congressional districts, fired back a response Oct. 16. He told Denish he was "deeply concerned that you equate my vote on the redrawing of the congressional district boundaries as a vote against our shared Democratic principles."
"Has our party grown so weak that our only alternative is to deny the (Bernalillo) county a congressional representative?" Romero wrote. "Have we grown so weak that we think the only way to win the (congressional) seat is to combine it with the southern city of Las Cruces?"
Romero told Denish he believes candidates and organization are more critical to winning elections than voting district boundaries.
"We cannot write off Albuquerque and expect to win two of our three (congressional) seats," Romero wrote. He pointed out that Republican Rep. Heather Wilson has never received more than 50 percent of the vote in the current 1st Congressional District, which includes most of the Albuquerque area.
Romero said he also has deep concerns about placing the African American populations in Hobbs and Portales in "a permanent Republican (1st) congressional district" as the Democrat-backed plan would do.
"My concerns, you can be assured, are not based on a lack of unity with our party or unawareness of my role as president pro tempore," Romero wrote Denish.
Romero was elected Senate president pro tem in January when he, McSorley and Sen. Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint, voted with all 18 Senate Republicans to oust Sen. Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque, from the chamber's top position.
Romero told Denish that, since becoming Senate leader, he has "done everything in my power to maintain the Democratic agenda.
"The public response to my election has been overwhelming," Romero wrote. "My impression is that our base of support has increased rather than decreased and, I may add, that view is shared by most of the editorial writers in the state."
Romero told me he thought it "pretty hypocritical" of state Democratic Party leaders to criticize him for voting his conscience on redistricting.
"Democrats have been very critical of John Dendahl's role in punishing Republicans who don't vote in lock step," Romero said, referring to the state Republican Party chairman. "To turn around and do the same thing is unprecedented in my experience. We've had people who have voted on their own on private prisons and other situations, and I've never heard a peep out of the Democratic hierarchy."
Write to 328 Galisteo, Santa Fe, NM., 87501. E-Mail: [email protected]
Walking into the majestic U.S. Courthouse in Albuquerque, you get a sense that, somehow, the three men in black robes will sidestep politics and find a fair way to approach redistricting.
The Democrat-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Gary Johnson talked a lot about being fair, but each had a different idea of the definition of the word.
Redistricting, they seemed to remind us, is pure politics.
Some of those same legislators and their attorneys also point out judges carry their own political biases.
Without directly accusing any judge of being anything but impartial, members of both parties nevertheless wonder if the judiciary can do any better at drawing political lines on a map.
Democrats were a bit nervous about their chances in federal court. They wondered whether they would get a fare shake from the Republican-leaning panel of three judges assigned to the case.
First, there's U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Bobby Baldock, a conservative Republican appointed by former President Reagan.
The other Republican is Paul Kelly, a Republican appellate judge appointed by former President Bush.
The only Democrat on the panel is U.S. District Judge Bruce Black, an appointee of former President Clinton.
Similar questions can, and have, been raised about the role of the state court system, where some Republicans feel they are at a disadvantage.
The man in charge of that case, the 2nd District's chief judge, James Hall, is a Democrat; the state Court of Appeals has eight Democrats and two Republicans; and all five justices on the state Supreme Court are Democrats.
I thought about the partisan makeup of the courts - federal and state - as I walked into the federal courthouse last week.
Flashes of the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court kept crossing my mind.
Remember Bush vs. Gore? Democrats and Republicans decried what they saw as pure partisan politics that shaped the court decisions surrounding the vote-counting controversy in Florida last year.
t's difficult to ignore the parallels between those election cases and New Mexico's redistricting cases.
Republicans desperately want the case heard first in federal court; just as Democrats are fighting to keep it in state court.
For now, the federal court has deferred to the state court - a decision that had more to do with case precedent than with politics.
But the political implications of giving the state court the first crack at the case wasn't lost on the Baldock, the presiding judge on the federal panel.
Baldock joked about the U.S. Supreme Court decision the panel relied on for its order, saying it was a "dead-bang winner" for Democrats.
But don't think the fight over jurisdiction is a done deal. Look for Republicans to test the limits of state court in the hopes that the federal panel will take the case back.
And the politics don't end there.
State Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, jumped head-first into the redistricting case by attempting to have a say in who represents Johnson in the various lawsuits.
Madrid is arguing before the state Supreme Court that the governor should have gone through her - as the state's attorney - if he wanted to be represented by lawyers outside of her office.
The federal judges hinted Madrid tried to force the governor to keep the case in state court in return for her allowing him to use his own attorneys.
Although Madrid's involvement will probably be played out in state court, Kelly was nevertheless outraged. He called it an "apparent attempt to extort the governor."
Ironically, during litigation of redistricting two decades ago, then-Attorney General Jeff Bingaman took the opposite tack that Madrid is employing now.
Democrat Bingaman, now a U.S. senator, declined to represent the state in redistricting lawsuits in 1984. He said at the time that the coalition leadership of the Legislature in those days preferred to have its own attorneys representing it in court.
The lead attorney back then was none other than Paul Kelly, now one of the federal judges in the current case.
Gilbert Gallegos' Political Notebook appears Mondays in The Tribune. He can be reached at 823-3670 or at [email protected].
A panel of the federal judges expressed reluctance Wednesday to leapfrog a state court and take the lead is resolving a dispute over redistricting in New Mexico.
After an hourlong hearing, the judges said they would issue a decision later on whether to proceed with a redistricting lawsuit or give the Legislature another chance to resolve its differences with Gov. Gary Johnson.
But the judges, in the questions they posed to lawyers for Johnson and Democrats, appeared inclined to wait before getting involved in the redistricting battle.
The presiding judge, Bobby Baldock of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that federal courts were to defer to state proceedings if that could resolve redistricting before the next primary election.
Baldock said a 1993 Supreme Court ruling was a "dead-bang winner" for a lawyer for Democrats, who urged the federal court to move to the sidelines at least temporarily in the redistricting dispute.
Charles Daniels, an Albuquerque lawyer for Democrats who brought a redistricting lawsuit in state court, said a state judge is giving lawmakers another chance at redistricting.
State District Judge James Hall in Santa Fe will begin a trial in December on redistricting unless lawmakers and Johnson agree on new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts by Nov. 26.
"The ball is in Judge Hall's court as to how he's going to proceed in this matter. Isn't that right?" Baldock asked Daniels at one point.
Daniels said the Legislature should have another opportunity to approve redistricting plans and, if that fails, a state court should take the lead in handling any lawsuit.
Matthew Hoyt, a lawyer for Johnson, said the governor wanted the federal court rather than the state court to handle redistricting lawsuits because the three-judge panel could resolve the dispute more rapidly.
"There are problems that are likely to arise in a state-court proceeding," said Hoyt.
He pointed out that there was a dispute between the governor and Attorney General Patricia Madrid over who represents the governor in lawsuits.
Circuit Judge Paul Kelly said the challenge by Madrid's office to Johnson's lawyers was an "apparent attempt to extort the governor" to agree to have the redistricting dispute handled in state court.
No lawyer for the attorney general spoke at the federal hearing because the office is not part of the federal case. Madrid has filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court over the question of who represents the governor and the state in lawsuits.
Hoyt suggested that the federal court order meetings between the governor and legislative leadership to determine whether it would be productive to let the Legislature have another chance to pass redistricting plans or simply have judges resolve the dispute.
However, Baldock made it clear the court would not follow the governor's suggestion.
"We would be out of our mind" to get involved in the fight between Johnson and the Legislature, Baldock said.
Hoyt said Johnson was reluctant to call the Legislature back into another special session unless Republicans and Democrats resolved their political differences over redistricting plans in advance of their return to the Capitol.
Courts have been asked to take over redistricting because the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Johnson failed to agree on plans for drawing new boundaries of congressional, legislative and state Board of Education districts. Lawmakers met in a special session last month, but Johnson vetoed plans passed by the Legislature except for new district boundaries of the Public Regulation Commission.
Republicans contended they would likely lose seats in the Legislature and Congress under the plans developed by Democrats.
The federal courtroom was full of legislators - Democrats as well as Republicans.
Baldock emphasized that the federal panel would draw new district boundaries if that became necessary but suggested it's better if lawmakers and the governor reach a compromise.
"I've got a feeling whether it's the state court or the federal court that redistricts this state, nobody is going to be happy," Baldock said.
Redistricting is a once-a-decade assignment for the Legislature to use the latest census information for changing boundaries of voting districts to reflect populations shifts across the state. The main goal is to equalize district populations to comply with the legal doctrine of "one person, one vote."
Santa Fe New Mexican
Lawmakers will try to negotiate redistricting compromises informally in the next few weeks and that should determine whether the Legislature needs to meet in a special session, legislative leaders said Tuesday.
Although a court is poised to handle redistricting if lawmakers don't, Democratic and Republican leaders said it could be tough to resolve the political differences separating the Legislature and Gov. Gary Johnson.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said he planned to name a group of seven rank-and-file House members - four Democrats and three Republicans - to start talks as early as next week to determine if a compromise is possible. The group would work initially on redistricting of the 70 House seats and then potentially on Congress.
If the informal panel reaches an agreement, the plan would be presented to the Democratic and Republican caucuses for their consideration.
Lujan said it's possible that a special session could be held during the first or second weekends of November to act on redistricting if it appeared that Johnson would accept the plans.
House GOP Leader Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque said the odds were less than 50-50 that a compromise could be reached over redistricting.
"I have to be honest. I am not sure the majority party is going to move off the dime. They made it very clear to me in the session, 'We've got the votes.' "
Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate.
State District Judge James Hall said he would proceed with a trial on congressional redistricting on Dec. 10 unless the Legislature and Johnson agreed on new district boundaries by Nov. 26.
A federal court could deliver a similar warning to lawmakers at a hearing today in Albuquerque.
The session before a panel of three federal judges also could help clarify which court - state or federal - will take the lead in handling any legal challenge over redistricting.
Lawyers for Lujan and other Democrats want the federal judges to let the state court proceed. They say U.S. Supreme Court rulings require federal courts to defer to state legislative or judicial proceedings in redistricting disputes.
Lawmakers worked on redistricting for 17 days during a special session last month. However, the GOP governor vetoed plans passed by the Democratic-led Legislature for new boundaries of congressional, House, Senate and state Board of Education districts. Republicans complained that they would likely lose seats in Congress and the Legislature under the plans developed by Democrats.
Johnson signed into law a plan for redistricting the five seats on the Public Regulation Commission. However, Hispanic activists have filed a lawsuit challenging the new districts.
Johnson's office declined to comment on whether the governor favored having judges proceed with redistricting or call the Legislature back into another special session. Diane Kinderwater, the governor's spokeswoman, said lawyers would present the Johnson's views at the federal court hearing.
Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, said the leadership and other members likely would hold behind-the-scenes talks to determine whether compromises can be reached on redistricting.
"If there is no compromise ahead of time, there is no sense in coming up (to the Capitol) and wasting taxpayer money sitting around to debate or argue who is right or wrong," Romero said.
Senate GOP Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales agreed it was critical to negotiate an agreement before asking the governor to call another special session of the Legislature.
"If we go back in, we need to have a plan fairly well agreed upon by a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate," Ingle said. "Get the thing done and get ... out of there."
Hobbs said he had selected three GOP House members to serve as the initial negotiators with Democrats over redistricting of the 70 House seats.
"We ought to take one more try at solving it at a legislative level," said Hobbs.
Romero said he hoped that the growing prospect of judges drawing district boundaries might jolt legislators and make them more willing to compromise.
"What I think will play into this in the next couple of weeks is the realization ... of how their districts will be handed over to the court," Romero said. "Many of us will feel uneasy with that. It's kind of a like a game of chicken."
Redistricting is a once-a-decade assignment for the Legislature to redraw the boundaries of voting districts to equalize populations using the most recent census.
A state judge ruled Monday that if the Legislature and Gov. Gary Johnson do not come up with redistricting plans by late November, the issue will go to trial before the end of December.
State District Judge Jim Hall said he would set exact deadlines for the redistricting lawsuit today.
Matthew Hoyt, a lawyer for the governor, said that Johnson has concerns about calling the Legislature back into special session.
Johnson, Hoyt said, is not sure that the differences between Democrats and Republicans have been resolved. He emphasized, however, that the governor hasn't decided what he will do.
The case before Hall has grown. It originally was filed by a group of Democrats, including two legislators, against the state secretary of state. However, the case was consolidated with a series of cases filed by Hispanic voting-rights activists.
Also, a group of Republicans, including several legislators, officially intervened Monday. The Jicarilla Apache tribe also is expected to intervene.
At the hearing, Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque attorney for the Republican group, told Hall that state court did not have jurisdiction in the case because the main players in redistricting - the governor and legislative leaders - were not part of the lawsuit.
Rogers said he would ask Hall to dismiss the case unless Johnson and legislative leaders were included.
Joe Goldberg, an attorney for the Democrats, said he would not mind including the governor and the Legislature in the suit but said Rogers' main purpose was to slow down the case in state court.
Rogers denied that was the case. However, last week, state GOP Chairman John Dendahl said Republicans wanted the federal court to handle redistricting instead of the state court because Republicans do not trust the state judiciary.
A federal case, filed by another group of Republicans, has a scheduled hearing in Albuquerque Wednesday. A panel of three federal judges will decide whether to require the Legislature and the governor to make "a good-faith effort to construct a redistricting plan, before further proceedings in this case."
Goldberg, who wants to keep the matter in state court, noted Wednesday's hearing. "It's important for the federal court to know that this (Hall's) court is moving forward."
Both Goldberg and Bennett Cohn, an assistant attorney general representing the secretary of state's office, said it was important to move quickly on redistricting because deadlines to submit petitions for various offices are coming up.
Lawyers noted that Hall could change the deadline dates for petitions.
The current deadline for congressional candidates is Feb. 12. The deadline for state House of Representatives is about a month later.
State senators are not up for re-election until 2004. During last month's special session, some Democratic senators suggested postponing acting on Senate redistricting until Republican Johnson is out of office.
Last month, Johnson vetoed plans passed by the Democratic-dominated Legislature for redistricting New Mexico's congressional, legislative and state Board of Education seats, claiming they were products of political gerrymandering and unfair to Republicans.
Last week, the federal panel of judges ruled that state Attorney General Patricia Madrid - who was asking that the federal judges drop the case and let state courts decide redistricting - had no standing in the case.
Deputy Attorney General Stuart Bluestone said Monday that Madrid would not attempt to intervene in the case until the state Supreme Court decides whether redistricting should be done in state or federal courts.