Redistricting Revenge 2001

As the New Mexico Legislature begins to move into a delayed redistricting process this year, I'm posting my account of the 2001 redistricting session, which came during a time of intense Democratic division between Sen. Richard Romero and Sen. Manny Aragon, whom he had recently overthrown to become President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The account is drawn from a larger, unpublished work and reliant on my own memory, supplemented with newspaper accounts and personal notes. It was written in 2010.


Courage, Coalitions and Consequences: A Watershed Year

for the New Mexico Legislature

Redistricting  Revenge

August 2001

    In the eyes of most legislators, the most important measure facing the state in 2001 was not the budget, nor any of the bills addressing controversial social issues like abortion, the death penalty or same-sex marriage. Without a doubt, the issue of the day was the legislation which would draw the lines of districts from which legislators and congressional delegates are elected or defeated. There is no other bill which concentrates the mind of legislators since it addresses the issue nearest and dearest to their political survival: their own re-election.

    And here it was, coming right up as the Senate adjourned Sine Die in March, 2001 amidst the fractures within the Democratic caucuses and the bitter partisan divide between the Democratic leadership and the Republican Governor.

     The first year of each decade is the year that the legislature tackles this ultimate of all political tasks, using census data collected in the previous year and finalized, in this instance, in 2001. Both the national Republican and Democratic parties had been preparing for 2001 for several years, investing their money and efforts in the 2000 legislative elections. After all, the winners would be drawing the lines for both Congress and the legislature for the next decade—possibly establishing a partisan edge that could be important nationally as well as statewide.

      Senate President Pro Tempore Richard Romero’s next task would be to find a way to preserve the Democratic majority in the Senate, maximize the chances for Democratic seats in Congress—all without breaking his fragile coalition with Republicans in this most partisan of all legislative endeavors. The Democratic majority which had opposed him during the regular session, would be back-- as Sen. Carlos Cisneros predicted on the last day of the session.  And as the Democrats were licking their wounds and drawing the wagons into a circular firing squad, Republicans were coalescing to gain seats amidst the demographic changes that had swept the state in the prior decade. And they had a Republican Governor—with his veto pen at the ready—on their side.

    Romero had one fundamental advantage. Power shifts to the Pro-Tem during the interim, when the Senate in not in session, and senators are not in constant contact with one another. Working in cooperation with the Speaker of the House, the Pro Tem could appoint an interim redistricting committee which would travel around the state, framing the issue, outlining the legal principles, taking public testimony and laying the groundwork for redistricting proposals. This once-in-a-decade process is costly and contentious.  

    Richard Romero appointed eight senators as voting members of the Redistricting Committee including Sens. Joe Carraro, Dianna Duran, Stuart Ingle, Tim Jennings, Bernadette Sanchez, John Arthur Smith and me. By far his most important appointment was that of  Sen. Leonard Tsosie, as chair of the committee. Before he was a legislator, Tsosie, a lawyer, had been on the legal team representing the Navajos in previous challenges to legislative redistricting. He was well versed in the issue, and, more important to Romero, he was the decisive vote in Romero’s rise to power earlier in the year.

    The appointment was not without protest from Manny Aragon’s loyalists. Sen. Shannon Robinson immediately decried the selection of a Tsosie as chairman, calling him a “birdbrain” in the Albuquerque Journal. Robinson kept up a constant drum beat of criticism impugning Tsosie’s competence and reliability for the entire summer, as the committee traveled around the state to take testimony, mull over maps and explain the complicated process to a confused public. Tsosie, in his usual style, tossed it off and went about his business.

    Romero’s public response was measured. He was proud, he said, to have appointed a Native American to chair this important effort, especially in light of the voting rights issues that had arisen in previous decades, when Hispanic and Native American minorities had taken redistricting bills to court—and won.

    Sen. Tsosie’s appointment was historic, as Romero contended, and unique in the entire country. Native Americans had only won the right to vote in New Mexico in 1962 after the court rejected arguments made by the state that Native Americans living on the reservations and in the pueblos were not state residents.

    Romero’s other appointments to the committee, numerically, reflected the proportion of Republicans to Democrats represented in the Senate. For his Democratic members, Romero chose Senators who were not solidly in the Aragon camp—with the exception of Bernadette Sanchez, who, as usual, was so vocal and so persistent that Romero finally gave in to her relentless entreaties that the growing West Side of Albuquerque needed to be represented—by her.

    I was glad to sit on the committee, not only to protect my district, which I knew had not grown as fast as the rest of the state, but because, as a reporter for the Albuquerque Newsand later as a freelancer, two decades earlier—in the early ‘80s—I had covered the court cases arising from the 1982 redistricting law. The cases involved racial “block voting” and minority voting rights. My own representative, at the time, Rep. Ray Vargas, from Albuquerque’s Old Town area, was one of the plaintiffs in the case. I retained a kind of academic curiosity about the process and wondered how it could ever be done fairly. I also had a personal interest since my own election as an Anglo woman from a heavily Hispanic district, served as a counterpoint to the conventional wisdom that Hispanics always elected candidates with Hispanic surnames. In 1996, I won more votes in my Democratic primary than the votes of both of my Hispanic opponents combined.

    Other members of the Senate Democratic caucus, I found out later, were angry at my appointment—and election—for that very reason. They believed that the North Valley of Albuquerque should be represented by a Hispanic.

 Tackling the Mechanics

    The task facing the legislature was a daunting one—realigning the districts for the US House of Representatives, the NM Senate and House, the Public Regulation Commission, and the State Board of Education. Census and ethnic data had to be assembled, legal principles followed, maps drawn, and proposals made. The resulting bills would be drafted and then the real horse trading would begin during a special session to be held in September, devoted exclusively to redistricting. Or, at least theoretically devoted only to redistricting. Both the Governor and the House Republicans were suggesting the inclusion of capital outlay appropriations in the wake of the governor’s veto during the regular session. This was a particularly bad idea since it would give the Governor leverage over individual legislators at a vulnerable point.

    To assist the legislature in this difficult task. the Legislative Council Committee, the Legislature’s leadership committee which handles institutional issues, as it had done before, by a vote of 12 to one, hired Research and Polling, an Albuquerque firm headed by the ever-enthusiastic Brian Sanderoff. Sanderoff’s polls and market research reports were (and still are) used by a wide variety of clients, including the Albuquerque Journaland Presbyterian Health Care. Although his work is non-partisan, his firm’s contract with the legislature, won through a competitive bid, galled the Republican minority because of Sanderoff’s  previous employment as an aide to former Governor Bruce King. An enthusiastic, energetic young man who hailed from Long Island, Sanderoff came to NM during the 1970s, and within a decade was tapped by the Governor, then Bruce King, as a  key staffer. Known as a “boy wonder” at the time, Sanderoff dealt with the prison riot and other crises for King in the early ‘80s. Afterward, he taught at UNM, and established his own company, continuing to do work for various Democratic candidates, and on occasion, the Democratic Party.

         Sanderoff’s job was to lay out the demographic data and explain what we on the committee came to know as the “ABCs” of redistricting. His presentation was usually followed by a legion of lawyers, including Luis Stelzner, of Sheehan and Sheehan and Richard Olson, of Hinkle, Hensley, Shannon & Martin, Michael Browdie, of the UNM Law School, and Jon Boller of the Legislative Council Service. Most of this crew were veterans of the 1990 redistricting process, when New Mexico was on its best behavior because the proposals had to be “pre-cleared” by the US Justice Department. They explained the legal principles which we had to follow. Then more lawyers, such as Richard Hughes, representing the Navajo Tribe and others representing  minority or interest groups would testify in reaction.

         Sanderoff would launch into his explanations of populations changes in New Mexico like a zealous professor trying to make it clear for his students, legislators who seemed enthralled at first but then, seemed to drift off, leaving the room, talking to one another especially since the meetings rotated among 14 different communities, necessitating some repetition.

         Now Sanderoff was explaining that during the past decade New Mexico had grown 20.1% from 1,515,069 to 1,819,046, not enough for a new Congressional seat. Census data revealed that the population growth was not evenly spread out across the state. Three of the four fastest growing counties were adjacent to Bernalillo County, and eight of the ten slowest growing counties are on the East Side of the state.

        In order for a district’s boundaries to remain relatively the same, he said, the population of the district would have to grow at the same overall rate as the population of the state. Bernalillo County, he added had not kept pace with the state’s overall growth.  

         Light bulbs began to go off in legislators’ heads. Senators from the East Side and inside Albuquerque began to worry that their districts might be eliminated or merged with ones nearby. Others from the West Side of Albuquerque and Torrance or Santa Fe Counties were realizing that their areas might get more representation.

         Yet population trends were but one of the factors that would have to go into the creation of proposed district maps, Sanderoff stated. Minority voting strength, natural boundaries and community interests must also be considered.

         Yes, but the legislators were thinking about other factors. Which party would prevail in any new district, (down to each the precinct which made it up)? How would the plan accommodate where they lived—and the district where they had won an election? Would they survive if paired against a legislator from a neighboring district?

The ABCs of Redistricting

         It was about then that Sanderoff would describe the ABCs of redistricting. They literally were not ABCs but were based on a number of principles that the legislature had adopted in the 2001 session as guidelines in order not to run afoul of state or federal law. They included:

    Equal Population:Each district has to be equal in population to the next, thus giving each person in each district equal representation. One person, one vote. Roughly, this meant dividing the total population of the state by the number of seats. NM has 42 Senate seats, three congressional seats and 70 house seats. We could all do the math, but roughly it worked out to  a Congressional district with a population of approximately 600,000; Senate districts with approximately 43,000 people, and House districts with approximately 26,000. Legislative districts could vary a little (plus or minus 5%) but congressional districts had to be as equal in population as practicable.

    Race, Ethnic & Language Minorities: Don’t dilute voting strength of minority voting groups. Minority populations were not to be “packed” into one district, thus minimizing their chances of electing more than one representative. Nor were they to be “cracked” or divided up into smaller pieces strewn about into various districts, thus impairing their ability to act as a voting block to elect a representative of their choosing.  This particular guideline grew out of federal court cases growing out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

    Compact and Contiguous: Precincts within each district had to be next to one another and not scattered over the landscape with no connection. Theoretically you had to be able to walk (or drive) from one side of the district to the other. Ideally, the district had to be compact, not amoeba or salamander shaped ( I never could stop confusing salamanders with gerrymanders during this whole process, even though I knew that the word gerrymander came from the name of some long-deceased politician).

    Communities of Interest: Districts should not disrupt communities of interests. These could be neighborhoods, towns, or traditional groupings based on a variety of geographic, cultural and demographic factors: agricultural, urban, historic or scientific (as we shall see later Republicans tried to create a district based on a high tech community of interest stretching from Los Alamos to Sandia National Labs)  Communities of interest could also be based on  values and politics, as in a traditionally Democratic area vs. a traditionally Republican area.

    The ABCs of redistricting were explained over and over again as the committee travelled by car to 12 different communities in New Mexico. Starting in Santa Fe, the entire committee, a small army of staff, lawyers, and interested citizens drove back and forth from Deming, to Las Cruces, Carlsbad, Roswell, Las Vegas, Tucumcari, Shiprock, Gallup, Santa Ana Pueblo and to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We all put a lot of mileage on our cars that summer tooling around the nation’s fifth largest state, and we probably did our part for rural economic development as well.

    The two chairs of the committee, Rep. Ed Sandoval, chairman of the Voters and Elections Committee in the House and Sen. Leonard Tsosie made an odd couple. Sandoval, with a booming voice, and an insatiable curiosity about regional food and customs, would kick-off the meeting with thanks for local hospitality (there were often community barbeques or other receptions), introductions of local dignitaries and welcoming remarks. Tsosie would then explain the format of the meeting and Sanderoff would launch into his presentation, presenting  a regional map and a menu of options. Local residents would listen and react. Both Chairs bent over backwards to make sure that the public understood, and sometimes even offered to have Sanderoff draw up maps for community members who could not do it themselves.

    At one meeting held in the octagonal Shiprock chapter house on the Navajo reservation, Duane “Chili” Yazzie, the one-armed chapter president from the area, welcomed us in Navajo, urging us to look around at the poverty as we passed through and remember it as we made our capital outlay requests. A few dozen Navajos, including elderly women clad in heavy velvet skirts and flowered headscarves, struggled to hear in the enlarged Hogan where the acoustics are poor.

    The proceedings were often interrupted by Navajos who wandered in at random to pick up commodity food or sign up for social services available in the building. Word had spread that the chapter was hosting a feast of mutton stew for the dignitaries, and there would be food aplenty. During a break in the meeting Tsosie took the elderly women aside and translated an abbreviated version of the ABCs of  Redistricting into Navajo.  

    Only in New Mexico, I thought, wishing that The New York Timeshad a reporter on the scene. Later, I found out that one of the women, who had earlier in the day been tending sheep, was Sen. Tsosie’s grandmother.

    “I had to be nice to her,” Tsosie said., “Otherwise she would tell on me to the rest of the family.”

    The Navajo Tribe has its own elections for tribal officials and its own capital at Window Rock, just over the Arizona border from where we held another meeting in Gallup. Official representatives of the Navajo Tribe and their lawyers, well versed in the Voting Rights Act, were at both the Shiprock and the Gallup meetings to protect their rights and consolidate their own community of interest into a few districts that would be sure to elect Navajos. Drawing district lines in the Western part of the state is a little dicey since the far-flung reservation is bordered by two major population centers, Gallup and Farmington, home to many non-Navajos. Redistricters a decade ago had combined parts of the border towns with parts of the sparsely populated reservation areas to meet the minimum population needed for each district,

    The Navajos now said they wanted at least two “safe” districts, each with approximately 75% of the population—more than the 65% minimum demographers estimated needed to elect a Navajo. The difference, they said, was due to the poor turn-out of Navajo voters in state elections. They needed a cushion.

    Navajos in New Mexico are traditionally Democrats.

    Republicans, seeing an opportunity to create safe seats for themselves in the border areas, were interested in “packing” all the Democratic voters in the tribal areas. Farmington, especially, they said, was a community of interest (a Republican one, with oil and gas interests in the forefront) and should not be divided.

    Chairman Leonard Tsosie was not so sure. There were legal questions about the legality of “packing” minorities into a few districts, just as there were questions about “cracking” minority voting strength to prevent the election of minority candidates. More than that, Tsosie thought, why not go for even more Navajo districts, with fewer Navajo voters, but still enough to have a good chance of electing a representative? 

    To make matters more complicated, Sen. John Pinto, the most senior member of the Senate, a former Code Talker, and a figure almost revered on the eastern side of the Navajo nation, was nervous. Like other incumbents holding safe seats, he worried about primary opposition. He had in mind certain pockets of the district that he did or didn’t want included. And, of course, the higher the percentage of “his” voters the better.

    The recently deposed Senator Manny Aragon traveled with his own retinue to these community meetings, and in places like Las Vegas, his supporters decried the fact that Manny was not a voting member of the Redistricting Committee and declared that the committee itself was overstepping its bounds. It was the Senate Rules Committee that should be in charge, they said. Aragon, not so coincidentally, was the Chair of that committee.

    Although Aragon had not yet shown his hand, it was obvious that he had his own scores to settle—and the redistricting process was a great opportunity. On the Western side of the state, for example, Aragon was looking for a way to strike at Sen. Alan Hurt, an emergency room doctor who, with the help of the Republican party, had defeated maverick  Senator R.L. Stockard in the Republican primary. It would take only a few precinct moves to put Hurt’s residence over the line into the overwhelmingly Navajo district.

    Both the Democratic and Republican parties were active behind the scenes, that summer, in party caucuses and local fundraising events, trying to guide the process to pick up more seats and defend the ones they held. At mid-summer, representatives from the DNC (the Democratic National Committee) met with a cluster of Albuquerque Democrats at a law firm on Central Ave. near Old Town. The white columns and grandiose façade of the law firm were so unlike the nearby adobe plaza and local homes, that folks from the area (like me) called it Tara on the Rio Grande. And likewise, the advice we got from the national pols was  inflated and generic, not local in nature.

    The Chair of the Democratic Party, Diane Denish, led the group in developing unity among factions, a strategy to pick up seats, and a message that would resonate, and rebut the inevitable charges of the minority: racial based gerrymanders and behind-the-scenes deals. She also said we had to prepare for legal proceedings, if it came to that, by developing reasonable maps that could be upheld based on the legal principles.

    The room was crowded with a healthy showing of Albuquerque Democratic legislators,  DNC representatives  Albert Morales, Ramona Oliver, and Kerry Pugh, consultants for the state party Eli Lee, Adolfo Mendez and assorted others. Materials were collected at the end of the meeting to prevent leaks and an informal gag rule was the order of the day.

    We practiced talking points derived from the ABCs of redistricting. Our mantra was to be: Our goal is to build a fair, balanced and equitable plan for all New Mexicans. We are listening to people from across the state and are committed to keeping the process open.  Being Democrats, we were committed to fairness. We really meant it when we said we wanted to uphold one person, one vote. It’s a basic value—non-partisan—and  we thought that everyone could agree on it. But the devil is in the details. The one detail that led to most division was the special protections the courts gave to minority voters. Another core value for Democrats, but less important to Republicans.

    As the Democrats caucused and re-caucused in Albuquerque and later in Ruidoso and the Tamaya resort on Santa Ana Pueblo, the Republicans were developing their strategy as well.  The Rs knew that they could not allow a plan that roughly approximated the existing districts to stand, as it would freeze their minority status in place. They had one trump card—the Republican Governor and his veto pen and the fact that Republicans like Pete Domenici and Manuel Lujan had been elected even given the Democratic registration edge of 1.7 Ds to 1 R statewide.

    Republicans contended that the voting trend during the past decade was moving in their direction and that districts should be drawn to be competitive, so as to give voters a choice based on the best candidate.    Republicans  overall were casting more votes in the state than Democrats, according to their point person, Sen. Rod Adair, a demographer who both sat on the Redistricting and Rules Committee and was hired by his party to crunch the numbers in its favor. Past voting behavior, rather than voter registration, should be considered in drawing lines, he said. Republican efforts to turn out the vote during the past decade (especially through absentee ballots) had been very effective, and the Rs wanted to translate their gains into new district lines that would give them a fighting chance to pick up seats.

    Throughout the summer Adair dedicated himself to disproving what the census figures showed was a big problem for the Republicans—the fact that the heavily rural and Republican east side of the state had not grown, and in some area, had actually lost population. This raised the specter of eliminating a senate seat there. And that seat could potentially be Adair’s!  Adair, lives in Roswell and represents District 33 which includes Chaves and Lincoln Counties. The success of Adair’s efforts (and own his future) depended on his attempts to show that Otero and Lincoln counties, where population and increased, were really east—and not west side counties.

    Working in synch with the Governor’s office, the Republicans keep up a steady drumbeat, trying to discredit the process as a behind-closed-doors deal with maps that portended racial gerrymandering and blatant incumbent protection. We need a vigorous two-party system, they contended, and with the Democrats in control, that is not possible.

    Although the arguments were clearly at odds with the ABCs of redistricting, which did not include competitiveness as a criteria for drawing districts, and explicitly forbade using a “votes cast” (performance) formula rather than census figures to draw lines, they had some currency with voters and the media, especially the more conservative newspapers.

    For years, good government groups have wanted to take redistricting out of the hands of the politicians and put it into the hands of non-partisan commissions. Legislatures have fought back to protect their power, and in 2001 only 13 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington) use such commissions. Most have these have been mandated by popular initiatives, a process which New Mexico does not have. Some do not have final authority to draw lines. Most are appointed by legislatures and some contend that partisanship still persists, only in a different forum.

    In that vein, Donald Morrison, a former UNM mathematics and computer science professor came before the Redistricting Committee on several occasions to present his “Concept G”. It was a mathematical formula he had developed which simply fed in the census numbers, input the legal principles and spit out justifiable districts. A number of legislators were interested in this and most were pleased that an ordinary citizen took the time to do this. But the enthusiasm diminished when it became clear that Morrison’s maps did not take into account the location of incumbents’ residences. Nevertheless, the Chairmen of the Committee had his maps drawn up.

    The Chairs also used the resources of Research and Polling to draw up maps suggested by Jose Luis Aguilar, of Mexican Americans for redistricting. The Republicans objected strenuously to this, but Chairman Sandoval, who was particularly outgoing and generous to those who came before the committee, prevailed.

    “We would do the same for anyone,” he said, as Brian Sanderoff, who was charged with actually drawing the maps requested by members, added another item to his lengthy to-do list.

    As the Redistricting Committee traveled around the state, members were beginning to make sense of how the population figures and various maps applied to them, and their chances of re-election. Albuquerque legislators from the center of the city began to realize that their areas had not kept up with the average growth trends. Their districts would need to expand somehow, or one of the districts would have to be eliminated and another created on the West side of the city or in Rio Rancho where the decade’s housing boom had led to a population explosion.

    That made legislators like Rep. Danice Picraux, the newly elected Majority Leader in the House, very nervous. Legislators nearest to her mid-heights district, she feared, would eat up her best precincts and she would have to pick up  heavily Republican ones with which she was unfamiliar. With each meeting, she came to believe that her fellow representatives, led by rival Democrats jockeying for position and power, were out to do her in.  

    Such conspiracy theories abounded.

    For many, the greatest fear was having their district eliminated. And it was not an idle fear. When the final lines were drawn in the House, Rep. Rob Burpo’s Heights District 23 was eliminated—only to reemerge on the West Side, where the population warranted a new seat. Burpo had been talking about running for Governor (which he did, losing in the Republican primary in 2002) unwittingly signaling to leadership, and his neighbors, that his district was up for grabs.

    Another fear was running against a colleague, which was a likely possibility in areas where population growth had not kept up.

    Collegial relations between Senate members, already strained to the max as a result of the recent coup de Senate, were hard to come by. Romero supporters and Aragon supporters rarely travelled together or shared rooms at hotels in the communities where meetings were held. When Romero or Tsosie spoke with Republicans, rumors would spread of a plan to deprive dissenting Democrats of their seats. Discussions about the racial composition of districts had a polarizing effect. The fear of block voting, based on race or ethnicity alone, made members suspect ethnic groups they were not a part of, and wonder whether they could get any Anglo votes if they were a Hispanic, or Hispanic votes if they were an Anglo. Ironically, the history of New Mexico is replete with examples of Anglos winning in minority districts, and Hispanics winning in majority Anglo districts. It all depended upon the situation, the candidate and the party. But, inevitably discussion of voting trends involved stereotypes, predictions of behavior that applied only in the abstract, absent information about the character, values and personality of the candidate.  Even in a multicultural state, the discussion of race was uncomfortable.

    Almost everything about redistricting was uncomfortable for Richard Romero but he knew that he had to cobble some kind of coalition  together to get the job done. So, it was with some anxiety that, gym bag in hand, Romero left the poolside reception held for the Committee in Clovis and jumped up into the pick-up with Senate Minority Leader Stewart Ingle to ride to his ranch near Portales. Ingle, a divorced dry land farmer from Portales, had been in the Senate for years. He has a West Texas twang, and a conservative bent, but Romero knew he also had a penchant for trying to make things work.

         Asked about the chances for a compromise on redistricting between the Republicans and Democrats a few months later, Ingle said, “Dry land farmers are always optimistic. You know, you hope for rain. And the thing about it is, if you don’t get it that day, you’re one day closer to when it rains again.”

         The overnight visit was no big deal, but the state of relations between senators was so strained,  that it took courage to make the effort to cross party and regional lines just to get to know someone by simply seeing where they came from and what their house looked like. In the wrong hands, the visit could be ridiculed as a girls’ pajama party, or proof positive of a plot to punish the supporters of Aragon and hand over the redistricting process to the Republicans. That was the level to which internal politics had sunk in the Senate, but Romero didn’t let it stop him.

         One of the things that has always surprised me about the New Mexico Senate is the fact that Senators don’t visit one another more often when they are in each other’s town. Everyone is super busy, but with the huge distances between towns (New Mexico is the fifth largest state geographically) you’d think that this would happen more often. Down in Las Cruces, Mary Helen Garcia and her husband George were kind enough to host Gail Chasey, Danice Picraux and I a few times, but this was the exception and not the rule. Legislators are paid a per diem and mileage for interim committees and most prefer to drive alone to the meetings and stay by themselves in local hotel rooms.

         Summer gave way to early fall in New Mexico. Kids returned to school in mid-August and the light began to change as it does in New Mexico, sharpening the edges of all it illuminated. In Santa Fe, the interim Redistricting Committee concluded its work. Chairman Ed Sandoval directed staff to draft the various concept maps the committee had considered  for Congress, the House, the Senate, the PRC and the state School Board into bill formats, ready for introduction into the special session, which was coming right up the following week, starting Sept. 3.

         The leadership and the Governor had been meeting in the past few weeks to clarify what could—and could not—be considered during the special session. The Governor agreed to restrict the official proclamation to redistricting only, and not to include the contentious tax cut which Romero had succeeded in passing, but the Governor vetoed because it was not the whole enchilada. The proclamation would also exclude capital outlay items that the Governor had also vetoed, which were bread and butter items to legislators. This would simplify negotiations, which, if these items were on the table, would be subject to what is euphemistically called “leveraging,” or vote trading. Now capital outlay projects and tax cuts could not be traded for desired votes on various redistricting measures, which would have confounded an already complicated task. Two emergency items would be on the agenda, it was agreed—the funding for the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad and the San Juan County murder trial request. These were to be addressed through a second proclamation which would apply to the end of the special session.

    With the work of the interim complete, the Redistricting Committee disbanded, and power shifted back to the floor leadership, committee chairs and both the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Senate. The redistricting bills considered in the interim committee would be introduced just like any other bills, and they would go through the normal committee process. But special sessions are not normal. Only a few of the standing committees meet and there is lots of down time. Senators have plenty of time to talk amongst themselves, have a drink at the Pink Adobe or walk downtown to the Plaza.The real work comes in both caucuses with the leadership forging consensus or hammering out compromises internally, or with the House or the other party.

    With the Democrats divided, Romero knew that it would be difficult to move, but he didn’t quite anticipate the fury that was about to unfurl within the caucus, or the near fatal mistake that he had made in appointing Manny Aragon as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. Traditionally, the Rules Committee handles all voting and redistricting matters, a power that Aragon now grasped fully, first moving to capture the map making and computer capabilities for his assistants, especially his young aide Joey Giratelli, then mounting a campaign to discredit the work of the Redistricting Committee.

    At the first of a series bloodletting caucuses held on the third floor of the roundhouse, Tsosie and Sanderoff, who had been called in, to explain the various concepts, tried to summarize the work of the interim committees. As Tsosie was presenting a revised Concept A, Aragon interrupted, “all this map making is disrespectful. It is undermining the standing committees,” he said.

    Directing his comments at Richard Romero, Aragon said, “All this righteousness.  This is your process, not mine, and everything was done behind closed doors. Before you said that was the rationale for new leadership, but now we have an unofficial caucus that decides everything in advance."

    "I knew nothing about this plan," Sen Cynthia Nava chimed in--as if on cue.

    “Looks like we can’t go through Brian anymore,” added Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, who, although she was a member of the interim committee, was now under the influence of the charismatic Aragon, transferred her trust to Joey Giratelli who had begun churning out a number of alternative maps.

    Tsosie and Romero tried to proceed, urging the caucus to in focus on the maps themselves and break into regional clusters—the North, the South, Albuquerque to trade whatever precincts they could in pursuit of maintaining incumbent positions, and maybe picking up more Democratic seats.

    It was difficult to maintain order.

    “Look, Richard finally said, “going into this process there was a belief that I was out to screw Manny but if you look at any of these maps you can see that that’s not the case.”

    “I’m tired of your bullshit,” responded Manny his arms waving, “Don’t talk bullshit, the Rules Committee is in charge. Period end of story.”

    Sen. Pete Campos tried to intervene, “Can we come to an understanding on procedure?”

    No positive response from anyone.

    “If we have a plan that we can agree on, what’s so bad about that?” asked Tsosie, but by then people were leaving, and the caucus, although not formally adjourned, was over.

    The next week, the Senate Rules Committee began its hearings, immediately substituting a bill of senate districts that Manny had drawn up using elaborate maps created by his own assistant Joey Giratelli. Giratelli,  had obtained access to the computers and plotters needed to make the maps through Chief Clerk Margaret Larraigoite. The Legislative Council, which had staffed the interim committee and worked with Brian Sanderoff simply had to follow along.

    Hearings in the Senate Rules Committee became a carnival of conflicting interests, with frequent outbursts from members of the committee, and clashes between Sen. Aragon and Sen. Adair. Sometimes, Sen. Aragon would request the sergeant of arms to immediately fetch the lawyers for this plan or the other. Abrupt rulings of the chair, interruptions and even ridicule became commonplace. The audience for the hearings grew bigger every day, even during the sad days immediately following 9-11, which occurred in the middle of the special session’s proceedings.

    Much of the testimony, orchestrated to support Manny’s plan for Congressional redistricting, revolved around the need for a strong Hispanic voice in Congress. At the time New Mexico was represented by Democrat Tom Udall in Congressional District 3, Republican Heather Wilson in the Albuquerque area and Republican  Joe Skeen in the South and East. No Hispanic had represented the state in Congress since 1997, when Bill Richardson left to assume a position in the Clinton administration.

    Manny’s plan was to create a district that ran up and down the Rio Grande Valley from Alameda in the North (where Heather Wilson lived) to Las Cruces in the South. The theory at least was that although this plan divided Albuquerque into three parts, the continuous valley area composed an agricultural community of interest that, fortuitously would also be predominantly Hispanic and Democratic. The northern district would also remain Democratic and composed of a majority of minorities, namely Hispanics and Native Americans. The South and East (which would now include the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque) were ceded to the Republicans and remained predominately Anglo.

         To support the plan a parade of witnesses recalled for the committee the beauty of Hispanic culture, its centrality to the state and the fact that the legislature was the one place that elementary students could come to see Hispanics in power. “New Mexico will be growing more and more Hispanic,” said Cate Stetson, an ally of Manny who was at that time the Chair of the Bernalillo County Democratic Party. “Even though I am white, and my ancestors came over on the Mayflower, I am not happy that our entire congressional delegation (including Senators Bingaman and Domenici) is white.

    Others recalled the history of discrimination against Hispanics and the law that required respect for minority rights.

    Republicans on the committee, including Sen. Don Kidd, who represented a majority minority district near Carlsbad, countered by saying that race itself was not everything in elections.  Sometimes Anglos elect Hispanics and Hispanics elect Anglos, he said, depending on the quality of the candidate. Take the case of Manuel Lujan, elected to Congress for year in a majority Anglo district or Bill Richardson, who was nearly elected there in 1984.

    “Is the only way to elect a Hispanic to have a majority Hispanic District,” he asked.

    “Yes,” replied Manny, unequivocally," because of the history of block voting."

    A near scuffle erupted as Sen. Rod Adair denied that there was no evidence of block voting in New Mexico.

    Brian Sanderoff, at the witness table, indicated that there was plenty of evidence. “Yes, according to a regression analysis of Hispanics vs. Anglos in single member districts there is block voting against Hispanics. There is some block voting in Albuquerque, but it is not as pronounced as elsewhere. “

    “You never did such a study,” said Adair.

    “Yes, I did,” responded Sanderoff, it’s in the court records from past redistricting cases, I worked specifically on District 41—in the SE corner of the state.

    Adair did not believe him and requested the actual records. But the questions surrounding block voting went deeper than mathematics and past court records.

    For Manny, and many others, is was a about righting past wrongs.  

    “To say that we’ve always gotten along, is far from the truth.”  To make it more real, Aragon drew from his own experience. When I was playing in the Little League, my team, the “Sandies” couldn’t play because we couldn’t afford uniforms. And when my new wife and I were visiting Carlsbad Caverns on our honeymoon, we couldn’t get a room at White’s City, although the motel was empty of visitors.

    “Not having a Hispanic representative affects our young people, added Sen. Roman Maes.” It seems like the only publicity that Hispanics get nowadays is when we see them in handcuffs on the nightly news”.

    “This affects our young people,” said Maes, a Santa Fe real estate agent who, on another front, was fighting mightily to get as many Anglos as possible out of his own Senate district. His district been rapidly gentrifying over the past decade—thanks to the lucrative real estate sales that Maes himself facilitated. But now he felt his own election was in jeopardy (he was right, he was defeated by an Anglo in a Democratic primary in 2004) and the leadership of real Hispanics like Manny—who did not compromise— was at risk.

    Richard Romero, also a member of the Rules Committee, sat silent during most of these discussions, completely aware that by virtue of his coalition he was not considered a real Hispanic, and by virtue of his Albuquerque constituency, he was a threat to Nortenos, the large group of Hispanic Democrats from the North who had deep root s in the soil and in  New Mexico’s rural and religious traditions.

    The Nortenos were only too glad to see Albuquerque divided up, with the First Congressional District not only becoming more Democratic but more rural, maybe even electing a Hispanic that was not from Albuquerque.

    “Albuquerque is so vast and so populated,” said Sen. Maes, “I’d like to see Albuquerque diluted and dispersed.” 

    This would rectify the anti-Albuquerque feeling as well, he said tossing a bone to those who represented over 60 % of the state’s population.

    Meanwhile over the next several days, the bloodletting continued in the Democratic caucus over the Senate plan. With divided leadership, it was difficult to make the basic decisions from which all the other lines could be drawn. Should a Republican seat be eliminated on the East Side? How could a district be eliminated in central Albuquerque without pairing two Democrats? How could a new one be created on the West Side of Albuquerque without handing the Republicans an extra vote.

    Instead of coming up with an overall approach, and then taking a vote on it, each senator believed that the overall map should start with his or her district and radiate out from there. Votes on overall concepts were blocked, and delay and chaos resulted.

    Manny wanted a scorched earth policy – pairing Hurt and Pinto in the Northwest part of the state, Adair and Baily on the East Side, and Boitano and Sndyer in the Heights of Albuquerque. The plan meant a pick-up of seats for the Democrats, but certain incumbents would be sacrificed. Wouldn’t the Republicans do the same to us? Hardball was the name of the game, just look at the recent Supreme Court decision, giving the Florida votes to Bush, he said.

    When anyone in the caucus pointed out that this would certainly be vetoed by the Governor and then go to court where it would be completely out of our hands, their courage, loyalty and credibility was challenged.

    At one point, after the Governor vetoed the plan that we sent up, which roughly followed the outline that Manny proposed, I got into an argument with Sen. Roman Maes, who simply wanted to go home—to Sine Die—rather than make any modifications that might involve compromise.

    “Really we know what is going on,” Maes said,  “There have been deals made, there is a conspiracy afoot, and when I find out about it, I will personally come and work against those who vote with the Republicans.”

    “That’s a threat Roman, and it really has no place here.  It sows distrust,” I said. I was fed up with Roman and his simplistic, grudge politics and started to walk out. “Go ahead and leave, good riddance,” he said.

    I thought better of it, though, since that would be caving in to intimidation. Instead, walking toward the door, I took a detour and plopped myself down right next to Maes, just so he knew that whatever he did, I’d be right there, witnessing the latest in a continuing stream of antics. (Earlier in the session Roman had proposed his own solution to the press, which was eager for something colorful with which to spice up the dullest of backroom maneuvering. Manny and Richard should run against each other in a district in downtown Albuquerque, he proposed, and that would solve the whole thing.)

    Moments after the outburst, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, who had earlier walked out, offended by the foul language, and the hostile atmosphere, came over to Maes, openly crying and said, “If you have any evidence I’m conspiring with someone, let’s see it.”

    Maes, of course, did not have any such evidence, apart from the fact that some members wanted to be more compromising than others.

    The Republicans, for the most part, were as united as the Democrats were divided, and they had a better public pitch. Going into the session they had immediately dubbed the congressional plan that was put forth to create a district stretching from the North Valley of Albuquerque to the Mexican border as Plan D---with the D standing for Democrat. They argued it was a racial gerrymander that would make Manny a king, at the expense of a divided Albuquerque.

    Never mind that the Republicans had their own plan, which stretched Congressional District 1 from Los Alamos to Kirtland Air Force Base on the premise that it would unite high tech communities of interest—Los Alamos Labs, Intel in Rio Rancho and Sandia National Labs. It would also be predominately Republican.

    The Republicans also got press from a mock Memorial they introduced to bid farewell and recognize the service of several Senators including Shirley Baily, Alan Hurt, Caroll Leavell and Diane Snyder who would be sacrificed by the Democratic plan to redistrict the Senate.

    The memorial got a laugh from everyone but also underlined the fact that redistricting is a ruthless process whereby “legislators take each other to the mountaintop, kiss and then push one another over the side,” as one writer said.

    Ultimately, a plan supported by the majority of Democratic Senators, which pitted Boitano vs. Snyder, packed Sen. Allen Hurt’s  Farmington district with Navajos, and collapsed two eastern senate districts, was sent up to the Governor.

    Johnson promptly vetoed the bill, calling it an obvious partisan gerrymander. He said the merged Albuquerque seat “ resembled a science fiction movie ray gun stretching across the Heights area of the city. He maintained that there really had been no population decline of the East Side and challenged the legislature to send him back a plan that had more competitive seats.

    The veto encouraged the Democrats who wanted Romero to fail, spurred calls to Sine Die (adjourn the session) and made a resolution all the more difficult. By this time the lawyers on all sides were angling for a favorable court ruling on one or the other maps that had been introduced and were giving advice on whether to modify the old bill and send it back up. That might show that the legislature was giving it the old college try under difficult circumstances and would reflect well with the court. Redistricting is a legislative function, and acknowledged as such in the constitution, so judges dislike actually drawing the political lines themselves .

    Meanwhile, as senators debated precinct boundaries and pursued personal and partisan advantage, the world changed. New York’s twin towers, the Pentagon and the Capitol were under attack from the air and chaos and violence raged.

    Shortly after the first reports came in the morning on 9/11, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of the Capitol. Senators, Representatives, staff, folks from the Governor’s office gathered outside, listening to car radios, wondering, like all Americans, what was next. The New Mexico sky remained heartbreakingly blue, a reminder of just how far we were from the scene of death and destruction far to the East.

    Within the space of a few hours, the Governor and the leaders of the House and the Senate decided that while safety might dictate adjournment or recess, duty and honor demanded that we conduct business as usual, without bowing to intimidation. We met in a joint session in the Senate chambers at 3 pm. The Governor gave a short address, praising us for showing great courage in convening here to let the public know we are open for business. A rabbi read the 23rdpsalm, and a pastor from Santa Fe, a woman prayed for us all, urging restraint and love amidst anger and violence.  Sen. Stewart Ingle sang the Lord’s Prayer. Senator Tim Jennings urged us to give comfort to those who may have lost loved ones. And Manny Aragon urged us to be more involved in foreign affairs and domestic violence in our communities.

    The outpouring of food, financial aid, and blood donations from New Mexicans in the days that followed is now well known. As most of us sat glued to the television sets in the Senate lounge, or at home, in hotel rooms, we were united at last, united in horror and disbelief.

    In short order, the clergy from Santa Fe, and our own chaplains organized a ceremony of prayer and remembrance in the Capitol rotunda on Friday Sept. 14, which drew Santa Feans of all stripes. There were Sikhs from Northern New Mexico, young Native American drummers, Catholic bishops, Jewish rabbis, plaza vendors, legislators and many who simply walked in off the street. Secretaries and state office workers, many of them waving small flags, packed the balconies overlooking the rotunda. The tremendous display of unity amidst all of our differences reaffirmed my belief that our diversity is one of our greatest strengths.

    But the glow of unity did not carry over into the remaining work yet to be done—namely the finalization of a congressional plan and, amidst all the other controversy, redrawing the lines for the Public Regulation Commission’s five districts. The PRC is a relatively young institution created by merging the appointed Public Utility Commission with the elected Corporation Commission to regulate electric, gas utilities, transportation, telecommunications and insurance.

    Democrats wanted to preserve consumer interests by creating a competitive district in Albuquerque, and “safe” districts in the north and Indian Country to the West. Republicans were angling for an edge in either the Southern district or in Albuquerque. A compromise was finally reached to make two swing districts and three safe districts. The Albuquerque district and the Las Cruces districts would be the swing districts, with Albuquerque slightly tilting toward Democrats and Las Cruces slightly tilting toward the Republicans. The final map was to be voted on in a conference committee, a meeting of a few House and Senate members appointed by the respective leaders of each chamber, to hammer out differences between the Senate and the House bills. The Democrats held the majority and so endorsed the map with the Albuquerque district tilting to the Dems, in spite of Republican counterproposal to have the Democratic district in the South and the Republican tilting one in the Albuquerque area. The matter was settled. Or so we thought. But, due to a staff error, the bill  passed by both chambers and sent to the governor, was the wrong one. We had sent the map that the Republicans wanted up to the Governor by mistake. It was promptly signed--- one of the few that was not vetoed during the special session.    

    In the end, The Congressional plan sent to the Governor, was largely the one Manny devised. Worn down by the bitterness, and knowing that the Governor would veto the plan, only a few Democratic senators, including Richard Romero, opposed it. Romero’s opposition—on the common-sense grounds that it divided Albuquerque into three parts—was seen as treason, and, after the session adjourned, he was roundly criticized in a letter to Democrats penned  by Diane Denish, the Democratic Party Chair.

    As predicted, the Governor vetoed the bill saying that it “resembled a state fair pin wheel spinning across New Mexico.” And he blasted the legislature, saying “hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless man-hours were wasted in a process that forgot the voter and remembered only partisanship and egotistical bickering.” Earlier, Johnson had taken aim at the senate plan, because it paired two Republican incumbents in a district “resembling a science fiction movie ray gun stretching across the Heights area of the city.”

    After 17 days and $700,000 in costs, the special session adjourned Sept. 20th, with all of the redistricting bills, save that of the mistaken PRC map—immediately vetoed. Manny’ combative partisan approach had prevailed, but the result was gridlock.

    The Albuquerque Journal blasted the legislators power plays as bringing shame on the legislature and bemoaned the fact that the constitution did not allow recalls. Republicans and Democrats alike faced their wrath. The Republicans were wishing for deadlock, thwarting compromise and threatening vetoes almost reflexively, they said. Aragon was trying to punish his enemies and Democrats could not agree among themselves.  

    Many of the senators themselves felt the session had been a bust. Sen. Michael Sanchez told one newspaper, “I sincerely wish the debate had been less personal. I think we’ve all been driven by people outside of this body. We’ve been forced to do things by the parties not in the interest of our constituents.” 

    As the lawyers prepared for the inevitable court cases, there was another shoe to drop in the now boiling conflict between Manny and Richard.

 The Tamaya Massacre

    Some called it the counter coup. Other, the massacre at Tamaya. By whatever name, a Democratic caucus called  by Manny’s  senate supporters ousted Majority Leader Tim Jennings and Democratic Caucus Chair Linda Lopez on Saturday Oc.t 27, 2001. Called at the last minute, the caucus drew only 12 of the Senate’s 24 Democrats, which didn’t constitute the required quorum of 13. Regardless of that small technicality, the 12 Manny supporters, who brought with them two proxies, one of them from ailing Senator Joe Fidel, got rid of both Jennings and Lopez, both seem as too sympathetic to Romero. Sen. Phil Griego was elected to replace Lopez, and Manny became Majority Leader, ousting Jennings.

    The behind-the-scenes move, at the Santa Ana casino didn’t smell right to the press and the pubic, and the counterinsurgents were forced to repeat the vote at a caucus that was properly noticed and attended by all members. The vote was upheld in November and Manny was back in a position of power on the floor, where he was now in charge of which bills were heard and in which order.

    Jennings, in particular, was not happy with the move, and for a while after the vote, Aragon and Jennings did not speak.

    “But that’s fine,” Jennings told the Santa Fe Reporter, “This is politics, I understand that.”

    Aragon himself was unapologetic over the move. “You don’t necessarily have to be nice,” he told the same newspaper. “This isn’t a fraternity—this isn’t a sorority.”

    Meanwhile, the vetoed redistricting plans for both the NM House and Congress were headed to state court, since Johnson was unwilling to call another special session until an agreement had been reached, and that didn’t look likely. A deadline for resolving differences given to legislators and the governor by District Court Judge Frank Allen  also elapsed. This didn’t sit well with Allen who said he was “damn mad” that the legislature fooled around and the Court, and a whole slew of expensive lawyers from both parties, the legislature and other stakeholders had to get involved.  He saw redistricting as a legislative prerogative, and after Romero indicated that he was going to appoint smaller redistricting committee, he gave the Senate another shot at doing it themselves since Senate elections were not so imminent as those in the House.

    The committee that Romero appointed was evenly divided with four Democrats (Sens. Leonard Tsosie, Michael Sanchez, Linda Lopez and John Arthur Smith) and four Republicans ( Sens. Leonard Lee Rawson, Carroll Leavell, Sue Wilson Beffort, and Dianna Duran). The committee met for three days in November in the small offices of Brian Sanderoff in Albuquerque and came up with a compromise map that was sent back to party caucuses for approval.

    The map was generally an incumbent protection plan that had   accommodated population changes without pairing any incumbents, and without eliminating a seat on the East Side. Most of  the Republicans. said it would provide a good foundation for further discussion, with some significant tweaks, which could be made during the upcoming regular session.

    Sen. Ramsay Gorham, a Republican from Albuquerque, for example, insisted that a precinct containing former Senator Janice Paster (whom she had run against twice, successfully) be removed from her district.

    On Jan. 3, Judge Allen rendered his decision on the Congressional and the House plans, ordering maps that incorporated the “least change.”  Whether this was a victory for the Republicans, or the Democrats was open to debate, but no one doubted that it benefited incumbents and did not increase the number of competitive districts. In that sense it was a victory for the Democrats whose dominance was not seriously threatened.

    Could the Republicans in the Senate get a better deal if they tried again for a compromise plan? Stuart Ingle and ultimately Gov. Gary Johnson thought it was worth another shot, particularly since lawyers for the Republican Party had not been successful in getting the House and Congressional cases moved to federal court, which they considered more friendly. Consequently, the issue was placed upon the Governor’s call for the 2002 session, and negotiations continued.

    If enough tweaks were made to the plan that the subcommittee proposed, Romero thought he had the votes to get it passed. And he was right. Sen. Ramsay Gorham was brought on board by the exclusion from her district of  Bernalillo County Precinct 5, the home of her archrival, but there were still those who were adamantly opposed to the compromise, both Democrats and Republicans.

    Aragon, now the Majority Leader, filibustered against the bill for three hours, after the House failed to kill it, as Aragon had hoped.  The usual agreement between the House and the Senate, not to meddle with one another’s plan had held. But Aragon was angry at what he called a “blatant political deal” which he said was formulated in a backroom without adequate public hearing. Waiving the constitution, Aragon said the compromise plan denied the West Side the new seat it deserved. Although he didn’t mention it, he was also disturbed by the five new Republican precinct his own district was forced to absorb.

    Always ready for a good floor fight, Sen. Joe Carraro also railed against the plan, which he said anointed incumbents and enabled Democrats to continue to hold at 24-18 majority over Republicans for another ten years. Four Republicans ended up voting against the plan along with seven Democrats, mostly Aragon loyalists.

    “Talk about strange bedfellows,” Carraro said. “This is a very strange group of people. It’d look like the bar scene in Star Wars if you put us all together.”

    In the end, the compromise redistricting bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis 29-11, with 15 Democrats and 14 Republicans voting for it. The majority had taken the short and curt advice offered by Romero during the final floor debate. “It’s time to do our duty and rise to the occasion.”   New Mexicans should not be taxed further to pay for another court battle, he added.

         The Governor finally agreed, signing the bill on March 5, 2002.

         With the exception of the extreme partisans on both the right and the left, who felt they could have done better in court or in committee, a wave of relief swept over most senators. Now we knew exactly who our constituents were, and we could contact them in preparation for the 2004 campaign. I ended up with one of the strangest (and largest)  districts in Albuquerque running from the West Side to the southwest corner of Arroyo del Oso golf course near Louisiana and Osuna. The core of my district remained the North Valley and the percentage remained heavily Democratic. Thus, I would probably be sparred a contentious general election, since the Republicans would put their money where there was more of a chance of victory. A Democratic primary was always a possibility, and in fact I did have a challenger in the 2004 and 2008 primaries.

         On paper, Senate District 13 (lucky 13, I always call it)  looks like a machine gun pointing at the Heights of Albuquerque, a classic gerrymander if there ever was one. The odd shape resulted from the need to expand to match the average population of each Senate district. Most of the new voters I gained were registered Republicans, and based on communities of interest and ethnic make-up, they didn’t have much in common with the largely Hispanic, traditional North Valley.

         This was also the case with Precinct 5, a long finger of my district running up into the Village of Los Ranchos, a well-to-do area that lines the area east of the Rio Grande. This was the precinct rejected by Sen. Ramsay Gorham because it included the home of her archrival former Sen. Janice Paster. I was happy to accept it in the name of compromise, but it is a good example of how a community of interest was sacrificed to meet the needs of incumbent protection and an explanation of why senate districts look so weird.

         The redistricting process had taken up almost a year, starting with a bill that put forth the basic principles during the 2001 session and ending with court rulings on the Congressional and House plans in Jan. 2002 that had cost almost $4 million for legal and consultants fees. The final curtain fell when, the Governor signed SB 485, the Senate redistricting plan sponsored by Sen. Leonard Tsosie on March 5, 2002. It had been a contentious year of sparring between President Pro Temp Richard Romero and Majority Leader Manny Aragon. The outright hostility between two made compromises among the Democrats difficult. With no one firmly in charge of the process, on either the Democratic or Republican side, chaos ensued, with each legislator protecting his or her interests first and foremost. And to do so, many senators were willing to travel with their colleagues to the mountain top, and once there push them over the side, to obtain their best precincts or pair them with other senators in reelection campaigns.

         Out of this chaos, Romero did the best he could do, cobbling together an incumbent protection plan that was satisfactory to a majority of senators. It was not pleasing to either the political parties or to the supporters of Sen. Aragon, whose bill to pair four Republican incumbents and pick up a Democratic seat had been vehemently vetoed by the Governor.

 The plan that survived created 22 safe Democratic seats and 17 solid Republican districts, leaving only three competitive ones, based on average voting trends. It seemed to defy population trends, with no seat eliminated on the East Side of the state where the population had declined drastically, and no new one on the West Side of Albuquerque where the population had increased dramatically. Communities of interest in Los Alamos and Albuquerque were split and the status quo enshrined for the next decade, or so everyone thought at the time.

         Up until the election of 2008 this was born out by general election results, with the Democrats holding the same 24 seats and the Republicans 18. But in 2008, with population changes trending in their direction and the Obama landslide offering coat tails, the Democratic majority increased to 27 to 15.  

         Several of the new Democratic senators, from seats that were previously held by Republicans, were more careful, and more moderate than those who had held safe seats for years. a change that shook things up a little.  But the core of the Senate remained the same, with safe Democratic seats and safe Republican seats.

 A frozen map, based on safe seats tends to increase the seniority of members, allow for little change in the leadership and, most important—little reason for incumbents to compromise on policy for political reasons. In my own district, for example, I am much  better off politically to espouse the Democratic party line, win or lose, and increase my chances of election. And Republican members are in the same boat—unless they want to pass legislation that requires the support of the opposition party or the signature of an opposing Governor. Then the political pitch, which accentuates differences between you and your opponent, is a handicap rather than a help. Common ground, compromise—that is what  is needed to move forward on issues like health care, the environment and economic development. But neither the system of campaigns nor the process of redistricting encourage these two essential ingredients of good public policy.  ###