20 Years Ago: Drawing NM District Lines in the Shadow of 9-11

    As the NM Citizens Redistricting Commission prepares to issue its draft district maps on September 16, I can’t help but think back twenty years ago to the tumultuous redistricting process in 2001. We were in a special redistricting session, which was interrupted by 9-11, but we labored on, in the shadow, for better or worse.  

Here's  an excerpt from the op ed I wrote for SourceNM, a new online news source, which I highly recommend. Marissa DeMarco, formerly of the KUNM and the Weekly Alibi, is the editor.

...Meanwhile, as senators debated precinct boundaries and pursued personal and partisan advantage, the world changed. The twin towers, the Pentagon and the US Capitol came under attack from the air, and chaos and violence raged. 

Shortly after the first reports came in on the morning of 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 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 to let the public know we were 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. Stuart Ingle sang the Lord’s Prayer.  Senator Tim Jennings urged us to give comfort to those who may have lost loved ones. 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 for 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 redistricting. The wrangling continued. After 17 days and $700,000 in costs, the special session adjourned Sept. 17. Only one plan that had been sent up to the Governor was signed, and it was a map for the PRC districts that the legislative conference committee had sent up to the third floor by mistake.

The national crisis, the anxious gatherings in front of the TV in the Senate lounge were not enough to bring the partisan legislators together. A few months—and $4 million in legal fees—later State District Judge Frank Allen determined the lines of both US House and Congressional districts. In a last-ditch effort in the Senate, Sen. Romero and Minority Leader Stuart Ingle set up another committee , which came up with a compromise plan that was passed in the 2002 session and signed by the Governor. It was a piece of good news in a contentious process.

Or was it?...

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