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Lawmaker plans to keep pushing after redistricting reform proposal stalls

Proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the New Mexico state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, when the Legislature convened to draw new political boundaries.
Cedar Attanasio
Proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the New Mexico state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, when the Legislature convened to draw new political boundaries.

State legislators passed only a fraction of the bills and resolutions introduced in this year’s short, 30-day session. One of proposals that stalled in committee was a resolution to reform the way redistricting is conducted in New Mexico. Its sponsor, Democratic Rep. Natalie Figueroa, spoke with KUNM’s Nash Jones about what happened to the legislation and why she’ll continue to advocate for it.

NATALIE FIGUEROA: HJR9 was a proposal to put before the voters the decision to set up an independent redistricting commission. Right now, our state constitution says that the legislature draws our redistricting maps. So, this proposal would take that job out of the hands of the legislators

KUNM: Why did you advocate for this legislation? Why did you see it as important?

FIGUEROA: It's a question of public faith in our institutions at this point. Having legislators draw their own legislative maps is an inherent conflict of interest. In my opinion, people need to have faith that we aren't drawing maps to serve ourselves.

KUNM: And now HJR9 did get a Do Pass from the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, but it did not get pulled back up in the next committee that it was assigned to, which was the House Judiciary Committee. Fair Districts for New Mexico, a nonprofit advocating for the establishment of an independent commission, said their goals were met when HJR9 was heard in one committee. Was this also your strategy, as the co-sponsor of the legislation? Or did you hope to see it go further?

FIGUEROA: I hoped to see it go at least a little bit further. Knowing that a 30-day session is really short, we always knew that it was unlikely to make it all the way through. But I wanted to build on what we learned in the redistricting session in December, because that's so recent.

KUNM: Is that generally a strategy in the state legislature – to get it heard some, but not passed, in hopes of bringing it back, somewhat vetted?

FIGUEROA: I will say it is more common in a 30-day session. With this issue, we wanted the feedback so that we can address legislator concerns, and come back strong and fast and make sure that it moves farther in the next session.

KUNM: And you did make some amendments to the bill that came out of that feedback. Can you talk a little bit more about the amendments that you made to the resolution?

FIGUEROA: Sure. One of the concerns expressed was the prohibition on who could serve on this type of commission. And we simply tightened up the prohibitions. The version that passed out of committee actually says that no elected official, with the exception of a retired judge, can serve on the redistricting commission. And that's pretty hard line prohibition. Another amendment, which I thought was very wise, was to allow majority and minority leadership to strike certain people from the pool of candidates. We increased that power just a little bit, because there was concern expressed that there wasn't enough legislative input. And that is the only place in this proposal where the legislature gives any kind of input,

KUNM: Right. Because that's kind of the point, right? To remove that conflict of interest. So, other than that, they don't have a say in who gets chosen at the end?

FIGUEROA: That is correct. This proposal establishes the state Ethics Commission as the body that will take applications and create that pool, submit that pool. And then the legislative leadership has some strike power.

KUNM: The next time redistricting will happen is in 2031, which may seem kind of far out. So, there's some time. But, what is next for this effort to get this constitutional amendment question on the ballot for voters to weigh in on?

FIGUEROA: We'll likely bring this back next session and keep trying.

This story is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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