State Republicans throw down ‘obstructionist’ tactic to stall vote on Senate map

By: - December 16, 2021 1:00 am

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe in December 2021 (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

A new state Senate map that would shape the next decade of New Mexico politics remains elusive after a late-night stunt by Republican senators delaying the bill’s passage. 

Senators didn’t start their scheduled 6 p.m. session until around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, following days of disagreement on the state Senate redistricting plan. The negotiations remain stalled after the introduction of a map last weekend that ignored some priorities of a tribal coalition. Senators instead redrew the map to prevent two Republican senators in Districts 29 and 30 from being drawn into the same district, among other things, and presented it with little warning on Sunday.

Tribal leaders object to 11th-hour NM Senate redistricting map

Tribal officials with the All-Pueblo Council of Governors spent months achieving a consensus on the Senate maps, ones they said preserve their voting power in Northwestern New Mexico and honor their right to self-determination.

State Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), who first sponsored a measure that reflected the tribal consensus early in the legislative session, introduced a new map Wednesday, one that continues to draw Republican Sens. Greg Baca and Joshua Sanchez in D 29 and D 30 into the same district. That means one would have to quit or they would run in an election against each other. 

Both districts have identical demographics and contain the same precincts, according to a comparison of both bills. 

The only difference between the two maps is the shifting of some precincts between Districts 3 and 4 in the northwest corner of New Mexico, out of line with the original tribal consensus plan, though the coalition supports Lopez’s amended bill, according to a tribal coalition member.

Sen. Shannon Pinto (D-Tohatchi) urged lawmakers to support the newly revised map that reflects what tribes and pueblos want. 

“As we move forward and see the work that was put into this very judiciously and tediously, we also know that there are people who do have the capacity and the knowledge to help the state of New Mexico with redistricting,” Pinto said.

State Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) voiced his opposition. 

“Today is an unfortunate time in the history of the state,” Brandt said. “This map is a travesty to our state.”

Republicans have expressed frustration with the redistricting process when it comes to the pairing of incumbent senators like Sanchez and Baca. 

New redistricting group created slate of fair maps, but will lawmakers listen?

The maps produced for the Senate and other political districts were created over months by the Citizen Redistricting Committee, a nonpartisan group that evaluated maps based on communities, demographics and district size but did not consider partisan data or where an incumbent lived. 

As the measure neared a vote, Brandt issued a rare “call of the Senate,” which pulls all senators into the chambers. This often means senators — sometimes even corralled by state troopers — are required to be in the room, and the issue at hand cannot proceed unless they’re present or have an excused absence. 

It can only be done with approval of seven senators. In this case, all seven were Republican. When it was approved, Senate staff shut the chamber doors and began a search for any absent senators. 

State Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) was apparently absent without an excuse, which halted the proceedings. 

That’s when Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), the Senate’s majority floor leader, announced that the Senate would be in recess until noon Thursday, nearing two weeks of the special redistricting session. 

Chris Nordstrum, a spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said the call is often a delaying tactic. He assumes the stunt was used to prevent the passage of the Senate map.

“It’s basically an obstructionist move,” he said. “… I don’t know if this whole thing was orchestrated and she (Sen. Diamond) knew to be in hiding, so to speak, or if she just happened to not be here tonight.” 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.