Expect redistricting fireworks

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By Jay Miller

New Mexico’s 2011 legislative redistricting of state political boundaries promises to be unique in terms of timing, content and politics.
September special sessions are not unusual in New Mexico but a special session beginning this early in the month is rare.
Redistricting special sessions normally are confined to that topic plus a few non-controversial items of a truly emergency nature. Not so this year.
Until 10 years ago, New Mexico’s decennial redistricting sessions were fairly devoid of politics. The 2001 session shows us what likely will happen this year.
September special sessions are popular. They don’t disrupt summer vacations and Santa Fe tourist traffic has subsided. But this session, called by Gov. Susana Martinez for September 6, comes before Santa Fe has finished its summer activities.
Santa Fe’s 299th annual Fiesta activities start Saturday, September 3, the beginning of the Labor Day weekend. They continue for nine days, ending on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Hotels still are full. Streets are packed. And even though the Capitol is several blocks south of the Plaza, it still will be impacted. Lawmakers requested a Sept. 12 start but it is the governor’s decision to make
So far, Gov. Martinez has not been sensitive to local conflicts. Asked to pick a date for an important event earlier in the summer, Martinez chose three possibilities. They were the dates of Spanish Market, Indian Market and the International Folk Art Market.
Had it been the Whole Enchilada Fiesta, she might have seen a problem. Typically, Republican governors seldom have had much love for Santa Fe. They don’t get to know it ahead of time because there aren’t many votes here although there is Republican money.
But lawmakers can work around the inconvenience. It will be their staff who will be most affected. Many of them have Fiesta responsibilities.
This redistricting session will be full of content. The extra items the governor has been adding to the session have been getting more discussion than redistricting itself.
The big item is taking driver’s licenses from illegal aliens. Gov. Martinez promised that would be on the agenda as soon as it was defeated in the regular session.  Animosities over that issue could color decisions on redistricting.
Allowing statewide restrictions on fireworks became an issue in early July when fires were raging around the state. This could wait until next January’s regular session. It won’t be uncontroversial. We have fireworks manufacturers in the state and they are friendly with our lawmakers
A capital outlay bill died during a session-ending filibuster. It means many jobs. This is the type of bill that usually gets added to a special session.
Among other bills the governor is likely to add to the special session are food stamps, in-state preferences for procurement, an unemployment tax adjustment, and a high-wage tax credit for employers.
The politics of redistricting will be cranked up just as it was 10 years ago when Republican Gary Johnson faced off with a Democratic Legislature.
Bruce King had been governor during New Mexico’s previous three redistricting sessions. He had Democratic legislatures all three times but he told the Democratic leaders to cool it on any punitive changes they might have been plotting. But this year, as in 2001, the shackles are off and anything is fair. If Democrats go too far, Gov. Martinez can veto anything she wants, just as Johnson did 10 years ago. That would leave the state Supreme Court to decide as it did in 2001. And that decision again is likely to be a “least change” one.
In 2001, Gov. Johnson began the session during Fiesta week and it went 17 days at a cost of $700,000. Don’t expect anything better this time.

Jay Miller