SANTA FE (AP) — New Mexico taxpayers shelled out nearly $8 million for the politically divisive, once-a-decade task of drawing new district boundaries for the Legislature, Congress and other elected offices, according to state records.
The expenses exceeded the nearly $7 million in total adjusted for inflation costs for redistricting after the 2000 census. Actual costs were $5.2 million at the time.
And given that political standoffs accounted for the bulk of the price tag each time around, the numbers are providing fresh ammunition for those who say an appointed bipartisan commission should handle the job of revamping district boundaries — not lawmakers and the governor.
Much like what happened a decade ago, a court ended up resolving the latest redistricting dispute between a Democratic-controlled Legislature and a Republican governor.
"I just thought it was appalling the way this whole thing was done," Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said Thursday. The Albuquerque Democrat blames the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez for failing to resolve their differences and avoid an expensive court battle.
Republican Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell also favors having a bipartisan commission handle redistricting, saying it will eliminate the "over-the-top greediness that members in both parties have for their districts."
"If you had a commission, you could have demographers focusing on ethnic groups, racial categories, economics, municipalities and all the things that make up the state. But all of this is subordinated to the goals of parties when you have the current system," said Adair, who didn't seek re-election after he was lumped into the same district as another incumbent because of boundary changes.
Martinez supports having a redistricting commission, according to her spokesman Greg Blair. She favors a proposal introduced in the past by Adair and the governor's chief of staff, Keith Gardner, a former GOP legislator from Roswell.
According to records from the Legislature and the Martinez administration, about $7.9 million was spent from start to finish on redistricting. That figure covers a special legislative session last September, a legislative committee that held hearings around the state last summer, demographic work starting in 2008 to prepare for redistricting and nearly $5.7 million in litigation costs after the map-drawing dispute ended up in court.
Redistricting is necessary to adjust the boundaries of political districts for population changes. The goal is equalize district populations as much as possible to meet the legal doctrine of one-person, one-vote.
The process touches the lives of all New Mexicans because the makeup of a district can give a political party an advantage in winning elections that will determine who controls the policy decisions in the Legislature and Congress as well as a state regulatory agency.
Redistricting landed in court after Martinez vetoed proposals passed by the Legislature for revamping district boundaries for the House, the Senate and the Public Regulation Commission. The governor contended the legislative proposals were unfair to Republicans. And lawmakers failed to approve a plan for new congressional districts.
Trials were held in Santa Fe and new district maps were ordered by a retired state district judge, who was appointed by the state Supreme Court to deal with redistricting lawsuits brought by groups of Democrats, Republicans and minority voters.
A decade earlier, a judge had to draw congressional and state House district boundaries after then GOP Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed proposals approved by the Democratic-dominated Legislature.
According to the Legislative Council Service, adjusted for inflation redistricting legal costs a decade ago totaled about $5 million — $3.7 million in 2001-2002 dollars — but that was for court fights over Congress and state House districts.
The $5.7 million spent on litigation this time went for redistricting Congress, both chambers of the Legislature and the five-member PRC, which regulates utilities, telecommunications and insurance. Of that, slightly more than $1 million went for lawyers, consultants and other legal expenses for GOP elected officials who were sued in redistricting lawsuits — the governor, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran. Not included are salaries of the governor's staff attorneys, who put in work on the redistricting cases but were not paid extra for those duties.
About $3.7 million of the litigation costs were for the legal teams of Democratic, GOP, Hispanic and Native American voters who filed the redistricting lawsuits.
Roughly $894,000 was for the Legislature's attorneys and its demographic consultant, who testified during trials and helped prepare redistricting maps for the other parties in the litigation.
Adair and Ortiz y Pino contend that redistricting wouldn't cost as much if it was left to a commission.
"I think it's totally unrealistic to expect the Legislature to objectively redistrict itself. It's going to wind up in court over and over again," Ortiz y Pino.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.