« Albuquerque Rebuild American Dream Gathering Ranked Top Priorities | Main | Shocker: Obama Agrees to Endorse Repeal of DOMA Bill »

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sterling Fluharty: Redistricting or Revolution in Albuquerque?

SterlingFluharty This is the first of a series of guest posts on redistricting issues by Sterling Fluharty, who lives in Albuquerque and is the owner of Southwest Political Services, which specializes in campaigns, polling, redistricting, lobbying, coalition building and publishing.

The Republicans of Albuquerque continue to amaze me. Yesterday in state district court they won the right to proceed with the October 4th municipal election and then to redistrict the City afterward. This ruling plays right into their goal of consolidating power on the City Council. Even more impressively, though, they got Democrats and the ACLU to support this plan, without ever disclosing their actual strategy.

All but one of the Democrats on the City Council bought the City's argument last December that redistricting was being rushed with estimated data. They agreed with the City that it would be wiser to postpone redistricting until after the election, when it could be given the attention it deserved. Most or all of those incumbents believed that a delay in redistricting would help keep Democrats on the City Council for at least another four years, assuming they were reelected.

After the failed attempt in October 2007 to recall Councilor Don Harris, Democrats on the City Council gained the impression that Councilors could not be easily removed. Without death, disability, recall, resignation, removal, or a move out of his district, there was no compelling reason for Harris to give up his seat on the Council. What they didn't anticipate was the situation where the district leaves the Councilor, rather than the other way around.

The ACLU has been an unwitting accomplice as well. With their fight for equal representation, the ACLU has given the Mayor the perfect argument for changing the composition of the Council. The City has committed that "as soon as a redistricting plan is approved by the Mayor and is published for five days, it will go into effect." In other words, one or more members of the Council will be redistricted out of their district in just a few months.

The ACLU says it is pleased that West Side residents will finally be represented on the City Council. But as soon as the City's redistricting is completed, the Mayor will exercise his duty, as outlined in Article IV, Section 9 of the City Charter, to fill any vacancies caused by "termination of residency in the district represented." Ironically, these appointments will provide the equal protection sought by the ACLU, while further delaying the right of West Side residents to be represented by someone of their own choosing.

The Mayor will tell us that both the U.S. Constitution and the City Charter require him to make these appointments to the City Council. He will select one or more individuals who can work effectively with his administration and the five Republicans who currently serve on the City Council. And thus Republicans will create a supermajority on the City Council that will prevail until the municipal elections of October 2013.

There may not be much chance that this Republican plan could still be thwarted in court. The plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit are currently considering an appeal, but their arguments for an injunction against the election were not compelling enough for the previous judge. Almost all of the case law on redistricting talks about the effect that new district boundaries will have on future elections, not the immediate impact they can have on voters who lose their councilor and suddenly need a representative who lives within the new boundaries.

Coming Up
I have a couple predictions. Both Democrats and West Side residents will have plenty to say about this Republican plan during the public comment period at Albuquerque's 2010 Redistricting Committee meeting this Wednesday, July 20, at 6:00 PM in the City Council Chambers. And the Democrats serving on the committee will have to wrestle with the decision of whether to recommend a redistricting plan that will serve Republicans for two years before it can help more Democrats get elected to the City Council.

Things might get really interesting if Democrats and West Side residents decide to join forces. Perhaps with enough pressure the Mayor could be persuaded to appoint one or more Democrats to the City Council after redistricting creates vacancies. If he appoints more Republicans, imagine the recall elections that Democrats and West Side residents could spearhead in 2012. Or maybe the anger against Republicans will spill over into congressional and legislative races that November.

Get Involved
Regardless of what happens, I am hoping for increased civic engagement. During the committee's meetings last November and December, I was the only person who spoke during the public comment period. The judge just gave the City extra time for redistricting so that it could adequately collect and respond to public input. Let's make sure our voices are heard this time and that justice prevails.

This is a guest blog by Sterling Fluharty. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

July 19, 2011 at 09:01 AM in 2011 Albuquerque Municipal Election, City of Albuquerque, Guest Blogger, Redistricting | Permalink

Comments

Hmm, a very different take on this. I'll have to think about it, which is a good thing! Thanks for your perspective.

Posted by: Card Carrying ACLU | Jul 19, 2011 9:26:39 AM

It would help if the redistricting meetings were held on weekends or in the evening. Not everyone can take off from work to attend. They make it hard to participate not easy.

Posted by: Andrew | Jul 19, 2011 10:18:25 AM

Andrew: that's the plan; you're right. Make it hard to participate. Make it hard to register to vote and make it hard to vote.
If you don't have good candidates or good policies you can still win by resorting to these democracy killing tactics.

Posted by: suz | Jul 19, 2011 5:14:46 PM

I think it is interesting that a relatively new person in NM Democratic politics believes the members of Council are naive or too dumb to spot the Republican plan to get a super majority. You believe one or more of the Democrats will be redistricted out of their seats? It is remotely possible one could be redistricted out of a seat, but more than one?

The Republicans would need to draw a map with 3 Dems in the same district or two Dems in two different districts. For example, they would need to draw a map with Debbie and Ken in on district and Ike and Rey in another district. This would make it possible for two districts to exist without representation. A judge would toss out that map and Republicans know this.

They do not want a super majority for two years. They don't need a super majority because 5 votes are as good as 6 votes if the mayor supports the policy. A super majority is only needed to override the mayor.

They will be looking at performance data to create 5 districts that favor Republicans. This could give them the majority for a few election cycles. If Berry is reelected and they keep a majority on council, they control city government for another 4 years. If Berry loses and 5 Republicans still serve on the council, they control half the government.

In the weeks ahead it is important to look at District 7. This is a swing district. They need to move it east or north to make it a Republican district. Republicans are not going to sacrifice the long term for a short term strategy that will fall apart in 2 years. Reps are in it for the long hall and Dems need to think in increments of ten years when redistricting or they will become the minority for 10 more years.

Posted by: Mike | Jul 21, 2011 1:13:50 PM

Remember this is the same Democratic Party that sat on its hands and let Dan Lewis and his crazy right wing Christians win on the west side. They are stupid and lazy. I wouldn't doubt that they have no idea what is really going on with the Alb redistricting.

Posted by: Esq. | Jul 21, 2011 1:42:36 PM

@Mike: You missed the point. It's a blatant power grab facilitated by an obscure provision in the City Charter.

There's Republican majority on the council now. Say they draw the boundary lines for the new districts with several Dems drawn out of the districts they currently represent and pass it. Mayor Berry would almost certainly sign it, because *as soon as the redistricting goes into effect,* those Councillors are no longer eligible to represent their districts, even if they were just elected to their seats. Mayor Berry chooses their replacements. They don't need to draw the Democratic Councillors into the same district, just draw them out of the ones they currently represent.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Jul 22, 2011 10:42:27 AM