Report on RUNM’s Jan. 18 General Meeting: RUNM’s 2021 legislative agenda in to include fair redistricting, and more

Report on RUNM’s Jan. 18 General Meeting:
RUNM’s 2021 legislative agenda in to include
fair redistricting, and more

By Michael Kelley

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our daily lives, and RepresentUs New Mexico’s effort to build a stronger and more inclusive democracy is not an exception.

Fair Districts in New Mexico’s Project Coordinator Kathleen Burke emphasized the point at Monday’s general meeting of RUNM.  The meeting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a Zoom videoconference call, was the kind of thing we’ve all had to adjust to over the past 10 months as face-to-face meetings have posed a threat to our health.  As are the primary means of promoting RUNM’s agenda to the New Mexico legislature, whose session began on Tuesday, Jan 19 in virtual isolation as the pandemic raged and the threat of violence by right-wing extremists loomed over the proceedings.

Like most legislation, an act reforming the redistricting process, for example, will require proponents like RUNM to make direct contact with lawmakers.  But, under the new normal the pandemic has forced on us, that means reaching out to legislators by texting them, Burke said.  Email and telephone campaigns can be effective, too, if they address the kind of issues on which legislative staffs tally the ayes and nays of the public’s response.

Success on the issue, which would aim to eliminate gerrymandering, the practice of drawing new legislative district lines in a fashion that favors a candidate or a party, may be more likely in a legislature that should now lean toward a more progressive posture. But, still, persuading lawmakers, especially those in the majority party, to give up some of their power is a daunting task.

Reforming the decennial redistricting process is an important goal in New Mexico, though. The state spent some $7 million in public funds over the course of the last two redistricting efforts on lawsuits that challenged the proposed new district maps, Burke reminded her virtual audience. The ideal approach would be to take the redistricting task in 2021 out of the hands of the legislature and place it in those of a permanently established independent redistricting commission, a method that has already been adopted in 13 states. Unfortunately, in New Mexico, that would require a constitutional amendment to be approved by the voters, and it is too late for that. So, the proposal is that a seven-member temporary independent commission be appointed to oversee the drawing of from five to seven district maps from which the legislature would be obligated to choose one.

Burke’s comments followed a presentation by Bruce Berlin, chair of RUNM’s legislative action and anti-corruption committee, who listed proposed legislation focusing on RUNM organizational goals such as public financing of elections, greater transparency for campaign financing and lobbying, slowing the revolving door that shuffles people back and forth between legislating and lobbying roles, improved voting rights, open primaries, universal voting by mail, ranked choice voting, changes in tribal election laws, the restoration of the right to vote among felons, automatic voter registration, and redistricting reform.

Of course, RUNM won’t restrict itself to state issues during the upcoming months, RUNM President John House said. It also plans to take an active role in promoting issues like the federal For the People Act, also known as H.R.1, which would expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and address other weaknesses in the democratic process.

We have another duty, House said: monitoring the government’s response to the Jan. 6 storming and vandalism of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing militants who came a hair’s breadth from capturing and perhaps harming members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, whom some of the militants wanted to hang.  “It is up to us to watch and make certain that our government follows through in the investigation, prosecution and conviction of these criminals who tried to subvert the people’s government,” House said.

RUNM plans to alert members of upcoming committee discussions regarding issues of importance to RUNM by email two or three times a week during the 60-day session, Berlin said.  Lists of our New Mexico senators and representatives with their general contact information, which are available at   https://nmmop.org/how-to-contact-your-state-senators/ and https://nmmop.org/how-to-contact-your-state-representatives/, respectively, are expected to be updated with the members’ cell phone information for texting soon.

Michael Kelley is a retired journalist who lives in Santa Fe. He is a member of RepresentUs New Mexico’s communications team.