Though state lawmakers concluded a special session focused on redistricting Friday afternoon, the bruises from what transpired for nearly two weeks may be evident for a long time to come.
A collision of politics, ethnicity, race and rancor gushed on the Senate floor Thursday night as it debated Senate Bill 2, which contained that chamber’s new map for the next 10 years. Angered by what they said was an effort to mute Hispanics, several GOP lawmakers said it may be a long time before legislators in the two parties can work together.
“I think it’s going to be a very difficult path ahead for any trust to be reestablished,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, agreed more needs to be done to connect the two parties in the future, especially with the regular 30-day legislative session only weeks away.
“No question, it was a very challenging evening,” Wirth said of Thursday’s session on the Senate floor. “It was an unfortunate debate, and the language used is challenging and causes concern about relationships.”
Though discord is not uncommon in the Legislature, particularly in the past year when lawmakers jousted over legalizing cannabis, updating the state’s liquor license laws, abortion rights, crime and gun ownership, the raw emotion and frustration of Thursday’s debate unleashed long-simmering tensions centering on New Mexico’s Hispanic voters.
“If you’re not the right kind of Hispanic, we’re gonna smite you,” Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said, describing the GOP’s accusation that new political maps pushed through by Democrats were aimed at silencing conservative Hispanics.
Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen and Senate minority floor leader, said during the debate 48 percent of New Mexico’s residents are Hispanic and are being “cheated” out of legislative seats. In the new Senate map, Baca and Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Bosque, now are in the same district.
On Friday, Baca said Democrats “purposefully paired two Hispanic senators — myself and Sen. Sanchez, both from majority Hispanic districts.”
He said Democratic senators working on the Senate map managed to unpair every other team of incumbents sharing a district — all of them white — except for two Democrats, Bill O’Neill and Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque. Ortiz y Pino told The New Mexican on Friday he does not plan to seek reelection at the end of his term, which ends in 2024.
“It really affected the trust I have in leadership on the other side,” Baca said, adding promises were made and later broken.
Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, disputed Baca’s contention.
“You can’t make promises like that in redistricting,” she said.
She said she tried her best to unpair Baca and Sanchez but found it difficult in trying to adhere to the wishes of the state’s Native American leaders, who came together to propose a consensus map that would create three Native American majority voting districts.
“It’s a perfect example of, you try to fix one thing and it has this ripple effect around the state,” she said.
The scars left by the mapmaking process will be evident for some time, Brandt said.
He asked, “How do you trust someone who just flat-out broke their word?”
Stewart and Wirth said they already met with Baca and will work to rebuild that trust in the Senate.
“Everyone understands the importance of having good relationships in this chamber, and while they may be strained, I feel confident they are repairable and am committed to making that happen,” Wirth said.
“It was messy and painful, people’s feelings got hurt,” Stewart said of Thursday’s fracas. “I have committed to the minority party that I will continue to work with them. My role is to listen to everybody and make sure we do collaborate. Not everybody is happy.”
But she added: “I believe we will get over this.”
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said he hopes so.
“We have to put it aside,” he said, “or New Mexico will remain last on many lists.”