Senators Udall, Gillibrand, Whitehouse, Merkley, Warner, Heinrich Unveil Bill to Take Partisanship Out of Congressional Redistricting, Restore Choice to Voters

Independent citizen-led redistricting will help fix broken political system 

Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act to take partisanship out of the often divisive congressional redistricting process by requiring states to establish independent, bipartisan redistricting commissions.

In most states, state legislatures — working with their governor — draw federal congressional district boundaries. Unfortunately, giving a political body control over creating district lines has too often resulted in gerrymandered districts drawn to keep the majority party in power. The FAIR Act would replace this system with independent, citizen-led redistricting commissions similar to those voters have approved in Arizona and California, which are less influenced by politics and special interests.

“As a former member of the House of Representatives, I’ve seen firsthand how congressional districts skewed to favor one party contribute to the gridlock that prevents us from getting things done for the American people,” Udall said. “We need to end the gerrymandered status quo. Independent, citizen-led redistricting commissions will make our elections more competitive and give voters a real choice. Partisan lawmakers set on keeping incumbents in office shouldn’t be drawing congressional district maps, and the FAIR Act ends this practice once and for all.”

Udall first introduced the bill in 2011 with former Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), and he cosponsored similar legislation as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Udall is a champion for fair elections that are free of unlimited and undisclosed special interest money, and redistricting reform is part of his comprehensive plan to restore integrity to our democratic process.

“Under the current process, politicians pick the voters they want instead of the voters choosing the leaders they want. The system is upside down and needs to be reversed,” Gillibrand said. “This practice hurts our democracy and takes away power from the voters. The FAIR Act will create much-needed transparency reforms by taking politics out of the congressional redistricting process and allowing a non-partisan commission to draw congressional districts.”

“It’s easy to think of gerrymandering as silly-looking districts with nicknames like ‘the upside-down elephant’ and ‘the praying mantis.’ But behind those twisted shapes, gerrymandering has a very serious effect on our democracy, contributing to hyper-partisanship in Congress and silencing many voters,” Whitehouse said. “Ensuring representation in Congress should be based on transparency, not party politics. And our districts should make sense for voters, not just for incumbents seeking reelection. It’s time to give control to independent redistricting commissions with nothing but citizens’ interests at heart.”

“Americans deserve fair and unrigged representation in Congress,” Merkley said. “Unfortunately, most congressional districts are so gerrymandered that they suit the needs of politicians and special interests instead of the people. Americans know that Congress is broken and tailor-made congressional districts are part of the problem. The FAIR Act is one step we can take to restore our democracy. Let’s take the drawing of congressional districts out of the hands of political party bosses and politicians and instead allow fair, independent commissions to create congressional districts that are designed to give the people fair representation, not to disenfranchise voters and manipulate our democracy for political gain.”

“In Virginia today, voters are experiencing a divisive, partisan legal battle over gerrymandered districts which has reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Warner said. “It’s time to fix the broken redistricting process once and for all. Independent, bipartisan state redistricting commissions will end the partisan gamesmanship, strengthen democracy and give voters a stronger voice in who represents them in Congress.”

“The FAIR Act is a step toward elections where voters choose who is elected to Congress, instead of political party operatives,” Heinrich said. “Independent, bipartisan redistricting commissions will restore public confidence by ensuring that congressional delegations accurately reflect the communities that elect them.”

Under the FAIR Act, states would be required to establish an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission that would be tasked with redrawing congressional district lines once every 10 years based upon the principles outlined in the bill. A minimum of five members would make up each state commission. An equal number of members would be appointed by each the minority and majority floor leaders in a state legislature. The bill also includes provisions requiring the commission to meet in public, solicit public input and advertise any plan it has approved.

Bill text is available here.

Udall Recruiting Summer Interns for Washington, D.C., Office

U.S. Senator Tom Udall invites New Mexico college students interested in gaining legislative or press relations experience to apply for summer internships in his Washington, D.C., office.

For more information and to apply for an internship, please visit http://www.tomudall.senate.gov/internships. The upcoming summer internship session in Udall’s office in Washington, D.C., will last from May 31 – July 15. Applications and supporting materials, including letters of recommendation, must be submitted by March 15.

“Congressional internships allow students to see the inner-workings of a Senate office and the legislative process and gain a unique perspective on the federal government and policy,” Udall said. “Summer session interns have the opportunity to learn more about policy issues that interest them by working with my staff, attending hearings and House and Senate gallery proceedings, and listening to high-profile speakers during the summer speaker series. Interns play an essential role in my office’s daily operations, and I encourage New Mexico college students interested in pursuing a career in government or public service to apply.”

Students of all majors are encouraged to apply, and internships may count toward college credit. Students should check with their respective college or university for requirements.

DPNM Files Ethics Complaint Against Would-Be GOP Secretary of State Candidate

Rep. Nora Espinoza Used Official Legislative Website for Campaigning

The Democratic Party of New Mexico on February 1st, 2016 filed an ethics complaint with the Secretary of State’s office in response to Rep. Nora Espinoza’s publicly using her legislative website – an official government resource – to promote her potential candidacy for the very office that oversees and enforces campaign ethics rules.

“It is more important than ever that New Mexicans have candidates whom they can trust,” said Debra Haaland, Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairwoman. “With the scandal that landed the last secretary of state in jail and the federal investigations that continue to plague the Martinez Administration, it is critical that candidates for Secretary of State, in particular, maintain the highest ethical standards. Rep. Nora Espinoza has already violated the public’s trust, and she’s not even an official candidate yet.”

Specifically, the Democratic Party of New Mexico cites in its complaint a recent radio interview in which Espinoza repeatedly directed listeners to her official, legislative website in order to get information about her campaign.

“Official government resources cannot and must not be used for campaigning. Period,” Chairwoman said. “It violates the law and it violates the public’s trust. We are calling on Secretary of State Brad Winter to fully investigate Rep. Espinoza’s conduct in order to ensure that voters know that the system works and they can trust their elected representatives.”

The complaint was submitted to the Secretary of State’s office via email on February 1, 2016. The Secretary of State has not yet responded to the complaint. Full audio from Espinoza’s radio interview can be found here. A copy of the complaint is attached to this release.

Representative Steinborn Seeks More Solar Power On State Buildings

Experts Say Move Could Save State Millions

Representative Jeff Steinborn has teamed up with a bi-partisan group of legislators to introduce legislation exploring the idea of putting solar power on more state buildings. House Memorial 51 directs the General Services Department (GSD) to work with the state Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) and the solar industry to “evaluate the potential energy and cost savings for expanding the use of solar power in state facilities.”

The General Services Department is the central clearinghouse for state government, providing office space, state vehicles, health care policies, and more to state agencies and staff. GSD owns over 750 State Buildings and leases another 2,000,000 square feet of office space. Currently the Department has solar power on only two state buildings.

The goal of House Memorial is to encourage GSD to work with solar energy experts, and the EMNRD to explore the financial viability and cost savings of adding solar and other energy efficiencies on more state facilities.
“With New Mexico’s incredible solar resources and flexible financing options for solar power systems, this is an idea that can pay huge dividends for us. This initiative has the opportunity to potentially save our state millions of dollars in energy costs, while reducing our carbon footprint and creating good jobs,” said Steinborn.

According to the Solar Foundation, the solar industry employs 1600 people in New Mexico.

Matthew Davis, President of the New Mexico Association of Energy Engineers supports the new energy efficiency legislation. “The state is lagging behind some of our counties and cities as many of them are already pursuing energy efficiency and renewable resources in their facilities. This has the potential to save millions of dollars in the long run and alleviate some of the stress on our aging utility grid.”

Declining revenues from the oil revenues have provided an extra incentive to seek cost savings. “Given our tight budget, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to streamline state government. Increased energy efficiency can save us significant money, while providing jobs and a cleaner environment. It’s a tremendous win-win opportunity for New Mexico” added Steinborn.

Doña Ana County Democrats Celebrate African American History Month

The Democratic Party of Doña Ana County is proud to celebrate diversity and to join in the observance of African American History Month.

This year’s theme, “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories” honors the history of African Americans unfolds across the canvas of America, beginning before the arrival of the Mayflower and continuing to the present. From port cities where Africans disembarked from slave ships to the battle fields where their descendants fought for freedom, from the colleges and universities where they pursued education to places where they created communities during centuries of migration, the imprint of Americans of African descent is deeply embedded in the narrative of the American past.  

This year’s annual theme was selected by the Association for the Study of African American Life & History to bring attention to the centennial celebration of the National Park Service and the more than twenty-five sites and the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom that are part of America’s hallowed grounds.

Image: "The Sentinel" Buffalo Soldier monument, Fort Selden, Radium Springs, New Mexico.

Image: “The Sentinel” Buffalo Soldier monument, Fort Selden, Radium Springs, New Mexico.

We also honor the historic role of African Americans in the cause of freedom throughout our shared history up to the present time. We celebrate  the heritage, the achievements, and the ongoing contributions of  African Americans, here in New Mexico, and throughout the United States, during the observance this month, and throughout the year, and without whose historic efforts and sacrifice, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, this nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to equality would not have endured.

We also join in celebrating the diversity of leadership that we, as a nation, as a community organization, and as a political party must embrace, if we are to continue to ensure the future success of this great nation and remain a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.

Each year, Americans observe African American History Month in February by celebrating the history, cultures and contributions of African American citizens whose forebears came to the Americas from the African Continent.

Conceived by the Harvard-educated historian and teacher Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week in 1925, the celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. In signing the enabling Act, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Does Martinez Still support GOP SOS Candidate Who Used Government Resources for Campaign?

The Democratic Party of New Mexico is calling on Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday to clarify whether she still supports prospective Republican secretary of state candidate Rep. Nora Espinoza after KOB 4 revealed yesterday that Espinoza had used official government resources for her campaign.

“Does Gov. Martinez continue to support Rep. Nora Espinoza’s bid for Secretary of State?” asked Joe Kabourek, Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director. “Does Gov. Martinez condone the use of government resources for campaigning? Given the recent scandals that have plagued the Martinez Administration and the secretary of state’s office, these are important questions that deserve immediate answers.”

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday sent out an email through her political action committee, SusanaPAC, urging people to support Rep. Nora Espinoza for secretary of state by helping collect the signatures legally required to place Espinoza on the ballot. At the same time, evidence surfaced showing that Espinoza was using her legislative website and contact information to support her campaign for secretary of state.

“It is very clear: Rep. Nora Espinoza was using legislative resources during the legislative session to campaign for Secretary of State,” Kabourek said. “Espinoza said herself on the radio that her legislative website was the place to go for information about her campaign. New Mexicans need a strong, ethical secretary of state. Will Gov. Martinez continue to put politics over ethics and maintain her support for Espinoza?”

Weekly Address: Giving Every Student an Opportunity to Learn Through Computer Science For All

In this week’s address, the President discussed his plan to give all students across the country the chance to learn computer science (CS) in school. The President noted that our economy is rapidly shifting, and that educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a “new basic” skill necessary for economic opportunity. The President referenced his Computer Science for All Initiative, which provides $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for districts in his upcoming budget; and invests more than $135 million beginning this year by the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service to support and train CS teachers. The President called on even more Governors, Mayors, education leaders, CEOs, philanthropists, creative media and technology professionals, and others to get involved in the efforts.

Watch and share President Obama’s weekly address.

Martinez Administration’s Scandals, Cronyism Hurting New Mexico Economy

Research Shows Gov. Needs to Allow Ethics Reforms to Create Jobs

According to research recently released by a University of New Mexico professor, the state’s reputation for corruption and cronyism – which landed New Mexico at the top of a recent list of the worst-run states – is part of the reason that the state’s economy is failing and, in order to create jobs, Gov. Susana Martinez must finally act to pass meaningful ethics reforms.

“This study confirms what most New Mexicans already know: The lack of public trust in government under the Martinez Administration is hurting our state and businesses are holding back because of it,” said Joe Kabourek, Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director. “If Gov. Martinez is serious about turning our economy around and creating jobs, she needs to stop holding ethics reform hostage and start working across the aisle to clean up her administration.”

The study specifically cited an independent ethics commission and improved campaign finance reporting as two key ways to restore trust in government and to encourage businesses to set up shop and stay in New Mexico.

While legislators on both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation to address these issues, Martinez has failed to allow the legislature to act – something only the Governor can do.

“We must act now to restore faith in New Mexico’s leaders,” Kabourek said. “From a federal grand jury investigation of the governor to the former secretary of state spending time in jail, public trust in government is at an all-time low. The governor can’t continue to ignore these problems. Hard-working New Mexicans are paying the price as their jobs disappear and they can’t find work to put food on the table.”

Senator Udall Statement on Standoff at Occupied Oregon Refuge

U.S. Senator Tom Udall issued the following statement on the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge:

“I respect the right of all Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest laws and policies. But the standoff in Oregon has gone far beyond protest or civil disobedience. The Refuge occupiers pose a significant danger to themselves, law enforcement and the nearby community, and now tragically, the situation has turned deadly. While I strongly oppose their demands, the issues they raise can be debated peacefully, as our Constitution intended. But this is an illegal and armed attempt to seize land that is owned by all Americans. Those involved should face legal consequences for their actions. I’m hoping that reason will prevail and the remaining individuals will surrender without further avoidable violence.”

More than Week into Session, Gov. Continues to Obstruct Ethics Reform

Delay in Issuing ‘Message’ Will Effectively Kill Reform Efforts

After more than a week of work in the 2016 New Mexico Legislative Session, Gov. Susana Martinez has yet to take action to support even a debate about one of the more than a dozen government ethics-related bills that legislators have introduced.

“What is Gov. Martinez waiting for?” asked Joe Kabourek, Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director. “The clock is ticking on the legislative session. New Mexicans want – and deserve – a public debate about policies that will help restore their trust in state government. After a year of scandals in the Martinez Administration, the governor’s being investigated by a federal grand jury, and her own public abuse of her power after a holiday party in Santa Fe, New Mexicans need meaningful steps taken now to start to set things right.”

In a 30-day budget session, like this one, only non-budget issues that receive a “message” from the governor can be considered by the Legislature. Since the session opened last week, Martinez has issued 83 such messages, but not a single one regarding ethics legislation.

While Martinez has not made ethics one of her legislative priorities, she did say in her recent State of the State address that she would allow some campaign finance reform bills to be considered. To date, she has taken no steps to allow that debate to happen or to support any of the campaign finance bills that have been introduced.

“It’s not enough to talk about reform when the cameras are rolling,” said Kabourek. “New Mexicans need a leader who will take a stand, own the problems she’s created, and work with the Legislature to find real solutions.”

Given the length of the process necessary for any bill to pass the Legislature and become law, a delay in getting started on a bill in a 30-day session often ensures that the bill doesn’t go anywhere.

“Every day that Susana Martinez waits to get behind ethics reform is another day closer to the end of this short session,” Kabourek said. “Even if the governor ultimately allows these bills to be considered, she’s effectively killing any chance of reform by delaying the bills’ consideration.”

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