The end of the 2021 legislative session saw some pretty spectacular Hail Mary passes in its final 48 hours, as usual. Perhaps the most sensational were the passage of HB 20, the paid sick leave bill, and SB 304, which had independent redistricting grafted onto it with less than 12 hours left into the session.
2021 heralded a year when for the first time, the majority of New Mexico’s legislative seats were held by women. At the session’s start in January, it looked like a bright new time for New Mexico. After all, New Mexico’s women legislators are known for working across the aisle without drama and getting stuff done. Perhaps this could be a new start for an increasingly partisan and rancorous Roundhouse.
By the time Women’s History Month rolled around in March, that rosy vision had given way to the general murk of how political sausage is made in Santa Fe. There had been wildly inappropriate comments made about racial minorities, women, and the LGTBQ+ community in public committee meetings, and after six weeks of general political shenanigans, women were feeling unseen and disrespected.
The dissing that went viral came in the final debate for HB 20, when Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-15) insisted that Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-17) read aloud portions of the bill, and then badgered her with insulting question after insulting question until she finally refused to answer any more from him. She was proposing an amendment that would include state and local government employees in the paid sick leave mandate, a key change that would, in my mind, take the legislation from intolerable to merely job-killing.
Ivey-Soto’s bullying blew up social media and even stopped business in the House chamber for a bit. The Senate recessed, and when it reconvened, Ivey-Soto gave the classic non-apology apology of the misogynist: “If my passion came out as anger, I apologize.”
HB 20 passed, and Stewart and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have called for sensitivity training for all members of the Legislature.
But wait, there’s more! The redistricting drama is just as compelling if not more so.
Up until the final day of the session, two different bills languished, awaiting scheduling on the House Floor: SB 15, and HB 211. House Bill 211, sponsored by representatives Rebecca Dow (R-38) and Natalie Figueroa (D-30), was a very robust bill that covered every element of impartial redistricting of concern to good government advocates. Senate Bill 15 was a minimal bill, sponsored by Ivey-Soto and Speaker Brian Egolf (D-47), that called for an independent redistricting committee and little else (that is, no consideration for indigenous governments or minority populations, nor any restriction on partisan mapmaking).
Tremendous pressure was placed on Dow to pull her bill, because the Big Guys, Egolf and Ivey-Soto, had a competing bill. The New Mexico League of Women Voters (whose main legislative advocate is a man…wait…what?!) operating as Fair Districts New Mexico, as well as paid lobbyists, pushed Dow to pull the bill, trying to convince her Egolf would kill it in committee since he had a competing bill.
Somehow they believed that bully majority politicians with a soulless nothing bill could be persuaded to amend it in time to actually enact real impartial redistricting based solely on population. Pretty much, the man advocating for the League of Women Voters and some lobbyists with money stood poised like the first frame of a Peanuts cartoon, ready to kick the football for redistricting reform, believing that Egolf and Ivey-Soto would be there at the end to hold it steady.
Dow persisted, with Figueroa’s help. They rolled the bill in the House Judiciary Committee, meaning they requested it be held until the next committee hearing. All the while, the two women gathered support for true independent redistricting. Dow even “blasted” the bill on March 11—asking it to be heard on the House floor without committee hearings. For that, she was “schooled” at length on the House floor by Egolf, who would not have been as vociferous or as condescending to a male. That sexist and obnoxious outburst did not get press coverage.
Finally, both bills were scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 12, just a week before the session’s end. I attended the Zoom hearing, as did many other advocates for HB 211. A poll taken of public attendees showed 81% supported HB 211 over SB 15 (Representative Matthew McQueen (D-50) made a point of letting us know he did not think that such public polls were important. Thank you for your consideration and interest in public participation, Representative.).
SB 15 was heard first and a majority of committee members voted to pass to a floor vote. Then HB 211 was presented by Figueroa. Egolf simply ignored Figueroa and then berated Dow repeatedly for rolling the bill and for daring to blast it. He was insulting and belligerent. He demanded an apology from Dow.
HB 211, after much nastiness, also received a vote out of committee, including Egolf’s. Egolf smiled benevolently and repeated his request: “No apology? No? That’s too bad.” It was egregious. It was bullying. It was misogynistic.
Fast forward to a week later. When the House paused its debate to comment on the mess in the Senate? It was because Speaker Egolf wished to weigh in on Ivey-Soto’s revolting behavior: “To see a member of that body attack a fellow senator in a cruel and vicious way reeks of the worst type of misogyny and male arrogance.”
Perhaps the Speaker had a change of heart after seeing his colleague’s behavior through a public lens. Maybe he was afraid he would face similar accusations. Shortly after the Speaker’s condemnation of Ivey-Soto, Republican Dow was working with Democratic staffers and the Legislative Council Service to place the best parts of HB 211 into SB 304.
SB 304 passed the House with only two dissenting votes. It remains to be seen if it will be signed into law.
Please contact the Governor’s office and let her know you want redistricting reform in 2021.