It isn’t just boundary lines being drawn, but battle lines as well. The Redistricting Special Session begins today. We lay out the process and offer commentary, speaking points, and contact info so you can participate. Also, more on the PNM-Avangrid/Iberdrola merger as we head toward a decision Wednesday. Read on and then please act.
The Special Session Redistricting Process
New Mexico has a long history of redistricting maps litigated and decided by the courts following failed processes at the legislative level.
In 2021, the New Mexico Legislature took a stand for democracy and the people of New Mexico by passing the Redistricting Act which created the Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC). The CRC was charged with receiving public input and developing district maps for Congress, NM Senate and House, and Public Education Commission. The CRC followed their task to completion and forwarded their maps to the Legislature for their consideration.
The presence of a Citizen Redistricting Committee for this cycle has increased anticipation for a better process and outcomes. Chaired by former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez, the CRC held sixteen public meetings statewide, August 2 – October 20, 2021, at which they received testimony, documents, and information regarding the identification of communities of interest and the creation of district plans. The meetings were conducted pursuant to the requirements of the Redistricting Act and the Open Meetings Act — 2,361 people attended in-person and via Zoom, and 365 made public comment to the Committee. An additional 355 comments and/or user-created maps were submitted in the Public Comment Gallery of the CRC website
It has been ten years since we had a Special Session to conduct redistricting and choose election boundaries. It’s likely the 2021 Special Session process will be similar but, hopefully, the participatory and non-partisan process conducted by the CRC will enable legislators to set aside partisan differences and allow NM to do what no other state in the Nation seems able to do: create legitimate, democratic election boundaries and resist gerrymandering to retain power.
In 2011, the “concept maps” were developed by Research & Polling, a local market research company. In 2021, the “concept maps” have been developed by the Citizen Redistricting Committee. The NM House and Public Education Commission (PEC) maps will start in the House, going to the State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee, in that order.
The NM Senate maps will go to Senate Rules Committee and the Judiciary Committee, in that order. They go to the Senate Committee on Committees first, but that is just procedural, as Senate Rules will assign the maps to the committees described above. That is pro forma. We have learned that Senate Rules will conduct a hearing on the Senate maps today, Dec. 6, immediately following the Senate Floor session that begin at noon today and should conclude by 1:30-1:45. As of this morning (Dec. 6), we hear that no public comment will be allowed today. We will know more as the day progresses.
In 2011, legislators introduced alternative maps during the session. This is allowed because the maps are considered legislation and can be introduced just like in any other session.
It is beyond me how highly partisan, often contentious, committees can thoughtfully consider multiple maps with scores of boundaries, where each zig or zag in a boundary could be contended. If nothing else, it may be good theater. More importantly, the decisions are momentous and will impact elections for ten years. They will also likely stir the partisan pot, which could create a contentious, resentful atmosphere for the Special Session the following week, where federal relief funds will be allocated.
I expect GOP tempers to flare, no matter how much the Dems try to play fair. And all bets are off if Speaker Egolf offers a new map to gerrymander U.S. Rep. Herrell out of a job. This could be an exciting session.
How to Participate and/or Observe
I wish I knew how this will begin, but there are no committee hearing rooms or times listed on the legislative website or info on offering public comment by Zoom. We will publish another post later today if/when we learn anything new.
What is known is that at noon today the full Senate and the full House will meet to introduce the redistricting bills/maps and assign them to committees that will presumably meet soon after the floor hearings end, likely around 1:30-2 pm. We will be track this and update you later today, but you can also click the link below to access an NMLegis.gov page titled “NM Redistricting Info Here.” While it has tons of info on the process, it does not include info about committee hearings or links to view them.
We have learned this morning that Senate Rules will meet in Rm. 321, but if crowds get too large they may seek a larger room. COVID protocols are in place with proof of vaccination required for admission. Unfortunately we have no links for the Senate or House floor sessions that begin at noon, so there is currently no way of knowing exactly when Senate Rules will begin.
How to Contact Your Legislator
Click here to find your legislator and get contact info.
What to Say/Write
If public comment is allowed and you plan to speak, you may want to include points about how other states have legislated all kinds of undemocratic practices to further partisan interests. Point out that NM has created a democratic and inclusive set of maps that respond to the principles developed by the CRC (see below). And now our legislature has the opportunity to show the nation how the democratic process should work, with legislators working to advance the people’s interests rather than seeking to protect incumbents or partisan interests.
Fair Districts NM has developed principles they feel should govern the process. You will want to mention these in your message to your legislators:
- Select the Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) maps which best balance:
- Compliance with the Voting Rights Act
- Freedom from partisan gerrymandering
- Protection of Communities of Interest
- Adherence to governmental boundaries including Tribal boundaries.
- No favoring incumbents.
- If the Legislature amends the maps sent to them by the CRC, they should provide a detailed explanation of why they amended the maps.
- During the Special Session on Redistricting, all legislative meetings should follow the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Act. The public’s business should be conducted in full public view. The actions of public bodies should be taken openly and all deliberations made open to the public.
Now, on to the PRC…
PRC May Decide on Merger at Wednesday (Dec. 8) Meeting; More on NY Fraud Charges
At its meeting last week, the PRC discussed options for making a decision on this heinous merger. They indicated there was no legal requirement that the decision be made this year, but there was a clear preference for rendering the decision ASAP. Just two public hearings remain in 2021 (Dec. 8 and 15), and the Four Corners decision must be made by Dec. 15.
While Commissioners’ did not specify a date for the merger decision, they agreed with Commissioner Maestas that on Dec. 8 they would discuss all the stipulations and conditions that have been introduced. There is a very real possibility that once that discussion is complete, a vote could be taken. Public Comment will be taken again on Wednesday, but no link about public comment is posted on the PRC website yet. Stay tuned. We are tracking that.
Even if you have already contacted your Commissioner, please do so again, using our updated communication strategy at this link. You can justify your repeat email/call by including new information provided below.
More On New Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Avanrid and Iberdrola
We reported on this lawsuit in detail last Friday. Click here to catch up. But since then, Maine media has weighed in with a headline piece from the Maine Press Herald,” Lawsuit accuses CMP parent Avangrid of racketeering, fraud.”
At a press conference last week, executives from Iberdrola dismissed the fact that the company is being investigated for fraud, bribery, misuse of funds, and corporate corruption, asserting that no charges yet had been filed. Hours after the press conference, we published a post describing a report from The Guardian that outlines a new Federal lawsuit filed in NY, charging Avangrid and Iberdrola with bid rigging, price gouging, and racketeering. When there is so much smoke, there must be a fire. But Avangrid and Iberdrola have a track record of blaming others whenever inconvenient truths are attributed to them:
- Avangrid blames the fossil fuel industry-funded ads for losing its referendum to build a transmission line through the Maine forest rather than acknowledging that it reflects 60% of Maine voters not trusting Avangrid in their forest. In addition, a move to put public power on the ballot in Maine is being advanced for a vote in November 2022.
- Avangrid blames the weather for its leading the nation in power outages, weather that impacted the entire region, not just Maine’s Avangrid customers.
- Iberdrola claims innocence to corporate corruption investigations in Spain, but now finds similar charges filed in Federal court for bid rigging, price gouging, and racketeering activity in NY, Connecticut, and Maine
- Avangrid claims that their outages have been reduced since they scored the highest rate of outages in the country — a claim that contradicts data from the US Energy Information Administration, as processed by the American Public Power Association into the table below, which indicates a very different picture.
Note that in some years, outage minutes for independently owned utilities (IOUs) in Maine are 4-5 times that of U.S. IOUs’ average, with 2020 being their worst performance in three years — hardly an indication of improvement that the CEO professed at the press conference.
|Year||U.S. IOUs||Maine IOUs||Public Power|
And now, the Portland Press Herald in Maine is reporting on Federal charges:
The lawsuit alleges that Avangrid took part in “a brazen racketeering scheme, replete with bid-rigging, accounting manipulation, warehouses built solely to house mountains of unused equipment procured under bogus pretenses” and stealing proprietary business secrets.
Maine is mentioned in the legal complaint in an allegation that in late 2018 and 2019 Avangrid bought “tens of millions of dollars” of equipment from a competitor of the plaintiff “at premium prices and with no competition.” As of January, the suit alleges, much of the equipment remained unused in warehouses in Maine and New York.
Silva alleges that Avangrid rigged bids and bought unnecessary equipment because it knew it could recover its capital expenses, plus a profit margin of 7 to 15 percent through rate hikes sought from states’ public utilities commissions. It also alleges that the company steered work toward favored subcontractors through the way it operated the bidding process, and that it stole business secrets from Silva’s company to give to its competitors to provide them with an edge in that process.
Maine Acting Public Advocate Andrew Landry said the allegations in the lawsuit “are very concerning, particularly those relating to alleged sale of wasteful equipment to Avangrid’s U.S. utilities, including Maine.”
“We intend to follow the case and, if it is demonstrated to have any merit, to explore in an appropriate PUC proceeding whether CMP customers are being charged for any such equipment,” Landry said.Maine Portland Press Herald, “Lawsuit accuses CMP parent Avangrid of racketeering, fraud”
The charges validate concerns raised by PRC Commissioners and the Hearing Examiner that the structure of the merger could foster bid rigging and price gouging. And just a day after Iberdrola and Avangrid execs explained that they are ethical corporations with an organizational culture and structure that would prevent any such practices, they are hit with more charges of corporate corruption in NY, Conn, and Maine. As is their practice, Iberdrola and Avangrid are denying the charges.
At what point does the mountain of evidence pointing to a corrupt corporate culture become high enough that most any thinking New Mexican would recognize we should not hand over our energy future to these corporations? We need three Commissioners to see through Avangrid/Iberdrola deception and we need to let them know that we are counting on them to stand up for NM.
Even if you have written to your Commissioner already, please write again and tell them that these federal charges should be the last straw and that you agree with the Chief Hearing Examiner that even if the applicants agree to all the conditions and protections, this deal does not benefit New Mexicans. Or, as utility expert Scott Hempling testified to the PRC:
Iberdrola/Avangrid wants to control PNM to get a platform; PNMR wants to sell control of PNM’s public franchise to get $713 million. Nothing about this transaction benefits consumers; much about this transaction will harm them. There are no reasons to approve this transaction, and many reasons to reject it.”Scott Hempling testimony, p. 76
Click here to get to our Avangrid Communication Strategy. This strategy was updated again this weekend, and you will find speaking points customized for each commissioner, along with their contact info.
We need to keep the pressure on. The vote could very likely happen on Wednesday. Please reach out today and tomorrow and ask others to join you in this effort.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne