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Rubel: Election Results Show Slight Improvement For Democracy In New Mexico

Nov 13, 2018

Commentary: In Florida, convicted felons will have their voting rights restored.

In Colorado, Michigan, Utah and Montana, independent commissions will now be in charge of the redistricting effort – taking the task away from partisan officials and ridding the states of gerrymandering.

In Maryland voters will be able to register on election day. In Michigan voters approved both same-day voter registration and no-reason absentee voting. In Nevada, they approved automatic voter registration.

Voters in Arkansas and Missouri both passed increases in the minimum wage. Idaho and Nebraska both voted for Medicaid expansion.

Michigan voted to legalize marijuana sales and Missouri will now allow cannabis for medicinal purposes.

And in New Mexico, voters approved the creation of an ethics commission – an independent panel that will have both the authority and the resources to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by state officials.

All of the attention Tuesday night was on the races for control of the U.S. House and Senate, which was understandable. The past two years of single-party rule have led us to the verge of a constitutional crisis, with the president firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week and replacing him with a Trump loyalist who will now oversee an investigation by Robert Muller that he has already deemed a witch hunt.

It was the kind of action that had been predicted for months, even as GOP leaders in the House and Senate rejected bills that would have protected the Mueller probe, arguing that they weren’t necessary.

The Democratic takeover of the House will provide a real check coming from Congress for the first time since Trump assumed office.

Southern New Mexico contributed to that swing. The Second Congressional District has been a tough nut to crack for Democrats ever since New Mexico expanded to three districts following the 1980 census. With the exception of one term, the seat has been held for the past three-plus decades by just two Republicans, Joe Skeen and Steve Pearce.

Xochitl Torres Small broke the GOP stranglehold this year by campaigning tirelessly throughout the district on a centrist agenda focused on the specific needs of people in southern New Mexico. She stayed on message even as political ads from outside groups tried to paint her as a radical.

Harry Teague was a caretaker of the seat for two years the last time Pearce ran for statewide office and lost. At 33 years old, Torres Small now has the opportunity to take ownership of the seat.

But while those stories are all important, changes made at the state level may prove to be more important. Especially the new laws dealing with the upcoming redistricting after the 2020 Census.

It can be argued that nothing has contributed to our political divide more than the systematic gerrymandering that has taken place in the past two decades. It has created safe districts where the only challenge will come in the primary and candidates are forced to keep moving to the extremes.

Four states have taken the first step to untangle that mess. New Mexico should follow their example.

Walter Rubel is editorial page editor of the Sun-News. He can be reached at wrubel@lcsun-news.com or follow @WalterRubel on Twitter.