Published Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011 | 1:04 p.m.
FOR THE RECORD:
We asked Gov. Brian Sandoval, through his spokeswoman, “Why not call a special session of the Legislature and work with lawmakers to handle redistricting? Nevada’s constitution calls on the Legislature to handle redistricting. So, shouldn’t the Legislature do this instead of leaving it to the courts?”
His spokeswoman sent this statement in response:
“I am ready, willing and able to negotiate with Democratic leadership on a redistricting solution. I believe that a politically competitive Nevada serves our citizens well. Unfortunately, due to a partisan process in the Legislature, redistricting was not accomplished during session. If legislative leadership is willing to negotiate, I hope this would be an opportunity for a more balanced approach and I would look forward to the discussion.”
We followed up and asked his spokeswoman, “Does this mean he would still consider calling a special session?” Her reply:
“I’m going to stick to what the statement says.”
In turn, we asked Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, a Democrat, “Is there room to negotiate with the governor on redistricting?” A spokesman sent us this statement:
“We have always been willing to negotiate and we remain willing to sit down and negotiate a fair and common sense agreement in the best interests of all Nevadans.”
We haven’t heard of any negotiations taking place — outside of the courtroom. We suspect this means that the impasse continues and that the courts will end up deciding the issue.
Several candidates have announced their intent to run for Congress next year. They have a problem, though: They don’t know what districts they’ll run in.
By law, the Legislature is supposed to draw new boundaries for various elected offices every 10 years after the federal Census, but the process hasn’t worked this year. Before adjourning in June, lawmakers passed plans for new districts for the Legislature and Congress, but those plans were vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The Republican governor and Democratic leaders in the Legislature have been at odds over how to draw the lines for Congress — Nevada will receive a fourth seat in the House of Representatives — and instead of finding a compromise, they left the work undone.
It’s no surprise that the political parties are fighting over redistricting — they normally do — but it’s troubling that they couldn’t handle it as they have in decades past.
In 2001, for example, the Legislature adjourned without finishing the task but was called back into a special session to wrap up work. But Sandoval has essentially given up, saying he will not call lawmakers back to Carson City for a special session. Instead, the former federal judge is content to let the courts decide the issue. The state Democratic and Republican parties have filed lawsuits over the matter.
The case landed in the courtroom of District Judge Todd Russell in Carson City. Russell should have sent the matter back to the Legislature, where it belongs, but instead has concocted an odd plan, appointing three “special masters” with no particular experience in the complexities of redistricting to draw the maps. After Russell rules, the case will undoubtedly be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, and it may end up in federal court, which would be expected to consider whether the plans violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
This is not the way things are supposed to work. In Nevada, elected officials are responsible for redistricting, and there’s a good reason for that: Elected officials are supposed to represent the people and thus listen to their concerns.
Redistricting is essentially about representation: Americans are supposed to have an equal voice in government, and how they are grouped together in specific districts has powerful influence over who gets elected and, as a result, what policies are enacted.
Unfortunately, Sandoval and the Legislature have failed to handle the task and abdicated their responsibility to the courts. That’s a shame. The governor should make things right by calling a special session and finding a way to work things out in the Legislature.
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