SB497 was approved on an 11-10 party-line vote Tuesday in the Senate and immediately sent to the Assembly, where it was approved 25-17. The floor vote came three days after both the Senate and Assembly committees on Legislative Operations and Elections approved the redistricting plan developed by Democratic strategists. The Democratic plan contained in SB497 was passed by the committee before the Republican proposal was even drafted into bill form.
Governor Sandoval, in an overt act of partisanship designed to appease his Republican base, vetoed the common sense redistricting plan passed by the State Legislature. The plan adopted by the Legislature is supported by community advocates representing Hispanic, Asian American and African American communities, as well as cities and neighborhoods throughout Nevada. SB497 was based on neutral and traditional districting principles designed to ensure that all Nevadans have a fair and equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and to elect candidates of their choice.
Well before the legislature had passed a reapportionment bill, before public hearings had been held, indeed before the legislative session had begun, the governor made clear he would use his office to advance his party’s political interests. Shortly after being elected, Governor Sandoval told the Las Vegas Review Journal, “in addition to my duties on the behalf of all Nevadans” that he had GOP job with responsibilities including reapportionment.
“Governor, all of your duties should be on the behalf of all Nevadans,” said Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin. “How can the governor have the audacity to say he wants a ‘fair’ plan, when his own words and actions show an unambiguous motivation to promote the interests of his own party?”
The Committees on Legislative Operations and Elections, charged with redistricting, held numerous hearings throughout the state to receive public input. The committees held hearings in Fallon, Reno and Las Vegas along with one video-conference hearing in Elko. The plan adopted by the Legislature was presented in Committees of the Whole, received two public hearings and a third day in which it was passed out of committee.
“It is disingenuous for the governor to complain about this proposal now,” said Assemblyman Tick Segerblom. “In over half a dozen hearings, neither the governor nor a member of his staff attended a single hearing or gave any comment whatsoever on-the-record regarding this plan.” Segerblom continued, “Clearly, the governor never intended to consider any plan passed by the Legislature and has always intended to pursue a partisan approach of gerrymandering by veto.”
One of the most consistent complaints raised by Republicans has been a legally absurd claim that the proposal passed by the State Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act. This claim has been thoroughly debunked by established legal precedent and numerous legal scholars. It is nothing but a smokescreen in an attempt to obscure the partisan ambitions of a party that has a pathetic record on issues of minority rights.
“There is a difference between protecting a community of interest and using one for your own political purpose. The Republican Party’s record on Hispanic issues borders between ambivalent and atrocious, so their sudden interest in taking up the mantle of minority voting rights must be examined,” said Hispanic Caucus Chairman Senator Mo Denis. “History matters. Motive matters. Simply put, you don’t let the fox guard the hen house.”
Denis continued, “Our community will not be used by the Republican Party in a transparent attempt to pack Hispanic voters into as few districts as possible in hope of winning more Republican seats.”
“The State Constitution makes clear that redistricting is a mandatory duty of the State Legislature,” said Speaker John Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford in a joint statement. “This is a duty that all legislators take seriously, and we will continue to meet our obligation under the law regardless of this governor’s unprecedented attempt to gerrymander by veto and use his office for the sole benefit of his party.”