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Sandoval to leave redistricting decision to the courts

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval announced Thursday he will not call the Legislature back into a special session to deal with the thorny and unresolved issue of redistricting.

“As the Legislature has now adjourned sine die and failed to adopt an acceptable plan, I do not intend to call a special session to handle congressional and legislative redistricting,” the governor said in a statement.

By not calling a special session, Sandoval hands to the courts the task of redrawing the boundaries of Nevada’s four congressional districts and its 21 state Senate and 42 Assembly districts to reflect the recent census.

Every 10 years, legislators across the country redraw election district boundaries to make districts as equal in population as possible. Nevada won a fourth U.S. House seat this year because its population grew to 2.7 million, according to the 2010 census.

Lawsuits by Republicans and Democrats already have been filed in District Court in Carson City and federal court in Reno. Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said earlier that the state lawsuit would be heard first.

A source familiar with the case said that under the most favorable circumstances, District Court would not decide the case before late summer, and it would be fall before an appeal would be heard by the state Supreme Court. The district judge might decide the duty is a legislative function and force Sandoval to call a special session, the source said.

He said the Nevada Constitution states that redistricting is the mandatory duty of the Legislature.

Reached on his ranch, Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said lawyers from both sides were fearful anything legislators said would be used again them in the court cases.

“There were afraid dialogue would impair their cases,” he said. “We weren’t going to reach a consensus, so I agree with the governor a special session would have been useless and cost $500,000 or $250,000. Nobody is moving.”

Twice during the regular session, the Republican governor vetoed Democrat plans to redistrict legislative and congressional districts on the grounds they diluted the voting strength of Hispanics and failed to create a congressional district that an Hispanic could win.

Sandoval is the first Hispanic Nevada governor, but all 10 Hispanics in the Legislature are Democrats, and all voted for the Democrat redistricting plans.

“On this important issue, I remain resolute in my determination to see that the new districts are fair and lawful,” Sandoval said. “I am disappointed other available plans were not considered by the Legislature.”

There had been optimism during the last weekend of the session that Republican and Democrats could agreed on redistricting. Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, had assigned members of his caucus to work with Democrat on what he called the “most political of all issues” before the Legislature. But talks fell through.

The issue is political because each party invariably tries to carve boundaries in ways they make it most favorable for its side to win.

Democrats did not even consider a Republican redistricting plan before passing their first redistricting bill. That plan has placed 3rd Congressional District Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., in a district that contained parts of rural Nevada and Clark County. In their second plan, Heck was put in a district entirely in Clark County, but one where Democrats held a 47 percent to 30 percent registered voter advantage over Republicans.

Legislative Operations and Elections Chairman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, maintained that the Republican plan to create four Hispanic majority Senate and eight Hispanic majority Assembly districts actually diluted the voting power of Hispanics, who make up 26 percent of the state population.

He said that Hispanics are mainly Democrats and vote Democrat and that several Hispanic legislators were elected in districts that now have 20 percent Hispanic populations.

While rejecting the special redistricting session, Sandoval said Thursday he has signed the bill that redraws the boundaries of the 13 Board of Regents districts.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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