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Rubel: Democrats will have tough choice on redistricting maps

Walt Rubel


  Commentary: Democrats in the New Mexico Legislature will soon have to choose between good government and good politics.


On the side of good government is the New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee, a seven-member board headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez, which has been holding public meetings throughout the state to gather input from residents to guide the redrawing of political district maps, as required every 10 year after the census.

According to the group’s website, it’s mission is to, “propose district lines that are drawn fairly, through a transparent, open and participatory process,” and to “develop maps that allow New Mexico voters to choose their representatives, not the other way around.”


That’s a departure from past efforts, when ensuring that lawmakers’ homes remained in their district was the primary objective.


The committee was formed by legislation passed earlier this year. The original bill would have required the Legislature to accept one of three proposals for each new district without making changes. But it was amended during the committee process to give legislators the freedom to disregard the entire effort, should they choose to.


And that has opened the door for good politics.


The Center for Civic Policy and other progressive political groups are proposing a new map for the state’s Second Congressional District, now represented by Republican Yvette Herrell, according to a story in the Albuquerque Journal.


The plan would break up the area known as “Little Texas” into all three of the state’s districts. Hobbs would be in the same district as Santa Fe, Carlsbad would be in the same district as the South Valley, and Roswell would be in the same district as Albuquerque.


I haven’t seen the actual map, but that’s got to be some first-class gerrymandering. Tom DeLay would be proud. 


The plan would move the South Valley and parts of Albuquerque’s west side into our district, creating a new district that would be about 60 percent Hispanic.


New Mexico is the most heavily Hispanic state in the nation, and should have a congressional district with a strong Hispanic majority, argued Oriana Sandoval, CEO of the Center for Civic Policy.


Republicans in Little Texas have responded with howls of protest, as you would expect. With the exception of two terms, the GOP has held this seat ever since the death of Harold Runnels in 1980. Joe Skeen and Steve Pearce often breezed to re-election without facing serious competition.


The Second Congressional District has now become the Republican Party’s only source of power in the state. If they were to lose it, Democrats would have single-party control. But, GOP leaders would have only themselves to blame.


Republican attorneys argued for an end to laws prohibiting partisan gerrymandering, and conservative justices agreed with them in the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 2019, all of which makes the map being proposed by the Center for Civic Policy perfectly legal.


And, it must be frustrating for Democrats in the state Legislature here who have watched Republicans in other states use gerrymandering to their advantage. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but in politics they do even things up.


Still, I suspect that good government will win out, as it should.