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Democrat says redistricting process will be fair, open

SANTA FE – A top-ranking Democrat offered assurances that legislative districts will be redrawn in a “fair, open, and transparent process” as the Legislature initiates the redistricting process, responding to criticism of earlier remarks.

Brian Egolf

New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, an architect of the state’s progressive Democratic wing, last week lamented the defeat of the incumbent Democrat in the state’s 2nd Congressional District and said the district’s boundaries will be redrawn, with possible implications for future elections. Republicans accused Egolf of planning “political tricks.”

GOP challenger Yvette Herrell flipped the 2nd District in Tuesday’s election, defeating first-term Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

On Friday, Egolf clarified his remarks and said that redistricting is based on the state’s evolving population demographics and that “no election outcome is going to play a role in how we look at the drawing of our congressional district boundaries.”

“I in no way intended or meant to imply that that district is being singled out as a result of the outcome of an election,” the Santa Fe-based legislator said during a virtual meeting. “I just want to make it clear that the redistricting process that we will have going forward is going to be fair, open and transparent and will involve a great many committee meetings all over the state.”

Last week’s election was the last before U.S. House and state legislative districts across the nation must be redrawn to balance the number of residents based on the 2020 census.

New Mexico’s voting districts were drawn in 2012 by a state District Court after then-Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a plan from a Democratic-led Legislature. The court’s goal was to minimize partisan leanings and keep intact communities with similar cultural, economic or geographic concerns.

But a Democratic governor is now in office, Democrats hold supermajorities in the Statehouse and Democrats dominate the state Supreme Court.

States will have new discretion in the redistricting process under a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said partisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts is none of its business.

New Mexico legislators are likely to meet in September 2021 in a special legislative session to adopt a redistricting plan.

The Legislature is contracting with Albuquerque-based Research & Polling for just over $1 million for technical assistance in developing a redistricting plan, while also hiring independent legal counsel.

Democrats retained substantial partisan majorities in both chambers of the Legislature in the Nov. 3 election.

At the same time, several conservative-leaning Democrats won’t return to the state Senate next year after primary election losses, including the Senate president and gatekeepers for tax policy and state spending decisions.