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Editorial: Redistricting should be about NM voters, not party, Mr. Speaker

Oops, he’s done it again.

In November, the day after Democrats retained super-majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told reporters the 2020 election would be the last one with a 2nd Congressional District map resembling current boundaries. “So next time it’ll be a different district, and we’ll have to see what that means for Republican chances to hold it,” he said.

The implication? U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell was the only Republican to win a major election in New Mexico last year, and Egolf’s lust for one-party domination was thwarted when Democrats didn’t run the table. The comments were offensive to fellow Democrats, several of whom wrote the Journal. “As a registered Democrat, I was appalled,” Thomas Hess of Albuquerque wrote. “Democrats hold as core values protecting inclusivity and guarding against voter suppression.”

Anyone unsure whether Egolf really believes in “a fair, open and transparent process,” as he said in November, got their answer last week when the speaker slammed legislation that would create an independent commission to redraw legislative districts. “It puts at tremendous peril all of the progressive causes that we care about,” he told members of Retake Our Democracy (which, interestingly, supports an independent redistricting commission).

First, the use of the royal “we” discounts every opinion counter to Egolf’s. Second, there’s a disconnect in saying a compelling progressive agenda can’t withstand voter scrutiny. And his lame attempt at a save, Senate Bill 15 (co-sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D Albuquerque, and which, granted, got better in its revised version), provides for a show panel to make recommendations lawmakers can ignore.

Thankfully, many lawmakers have had enough. Nearly half of the House’s 70 members are co-sponsoring meaningful legislation, House Bill 211, to create an independent commission to carve congressional and legislative districts without political considerations. Senate Bill 199, now superseded by SB 15, was similar. Both would provide for multiple plans the Legislature must pick from; if lawmakers decline, the commission favorite wins.

And while under the Constitution lawmakers may need to be able to make changes, they should not be the ones doing the redistricting.

HB 211 would have a 25-member bipartisan/nonpartisan Redistricting Task Force chaired by a retired state Supreme Court chief justice and state Court of Appeals judge. It would consider population, compliance with the Voting Rights Act, Indigenous governances, communities of interest, integrity of governmental subdivisions, preserving cores of existing districts, contiguity and compactness, and geographic barriers and features.

That would solve issues such as voters from Taos and Rio Rancho, or Carlsbad and the South Valley, being lumped together – not even the hardest-working public servant can cover that ground and represent such diverse interests well.

Egolf’s statements ignore the value of a marketplace of ideas and a multiparty political system and fail to recognize that 23% of New Mexico’s registered voters have no party affiliation.

Drawing districts to best represent voters, not incumbents or party, is right. Egolf should bring the bill that empowers a truly independent commission to the floor and put elected leaders on record whether they back the disenfranchising practice of gerrymandering or representing New Mexicans.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.