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Retired Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez to head redistricting panel

Edward Chávez, center, reacts to a speech by then-Chief Justice Charles Daniels at the Capitol in 2017. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez will lead New Mexico’s newly created citizen redistricting committee – one of a host of appointments made Friday as the new body takes shape.

Chávez was chosen by the State Ethics Commission to serve as chairman of the seven-person panel, which will hold hearings and review census data this summer before recommending maps to the Legislature.

Also set to join the redistricting committee are State Demographer Robert Rhatigan and teacher Joaquin Sanchez, both appointed by the ethics commission Friday.

Rhatigan and Sanchez are from Albuquerque, and neither is registered to vote with a major political party, a requirement for their slots on the committee.

Rhatigan is director of Geospatial and Population Studies at the University of New Mexico, where his work gives him a strong background in census data and map-making. Sanchez is a former engineer who now works as a math and special education teacher at Robert F. Kennedy Charter High School.

Legislative leaders have appointed three other members: former Democratic senators Lisa Curtis and Michael Sanchez and Albuquerque attorney Christopher Saucedo, a New Mexico State University regent.

Just one more appointment is outstanding.

The redistricting group – established with bipartisan legislative approval this year – is designed to limit political influence over the once-a-decade drawing of district maps for Congress and the Legislature.

But its proposals will serve only as a recommendation. Legislators are set to meet in a special session late this year – perhaps in December – to adopt district maps.

By law, the State Ethics Commission had to pick a retired Supreme Court justice or appeals court judge to head the redistricting committee.

Chávez and retired Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil were interviewed Friday, but commission members cited Chávez’s first-hand experience in redistricting litigation as the deciding factor.

“It just puts him a step ahead in this process, in my mind, for the purpose of carrying out this mission, which has a very short timeline,” ethics commission member Ron Solimon said.

Four appointments to the redistricting committee come from the Legislature – two by Democratic leaders and two by Republican leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, appointed Saucedo; Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, appointed Curtis; and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, appointed Sanchez.

The last slot is to be filled by an appointment from House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia.

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