Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Albuquerque could share a congressional district with Rio Rancho or Santa Fe under proposals moving forward as New Mexico prepares to redraw its political boundaries.
Parts of the far South Valley in Bernalillo County, by contrast, could move into a southern New Mexico-based district.
The ideas are outlined in seven potential maps – covering a host of competing concepts – approved Thursday for further scrutiny and to solicit public comment.
The newly created Citizens Redistricting Committee agreed to issue the maps but not limit itself to just the seven plans. Members of the public or the committee are still free to propose new maps or suggest changes.
Edward Chávez, a retired Supreme Court justice leading the committee, said the initial maps are designed to incorporate ideas presented during public hearings so far – all while balancing the population among New Mexico’s three congressional districts.
“This is an important part of our democracy,” Chávez said Thursday. “We want the public to be active in the process.”
The committee is set to make its final redistricting recommendations Oct. 15, but its proposals aren’t binding.
The state Legislature – where Democrats hold hefty majorities – is expected to meet in a December special session to adopt new maps. It can choose among proposals forward by the redistricting committee or craft entirely new plans.
The maps under consideration now don’t take into account which political party might benefit from the revised boundaries. The Citizens Redistricting Committee is barred by law from using partisan data.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., the company hired to help New Mexico draw new maps, said the concepts proposed Thursday are intended to keep communities of interest together, protect the voting rights of Native Americans and others, and maintain compact districts, among other criteria.
But some priorities conflict with others, he said, triggering a variety of concepts for how to draw new boundaries reflecting 2020 census data.
“I think all these maps are worthy of consideration,” Sanderoff said.
In addition to congressional districts, the Citizen Redistricting Committee also agreed Thursday to authorize proposed maps for legislative seats and the Public Education Commission.
The 1st Congressional District is now rooted in Albuquerque but stretches north to pick up the towns of Bernalillo and Placitas and east to capture Moriarty and Torrance County.
But the district can’t stay unchanged. It’s about 11,000 people under the ideal population of 705,841 residents per district, according to Research & Polling.
The maps authorized for consideration Thursday propose a host of broad concepts for balancing the population among the congressional districts:
• The Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District – now represented by Democrat Melanie Stansbury – could remain largely intact, with less-obvious adjustments that move the Paradise Hills and Ventana Ranch neighborhoods into the district. They are now in the northern congressional district.
• Another concept would create an Albuquerque-Santa Fe district, allowing the southern-based 2nd Congressional District – now represented by Republican Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo – to include all of the state’s conservative-leaning east side.
• Yet another proposal would establish an urban Albuquerque-Rio Rancho district, pushing the unincorporated South Valley into the 2nd Congressional District. There are also variations that would keep the South Valley with Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.
• All of the plans generally preserve the core of the northern New Mexico-based 3rd Congressional District, now represented by Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe. In some proposals, however, the 3rd district would also include some Native American communities west of Albuquerque, along with the East Mountains.
Members of the Citizens Redistricting Committee authorized the seven plans for public circulation to generate public comment, but they made clear they are still keeping an open mind.
“I think we should move forward with as many concepts as possible,” said Robert Rhatigan, the state demographer and a member of the committee.
However the districts are redrawn will have enormous political consequences. Herrell is the only GOP member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation.
Her district now covers the southern half of the state, including the conservative oil patch in southeastern New Mexico.
She won the seat last year, defeating incumbent Democrat Xochitl Torres Small. Republicans have held the seat for all but four years since 1981.
But Democrats are set to control New Mexico’s redistricting for the first time in decades. They hold legislative majorities, and – in contrast to 10 years ago – the Governor’s Office.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a former congresswoman, is up for reelection in 2022.
New Mexico’s redistricting will be watched nationally. Democrats now hold a 220-212 edge in the U.S. House over Republicans.
But 2022 could be a tough year for Democrats. The party that doesn’t hold the White House usually makes gains in the midterm elections.
The Citizens Redistricting Committee, however, is prohibited from relying on political data.
“No partisan data was used in the creation of any of these plans,” Sanderoff told the committee. “We didn’t look at that in any way, shape or form.”