Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Rio Rancho could gain a seat in the state House under redistricting plans issued this week as New Mexico prepares to draw new political boundaries.
The new Rio Rancho district would come at the expense of either rural northern New Mexico or the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque.
But neither idea is set in stone. They’re just among the options the Citizens Redistricting Committee is asking New Mexicans to evaluate and comment on.
Also up for consideration are maps that would ensure the North Valley and West Side aren’t lumped together in any legislative districts. Instead, the Rio Grande would serve as a dividing line north of Interstate 40.
The International District in Albuquerque, by contrast, could stay intact, getting its own legislative seat in each chamber.
The ideas come as the Citizens Redistricting Committee tries to balance the population in 42 state Senate districts and 70 House seats, based on the 2020 census. The panel is also working on congressional and Public Education Commission maps.
“This is a key component to our democracy,” Edward Chávez, a retired Supreme Court justice leading the committee, said of the work. “Voting is important, but it begins here – who’s going to be advocating for your interests and your needs.”
The committee is seeking public comment in a series of hearings Sept. 28 through Oct. 8. Final action is set for Oct. 15.
The committee recommendations aren’t binding. The state Legislature – where Democrats hold large majorities – is planning a December special session to consider the proposed maps or craft its own.
For legislative districts, a key factor is accommodating growth in Rio Rancho and adjacent neighborhoods on the West Side of Albuquerque.
Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, said an extra House seat would ensure its residents aren’t underrepresented.
The population in Sandoval County, which includes Rio Rancho, jumped 13.1% over the last decade – more than four times as fast as the state as a whole.
“There’s no sign of the growth in Rio Rancho slowing down anytime soon,” Hernandez said in an interview Friday. “The home-builder signs as you drive through Rio Rancho – they’re everywhere.”
To accommodate a new Rio Rancho-based seat in the House, the proposed maps could consolidate two districts in rural northern New Mexico, where separate districts cover much of Mora and San Miguel counties along Interstate 25.
Or lawmakers could eliminate a district in Albuquerque’s mid-heights that now covers some neighborhoods along Eubank between Spain and Lomas.
Less-drastic options are also possible, such as having some West Side districts shuffle north a bit to capture the excess population.
Some principles show up repeatedly in the proposed legislative maps:
• Making the Rio Grande north of Interstate 40 a hard boundary for legislative districts in Albuquerque, dividing the West Side and North Valley.
Many legislative districts now cross the river in the Albuquerque area, requiring legislators to balance the interests of much different neighborhoods.
The West Side tends to be more suburban, for example, while parts of the North Valley are semi-rural.
Keeping the two areas separate came up repeatedly in public testimony.
“There’s a perception on the West Side that they feel underrepresented, so they wanted to make sure West Side neighborhoods weren’t included in North Valley districts,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which works for the redistricting committee.
• Keeping the International District in Albuquerque intact. The area covers Expo New Mexico and much of East Central Avenue between San Mateo and Wyoming.
The district is now split between districts in each legislative chamber.
Chávez said residents in the area believe the division weakens their influence, subordinating their interests to more affluent neighborhoods nearby.
• Allowing the East Mountains community of Edgewood to sit in one district rather than be split.