Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A proposal to redraw New Mexico’s congressional map by establishing a new district with a strong Hispanic majority is generating both vocal support and accusations of gerrymandering.
The proposed map – submitted by the left-leaning Center for Civic Policy and a coalition of other groups – would move the South Valley and parts of Albuquerque’s West Side into the southern-based congressional district now held by Republican Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo.
Hispanic residents would make up 60% of the population.
The measure would also split the conservative stronghold of southeastern New Mexico into all three districts – not unified in one, as now – and pair together some disparate communities.
Parts of Hobbs in the oil patch, for example, would share the northern-based district that includes Santa Fe; the South Valley would be linked with Carlsbad; and most of Albuquerque would share a district with Roswell.
Oriana Sandoval, CEO of the Center for Civic Policy, said the proposed map – described by advocates as the Peoples Map – is the result of more than a year of meetings with community groups and residents throughout the state.
As the most heavily Hispanic state in the nation, New Mexico ought to have at least one congressional district with a strong Hispanic majority, Sandoval said.
“The way we’re approaching mapmaking is really through a racial-equity lens and making sure communities of interest across the state have fair representation,” she said Thursday in an interview.
The proposed map – just one of many up for consideration – has triggered intense opposition from Republican leaders in southeastern New Mexico.
Will Cavin, a Roswell resident and chairman of the Chaves County Commission, said the Center for Civic Policy proposal would dilute the voting strength of rural voters in his part of the state.
New Mexico hasn’t had enough population growth, Cavin said, to merit wholesale shifts in U.S. House boundaries.
“If you’re changing our congressional maps up so dramatically, there’s only one reason for it – and that’s political,” Cavin said.
About 48% of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic, according to redistricting data.
Establishing a strong Hispanic majority in the southern New Mexico-based district has been a source of intense debate at the Roundhouse in past redistricting cycles, too, though it never made it into law.
In the map approved 10 years ago, about 47% of the adults in the 2nd Congressional District were Hispanic, according to analysis at the time.
The Center for Civic Policy-backed map this year would create a southern-based district with about 56% of the adult population Hispanic.
The map designed by the Center for Civic Policy illustrates some of the challenges facing New Mexico policymakers as they try to balance the population among three congressional districts.
The sharpest growth in the state over the past 10 years has occurred in southeastern New Mexico – where an oil boom has boosted state revenue – and in Rio Rancho and the West Side of Albuquerque.
As it stands now, the 2nd Congressional District – now covering the southern half of New Mexico – has too many people. Conversely, the 1st Congressional District, now based in Albuquerque and the East Mountains, has too few people.
The Citizens Redistricting Committee itself has issued seven initial maps for public comment with a host of competing concepts for balancing the congressional districts.
The ideas include status quo-oriented proposals, establishing an urban Albuquerque-Rio Rancho district, pushing the South Valley into the southern-based district, or even creating an Albuquerque-Santa Fe district.
But members of the public and outside groups are also free to submit proposed maps via the redistricting committee website. That’s how the Center for Civic Policy map surfaced in the discussion.
The state’s 19 pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Nation have also submitted a congressional map.
The seven-member citizen committee is led by retired Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez. It’s charged with recommending at least three maps for the U.S. House, in addition to proposals for legislative seats and the Public Education Commission.
The citizen committee is barred from using partisan data as it crafts maps.
The state Legislature – where Democrats hold large majorities – will make the final decision on which congressional map to send to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat.
A special legislative session is expected in December.
Unlike the initial seven maps proposed by the Citizen Redistricting Committee for public comment, the Center for Civic Policy map would establish two competitive, but Democratic-leaning, congressional districts and one highly competitive district, according to FiveThirtyEight, a website that uses statistical analysis to analyze elections.
Most of the first seven maps issued by the redistricting committee itself would create a solidly Democratic district; a competitive, but Democratic-leaning. district; and a competitive, but Republican-leaning district, according to the FiveThirtyEight analysis.
Under the existing map, the analysis suggests New Mexico has one solidly Democratic district; a competitive, but Democratic-leaning. district; and a competitive. but Republican-leaning. district.