The last time state lawmakers were tasked with drawing new maps for the state House and Senate, it took more than a year of fiercely partisan wrangling, four trials and $5.6 million of litigation costs billed to taxpayers to hammer out the maps.
The final House map crafted by a state District Court judge in 2012 and approved by the New Mexico Supreme Court pitted two incumbent Democrats against each other and two incumbent Republicans against each other for seats in the N.M. House of Representatives. The map, drawn by retired District Judge James Hall, also had Republican Jimmie Hall taking on Democrat Al Park in the same Albuquerque district, although Park had announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.
The new Senate map adopted by lawmakers paired two Democratic incumbents and two Republican incumbents.
Judge Hall said his intention was to pair incumbents only as necessary and “in a manner that is politically neutral.” Unfortunately, those principles seem to have been lost with the present-day Citizen Redistricting Committee.
Of the three House and three Senate maps proposed by the committee, two would pit Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen against Sen. Joshua Sanchez of Bosque; Sen. David Gallegos of Eunice against Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs; and House Minority Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington against Rep. James Strickler of Farmington.
All three plans recommended for the Senate would pit Sens. William Burt and Ron Griggs of Alamogordo against each other.
The problem? All are Republicans.
The only pairing of Democrats in the Senate, also included in all three Senate plans, would place Sens. Katy Duhigg and Bill O’Neill in the same Albuquerque district.
The only pairing of an incumbent Democrat and incumbent Republican in the House, also included in all three House plans, would pit Democrat Dayan Hochman-Vigil and Republican Bill Rehm. Rehm is the only Republican left in the state House representing a portion of Albuquerque and believes he’s being targeted because of it. “To go ahead and do this is just unbelievable,” he told the Journal.
Remember that the Citizen Redistricting Committee was designed to limit political influence and avoid gerrymandering; that the seven-person panel led by retired Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez was prohibited by law from considering partisan data; that it could consider where incumbents live in order to limit pairing them against each other in the next election. Yet it appears the citizen committee gave very little weight to any of that — at least in terms of Republicans.
Look no further than the fact that the 2022 proposed maps would pair many more incumbent Republicans than incumbent Democrats. It’s also noteworthy two of the proposed maps would pit Republican leaders — Baca and Montoya — against fellow Republicans in their caucus.
Yet an evaluation of the proposed maps by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project awarded an “A” for partisan fairness to every legislative map adopted by the citizen committee. We’re not sure it examined the correct state.
The six plans recommended by the citizen committee would have a whopping total of 19 incumbents facing each other. That’s 10 more incumbents pitted against each other than when new boundaries were drawn a decade ago.
The Citizen Redistricting Committee was tasked with drawing compact districts, bringing and keeping communities of interest together, and recognizing traditional redistricting principles such as using county lines and natural boundaries to draw maps. Recommending maps that would pit 19 incumbents is ridiculous. And with far fewer Republicans than Democrats in the House and Senate, it’s puzzling why so many more Republicans would be paired against each other.
In past redistricting rounds, lawmakers have generally sought to avoid pairing incumbents as much as possible. Judge Hall strove for political neutrality and avoiding pairing incumbents. The citizen committee hasn’t.
Legislators will have a chance in a special session expected to begin Dec. 6 to make adjustments and uphold those principles of political neutrality and avoiding pairing incumbents. We hope they do.
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.