Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Just 90 minutes into their special session, New Mexico legislators clashed over the work of a citizens committee that recommended three proposals for redrawing the state’s congressional map.
Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque immediately targeted Congressional Concept H – the map drafted by the left-leaning Center for Civic Policy on behalf of a coalition of groups.
The concept is one of three that won a recommendation from the Citizen Redistricting Committee, and it would move much of the West Side of Albuquerque and some of the South Valley into the 2nd Congressional District – changes that would make the district more Democratic. Republican Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo now holds the seat, though it’s flipped back and forth between the two parties in the last few election cycles.
Seizing the first opportunity to debate the maps Monday, Moores immediately cast doubt on Concept H as senators heard a presentation on the work of the Citizen Redistricting Committee.
The left-leaning coalition that backed the map, he said, offered to pay people to testify during committee hearings earlier this year, which he said “taints” the committee recommendation in favor of it.
“We don’t know who was funding the offer to pay,” Moores said. “That’s incredibly problematic.”
But others pushed back on the criticism. A spokesman for the “People’s Power, People’s Maps” coalition and Center for Civic Policy said no one requested or received a reimbursement for testimony.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said he had no ethical concern about considering the map.
“I think it was an aboveboard process this year,” Ortiz y Pino said. “If nobody was paid to testify, then I don’t think we have any concerns about the ethics involved.”
The back-and-forth was a preview of a critical debate to come – how to redraw the boundaries of New Mexico’s three congressional districts to reflect 2020 census data.
Democrats hold a 221-213 majority over Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. National analysts are watching to see whether the Democratic majorities in the New Mexico Legislature adjust the boundaries of the 2nd Congressional District to make it more favorable to Democrats, just as they are watching for similar decisions in states controlled by Republicans.
Much of the early debate in New Mexico has centered on Concept H.
For about three decades, New Mexico’s three congressional districts have been aligned with a northern-based seat, a southern-based seat and a district rooted in Albuquerque.
The southern district has traditionally been dominated by Republicans. Democrats have won the seat twice since 2008 and held it for just one term each time.
Legislators aren’t required to accept any of the recommended congressional plans. They can draw their own map or amend the recommendations from the committee.
One proposal before legislators, Congressional Concept A, would generally keep the north-south alignment now in place.
Another proposal, Concept E Revised, would largely keep the political landscape intact, too, but with some adjustments to reflect the testimony of Native American communities. It would establish an Albuquerque-Rio Rancho district; extend the northern-based district south to take in part of the Mescalero Apache reservation near Ruidoso; and keep the southern-based district largely intact, but with the addition of the unincorporated South Valley in Bernalillo County.
Concept H would make the most dramatic changes. It would break up the conservative stronghold of southeastern New Mexico, moving parts of it into all three districts rather than leaving them entirely in the 2nd Congressional District.
Santa Fe and parts of Hobbs in the oil patch would share the northern-based district; parts of Albuquerque would be linked with Carlsbad; and some of Albuquerque would share a district with Roswell.
Retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez, who served as chairman of the redistricting committee, said all three maps were crafted with public testimony in mind and to give the Legislature a variety of options.
The committee hearings attracted genuine testimony, he said, and he dismissed concerns about a stipend influencing anyone’s testimony.
“I thought that their testimony was legitimate, passionate and consistent,” Chávez said of public comment.
An email circulated earlier this year offering $50 stipends if people needed help attending a redistricting meeting to testify.
Isaac De Luna, a spokesman for the People’s Map coalition, said no one ever requested a stipend or received one from the Center for Civic Policy or coalition.
But it’s “a common and acceptable practice,” he said, “to provide reimbursement to members of the community as a way to offset their travel and child care expenses to ensure they have an opportunity to elevate their voices and express their needs within our democracy.”
Monday’s presentation and discussion happened as part of a Senate Rules Committee meeting, though it was held in the Senate chamber and most senators attended.