Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A redistricting proposal that would split Albuquerque in two and establish a Democratic lean in all three of New Mexico’s congressional seats is off to a fast start at the Capitol.
The proposed map – sponsored jointly by Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and Rep. Georgene Louis of Albuquerque, both Democrats – cleared its first committee Wednesday on a party-line vote over the objection of Republicans.
It would make the 2nd Congressional District – now held by Republican Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo – more Democratic by extending it to take in much of the West Side of Albuquerque, some neighborhoods near the zoo and the South Valley.
The district would also cover southern New Mexico, including Las Cruces, Carlsbad and part of Hobbs.
The remainder of Albuquerque would share the 1st Congressional District with Rio Rancho and Placitas, stretch through the East Mountains and then take in Ruidoso.
Democrats would have an edge in all three districts, according to political performance data released by legislative analysts.
But it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a Democratic sweep. The election analysis site FiveThirtyEight.com reported that it would classify two of the three proposed seats as “highly competitive,” meaning Republicans could win them some years.
Cervantes said the proposal would amplify the voices of Hispanic voters in southern New Mexico and ensure every member of the congressional delegation has a mix of urban and rural communities.
It would also disrupt the conventional political wisdom, he said, that southern New Mexico belongs to Republicans while the north is for Democrats.
“I’ve always rejected that any one party should have that turf laid out for them,” Cervantes said.
The plan drew blunt opposition from Republicans.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said the map was a deliberate attempt to give Democrats all three of New Mexico’s seats in the U.S. House. It would dilute the voices of rural voters, he said, by lumping them in with more urban and suburban areas.
The state’s traditionally Democratic-leaning 3rd Congressional District, for instance, would be redrawn to take in largely conservative Roswell and Artesia, while Rio Rancho would be moved out of the district.
“It’s pretty disingenuous to say we tried to keep communities of interest together,” Pirtle said. “You can look at this map and see that’s not the case.”
If the composition of the Legislature were reversed, he said, he wouldn’t support a gerrymandered map favoring Republicans – drawing a yell of “bull—-” from someone in the online audience, broadcast into the committee room.
The proposal, Senate Bill 1, passed the Senate Rules Committee on an 7-4 vote and must clear just one more committee before reaching the full Senate.
It isn’t one of the three maps recommended by the Citizen Redistricting Committee.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said he was initially skeptical of the proposal, but changed his mind. He liked that all three districts, he said, would have a similar mix of Democrats and Republicans, and urban and rural areas.
“I think you’ve done a really nice job of coming up with three districts that each are very much like New Mexico as a whole,” he said to Cervantes.
Republicans insisted the composition of the districts made no sense and would weaken the voting strength of the oil patch, traditionally a conservative stronghold.
“I don’t understand how Santa Fe and Hobbs would have similar thoughts,” Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said.
Cervantes said the proposal will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning, potentially its last stop before the full Senate.
To become law, it would also have to pass the House and go to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
For the first time in 30 years, Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers and the Governor’s Office during a redistricting year.
Under the proposal, all three U.S. House seats in New Mexico would lean Democratic, according to political performance data based on voting trends, released by legislative analysts. Democrats would have:
• An 8 percentage point edge in the 1st Congressional District, or 54% to 46% over Republicans.
Democrat Melanie Stansbury of Northeast Albuquerque now represents the area.
• A 6-point edge for Democrats in the 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Herrell, the lone Republican in the delegation.
Republicans have generally held the seat for the past 40 years, though Democrats won a two-year term in the 2008 and 2018 elections.
• An 11-point edge for Democrats in the 3rd Congressional District now held by Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe.
FiveThirtyEight.com had a slightly different analysis. It suggested the 2nd and 3rd districts would have a slight Democratic lean, but remain highly competitive.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, by contrast, rated none of the proposed districts as competitive, describing them all as Democratic seats.