Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A proposal to redraw the boundary lines of New Mexico’s 70 state House districts for the next decade is headed to the chamber floor after clearing two committee hurdles Wednesday, despite Republican criticisms it would unfairly target GOP incumbents.
But Democrats defended the fairness of the proposed map, House Bill 8, saying it’s based on proposals advanced by the Citizen Redistricting Committee, an independent group created this year to come up with redistricting recommendations for lawmakers.
Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, said the House redistricting plan was also modified based on a recent agreement between Navajo Nation officials and leaders from New Mexico’s pueblos.
“I think we expected not everyone would be 100% happy,” Louis told the Journal after the plan passed the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 6-3 vote, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans in opposition.
The map passed the House Judiciary Committee on a similar party-line vote Wednesday evening, sending it to the chamber floor for a vote. It would still have to be approved by the Senate and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in order to take effect.
While the map could still be adjusted, it would in its current form create six Native American-majority districts and 27 districts in which Hispanics would make up the majority of the population, according to legislative data.
There are currently 24 House districts that are majority Hispanic and six majority Native American districts.
Meanwhile, the new map would create four incumbent-versus-incumbent matchups, though lawmakers in two of those districts have said they are not planning to seek reelection next year.
Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, the lone GOP lawmaker from New Mexico’s largest city currently in the state House, questioned why certain Albuquerque foothills neighborhoods would be moved into an East Mountains district under the proposal.
He also voiced concern that some female Republicans, including Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, would see drastic changes to their districts.
Powdrell-Culbert, one of two African Americans in the House and the chamber’s fourth-longest serving member, said she feels intentionally targeted by the proposed changes to her district.
“I think it’s being developed to ensure Democratic control,” Powdrell-Culbert said in an interview. “I feel like they’re moving my boundaries because they can’t find anybody to beat me.”
However, Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, the bill’s sponsor, said pairing incumbent lawmakers within a single redrawn district was not a primary focus in crafting the map. “I think this is a very solid proposal and New Mexicans can be proud of the process,” Ely said in an interview.
While the state’s 70 House districts should have a target population of 30,000 residents to ensure equal sizes, he said it makes sense to have slightly less populous districts in highly Native American districts in northwest New Mexico.
“Both historically and for practical purposes, the Native American community has been undercounted,” Ely said.
Democrats entered this year’s redistricting special session with a decisive 45-24 advantage over Republicans in the House. There is also one independent House member, Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell.