SANTA FE — The state Senate plunged into an unusually harsh, racially tinged debate Thursday before adopting a plan to redraw the chamber’s district boundaries in a map that reflects a hard-fought agreement with Native American leaders.
The late-night vote set the stage for the bruising special session on redistricting that started Dec. 6 to come to an end Friday.
The lead Democratic sponsor of the bill — Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez of Albuquerque — and supporters described the map as a match for New Mexico’s diversity.
“With this vote, I believe there’s a table out there that exists where we can all sit, and no one is higher than the other,” said Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Gallup Democrat and member of the Navajo Nation. “With this vote, the voices of those overlooked are not silenced.”
Opponents, by contrast, accused Democrats in the majority of backing out of a bipartisan deal and diluting the voting strength of Hispanic voters.
The map would pair two Hispanic Republicans — Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen and Sen. Joshua Sanchez of Bosque — into one district, forcing them to either move or run against each other in 2024 to keep a legislative seat.
“This is about political retribution. If you’re not the right kind of Hispanic, we’re going to smite you,” said Sen. Mark Moores, an Albuquerque Republican with Hispanic heritage.
Baca called the proposal a racist map. He said when he makes a deal, he honors it and sleeps well at night.
“You pray to whatever god you want to at night,” he said to Democrats during the debate.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque independent, said he was embarrassed to be a member of the chamber, arguing the map would chop up heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in southwestern Albuquerque. He supported the proposal in the end, saying all the maps available were flawed.
Supporters of the bill pushed back.
Sen. Harold Pope Jr., an Albuquerque Democrat and first African American in the Senate, said he was proud to be serve in the chamber.
“The rhetoric, we need to tone it down,” Pope said.
Lopez said she worked closely with Native leaders and crafted a map that recognizes “their standing in the state of New Mexico.”
Hispanic, Native districts
The vote came after Republicans lifted a procedural maneuver that had halted action for about 22 hours.
The proposal, Senate Bill 2, won approval 25-13 and now heads to the House for consideration. Each legislative body, however, typically avoids making substantive changes to the map of the other chamber.
The map establishes 15 districts where Hispanic residents are a majority of the adult population. That’s one fewer than the existing map, using 2020 census data. Hispanic residents make up about 44% of the adult population in New Mexico.
Native Americans would make up a majority of the adult population in three districts, same as under the current maps.
But the map reflects an agreement with pueblo governors, Navajo Nation representatives and other tribal government leaders. They worked for months to develop boundaries they said reflect their communities of interest, honor their right to self-determination and increase opportunities to elect Native American senators, especially in northwestern New Mexico.
Native leaders said they rebuffed a Thursday offer from Republican senators to support amendments to the map.
“We will not accept anyone putting the blame on our shoulders,” said Regis Pecos, a member of the Cochiti Tribal Council and former Cochiti Pueblo governor.
He added: “We know better than anyone the history of promises made and promises broken.”
The adopted map would establish 27 Democratic-leaning seats and 15 Republican-leaning seats, according to an analysis of voting trends over the past 10 years, conducted by redistricting contractor Research & Polling Inc.
It’s similar to the current makeup of 26 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one independent.
It would pair two Democrats — Gerald Ortiz y Pino and Bill O’Neill, both of Albuquerque — but Ortiz y Pino said Thursday he had informed his caucus he does not plan to seek reelection in three years.
Lawmakers knocked another item off their to-do list Thursday by granting final approval to a $478 million spending package on roads, broadband internet, state parks and other priorities.
The funding comes from New Mexico’s allocation of federal stimulus funds under the American Rescue Plan Act.
The legislation, House Bill 2, was amended in the Senate and the House agreed Thursday to the Senate changes, sending the measure on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The bill leaves about $724 million in federal funds unspent for now. The extra money may be allocated in the 30-day legislative session beginning Jan. 18.
The Legislature has already adopted a new congressional map, which is awaiting action by Lujan Grisham.