Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law Friday a bill establishing new political boundaries for New Mexico’s three congressional districts for the next decade.
The new congressional map, which was passed by lawmakers on largely party-line votes, with majority Democrats voting in favor, could reshape the political landscape in New Mexico.
It splits Albuquerque into two districts and moves some of southeast New Mexico, traditionally a conservative stronghold, into congressional districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernandez, both Democrats.
While a court challenge against the new plan could be brewing, Lujan Grisham said the map upholds democracy and sets a level playing field.
“The people’s elected representatives in the New Mexico Legislature have spoken with respect to data-driven and representative new congressional boundaries,” the governor said in a statement. “It is my duty to ratify the will of the majority here, which I believe has established a reasonable baseline for competitive federal elections, in which no one party or candidate may claim any undue advantage.”
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, an Alamogordo Republican whose 2nd Congressional District becomes more Democratic under the plan, assailed the legislation.
“The gerrymandered map New Mexico Democrats have proposed shows how desperate they are to try to save Nancy Pelosi’s majority,” Herrell said in a statement this week. “I look forward to running and winning in 2022, and providing New Mexico voters the conservative representation they deserve.”
The new map, Senate Bill 1, gives each district a mix of urban and rural communities – triggering objections from Republicans who said it would dilute the voting strength of conservatives by lumping them in with liberal city residents.
But a newly established Democratic edge in all three congressional seats wouldn’t be guaranteed. The election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight.com, owned by ABC News, rates two of the districts – the seats now held by Herrell and Leger Fernandez – as highly competitive.
Lonna Atkeson, a longtime New Mexico political observer who now works as a political science professor in Florida, said it’s possible the districts could be “more competitive than meets the eye” due to recent changes in Hispanic voting trends on a national level.
New Mexico GOP leaders are expected to meet next week to discuss a possible court challenge against the new congressional map. State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce blasted the redistricting process on Friday.
“Democrats have deliberately carved up and extended areas in order to have an advantage,” Pearce said in a statement. “This is not democracy, but simple partisanship. These maps consciously put the state in a position no longer to have a Republican or conservative voice in Congress.”
Under the new map, much of Albuquerque’s West Side, South Valley and parts of the Barelas neighborhood would move into the 2n
Congressional District, which is otherwise rooted in southern New Mexico.
The 1st Congressional District would continue to cover most of Albuquerque and the East Mountains. But, under the proposal, it would also take in most of Rio Rancho and cover a host of rural counties, stretching southeast to pick up part of Roswell.
Stansbury, who lives in northeastern Albuquerque and won a June special election for the seat, said she is excited to serve the new territory added to her district, and plans to seek reelection next year.
“Our state is a beautifully diverse place with a rich history,” she said, “and I look forward to getting to know the good people living across our communities.”
Meanwhile, the northern New Mexico-based 3rd Congressional District would continue to cover Farmington and Santa Fe. It would also reach into the oil patch and cover part of Hobbs.
Leger Fernandez, a first-term congresswoman from Santa Fe, did not respond directly to questions about the new map, but sent out a fundraising appeal Friday saying the district could be pivotal to Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the U.S. House in 2022.
In New Mexico, this year’s special session, which began Dec. 6 and ended Friday, represents the first time in 30 years that Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office during a redistricting year.
Official 2020 census data pinpointed New Mexico’s population at slightly more than 2.1 million people – a 2.8% increase from 2010. That means the target population for each of the state’s three congressional districts is 705,841 residents.
New Mexico’s population has not, however, grown evenly in all areas of the state, as population gains in the oil patch and in more urban counties, such as Sandoval and Santa Fe outpaced most rural parts of the state. Some sparsely populated counties saw population declines.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who was a lead architect of the new congressional map, described it as a new approach to drawing New Mexico’s congressional boundary lines.
“For 20 years, I’ve worked to erase the chosen boundaries, which historically assigned southern New Mexico to the Republicans in exchange for the north assigned to Democrats,” Cervantes said on social media after the bill was signed by the governor.