Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham owes retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Chavez and retired Court of Appeals Chief Judge Roderick Kennedy an explanation — if not an apology.
Chavez and Kennedy co-chaired a Redistricting Task Force that worked for 12 weeks “to bring justice, fairness and transparency” to the contentious decennial process. The 25-member task force studied state and federal requirements, the best practices from other states and concerns from specific New Mexico communities before laying a foundation for a fair redistricting process. The group developed 18 consensus recommendations for the subsequent seven-member Citizen Redistricting Committee, chaired by Chavez and formed by lawmakers for the express purpose of avoiding partisan gerrymandering.
It was probably too much to hope self-interested lawmakers would follow the task force’s recommendations, available in a report at NMFirst.org. And they didn’t.
Legislators instead passed a gerrymandered bill with congressional boundaries that split Albuquerque, Roswell and Hobbs for naked political gain.
Beginning in January 2023, the 2nd Congressional District will include Albuquerque’s West Side and South Valley, whose population will dominate the southern part of Hobbs that was also included in the district.
Meanwhile, the east side of Albuquerque will drown out the portion of northern Roswell that was put into the 1st Congressional District.
And CD3 will lump southern Roswell and northern Hobbs in with Santa Fe.
So much for keeping like-minded communities together, prioritizing communities of interest, protecting marginalized groups, avoiding court intervention, and not favoring anyone, specifically political parties or incumbents.
Of course, those were the guiding values of the Redistricting Task Force, not the Legislature or the governor.
Perhaps this should not have been a surprise —the day after Republican Yvette Herrell defeated incumbent Democrat Xochitl Torres Small to win CD2 in November 2020, House Speaker Brian Egolf warned the district would be redrawn in such a way that “we’ll have to see what that means for Republican chances to hold it.”
And, Egolf lived up to low expectations. It wasn’t enough for him that Democrats have super-majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, hold every state office from governor to state treasurer and occupy both U.S. Senate and two of the state’s three congressional seats. He and other Democrats wanted it all and took it at the expense of conservative and rural voters.
Then, the governor joined the gerrymandering circus and cemented these congressional boundaries for the next decade.
“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,” the governor said. Yet, the maps carve the Republican-dominated oil patch into three districts, dilute the rural vote and shift even more political power to central New Mexico. No “undue advantage?”
Lujan Grisham had an opportunity to be a true leader and represent the whole state regarding redistricting but instead yielded to political temptations. For that she owes Chavez, Kennedy, task force and committee members and every New Mexican now lumped into a district that disenfranchises their community interests a real explanation, not a party-scripted response.
State Republicans now are contemplating a lawsuit to stop implementation of the maps. So is New Mexico Open Elections. Here we go again — court battles over redistricting cost state taxpayers more than $6 million in 2011 and $3.7 million in 2001.
Shortly after signing the congressional redistricting bill, the governor issued a call for New Mexicans to apply to serve on various state boards. Given the response to the hard work done by the Redistricting Task Force and Citizen Redistricting Committee, why should they bother?
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.