Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – After Democrats won control of all three New Mexico congressional districts in this week’s general election, Republicans blasted Democrats for using the once-per-decade task of redistricting to pave the way for an all-blue delegation.
But Democrats who helped craft the new congressional map have pushed back against the gerrymandering claims, saying the newly-drawn districts are each more competitive and that Republicans should have nominated different candidates.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who was a lead architect of the redrawn congressional map, said incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell took extremist positions as a congresswoman, such as voting against certifying the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
He said the redrawn districts – including the 2nd Congressional District seat that Herrell holds – were the culmination of his longstanding push to make each of the state’s three districts more competitive.
“I have long been unhappy with the notion there was going to be seats drawn to protect Democratic incumbents and Republican incumbents,” Cervantes told the Journal.
Democratic incumbents Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury did win reelection to their congressional seats in Tuesday’s election, but by smaller margins than they won by two years ago and last year, respectively.
Herrell, for her part, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Gabe Vasquez in a close race in which Vasquez won by a 1,310-vote margin – or just 0.68 percentage points – in a race with more than 192,000 votes cast, according to unofficial results.
In a Wednesday concession statement, Herrell accused Democrats of engineering her ouster by making changes to the district that included moving parts of Albuquerque’s South Valley and West Side into the district, while shifting Roswell and parts of Hobbs into other districts.
“Two years ago, the Democrats in Santa Fe announced they would gerrymander our district to ensure they would totally control our state’s federal delegation,” Herrell said. “They did just that, ignoring the will of the people in the process. … Stay tuned!”
In addition, state Republican Party chairman Steve Pearce accused outgoing House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, of designing a seat that “would be impossible for Yvette Herrell to win.”
While voting data suggests Herrell would have won under the old district map, it does not appear to indicate the seat has become a Democratic safe haven.
According to performance data used by legislators during a special session on redistricting last year, an average of 53% of voters who reside in the newly-redrawn 2nd Congressional District seat cast their ballots for Democrats in statewide races over the last decade. That means 47% of voters who cast ballots supported Republicans over the last decade.
In contrast, under the old district boundary lines and during the same time period, roughly 55% of voters backed Republicans while about 45% voted for Democrats.
Meanwhile, Herrell received a higher share of the vote in this year’s 2nd Congressional District race than other Republicans did while running in statewide races, according to an analysis conducted by the Herrell campaign.
For instance, former President Donald Trump would have gotten 46.4% of the votes cast in the district during his 2020 presidential run, while Pearce would have received about 44.6% of votes cast in the district during his run for governor in 2018.
The state Republican Party filed a lawsuit last year claiming the newly-drawn district boundaries intentionally diluted GOP voting strongholds in southeast New Mexico and the outcome of this year’s election could raise the stakes of a Supreme Court hearing to consider the court challenge.
That hearing will take place in January – just before the start of a 60-day legislative session.
Egolf, who drew Republicans’ ire for saying after the 2020 election that redistricting could affect Herrell’s ability to hold her congressional seat, declined to comment Friday on the recent criticisms, citing the pending court challenge. But Cervantes expressed confidence about the outcome of the case, saying, “I can guarantee these maps meet all the legal and constitutional requirements.”
He also said the Republican grumblings about southeast New Mexico being split up into different congressional districts rang hollow to some residents of the 2nd Congressional District.
“Historically, the East Side (of the state) has long felt it owned that seat, which didn’t make a lot of sense to those of us in Las Cruces,” Cervantes said.