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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Effort To Redraw Districts Thwarted

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE A Senate committee deadlocked mostly on party lines Wednesday on a proposal to reopen New Mexico's congressional redistricting in order to unify several Native American communities.
    Democratic hopes of reopening redistricting and making the map more favorable to Democrats, were apparently stymied at the same time.
    "The bill (SB 667) will sit in committee," said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, after a series of tie votes on the redistricting bill, sponsored by Sen. Leonard Tsosie, D-Crownpoint.
    Tsosie told the committee that the bill is aimed at unifying several Indian communities in a single congressional district. He said the communities were split under a court-drawn congressional map in 2002.
    New Mexico's redistricting battle, using the 2000 Census, ended up in the courts after the Democratic-controlled Legislature and former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson failed to agree on a new congressional map in 2001.
    The state's overall redistricting effort, which included a 17-day special session and two court trials before a state district court judge, cost New Mexico taxpayers more than $4 million.
    Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, has acknowledged that he and other Senate Democrats viewed Tsosie's bill as an opportunity to revisit redistricting and make the map of the state's three U.S. House districts more Democratic-leaning.
    "Hey, they (Republicans) would do it to us if they were in control," Romero said Wednesday. "Republicans are doing the same thing in Texas."
    Republican legislators in New Mexico have denounced the attempt by Democrats to redo redistricting now that Democrat Gov. Bill Richardson is in office.
    "This is a purely political maneuver," House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, said in an interview. Hobbs noted that Romero was the unsuccessful Democratic challenger to Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., in New Mexico's Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District last year.
    Tim Storey, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Wednesday that New Mexico is one of several states, including Texas, that are considering revisiting their recently revised political maps this year. However, New Mexico is the only state where a legislative effort has begun, he said.