December 9, 2021

Senate committee advances alternative to ‘people’s map’

Proposed congressional redistricting map during 2021's second special legislative session.

As part of New Mexico’s redistricting special legislative session, a panel on Wednesday approved a congressional map proposal that would significantly change the make-up of all three of the state’s congressional districts. The Senate Rules Committee approved the map concept along party lines, by a 7-4 vote. 

SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, closely resembles a map known as “the people’s map” that has been gaining traction in the Legislature, but Cervantes told the committee he went out of his way to not consult with any advocacy groups. 

“I’ve not met with the people’s map proponents,” Cervantes said. “I’ve done these things deliberately, very candidly, and they probably think I’m inaccessible to them. But I wanted to be able to tell you that this was not somebody’s dream put together.”

The SB 1 map, much like the “people’s map,” would group parts of the urban Albuquerque area with rural communities like Carrizozo and Capitan into the First Congressional District. It would also group oil-rich areas like San Juan and parts of Lea counties into the Third Congressional District. It would also group Albuquerque’s more rural south valley into the Second Congressional District, along with Las Cruces and Hatch. 

Criticism of the proposal came solely from Republicans, both members of the committee and Senate members at large. 

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, is not a member of the committee, but spoke during the public testimony portion of the hearing. Gallegos said he couldn’t find what areas like Roswell and Raton might have in common. A common sentiment from proponents of the map was that the map would group “areas of interest” together. 

“I thought that part of what the [Citizen Redistricting Committee] was doing was to try to make sure that we had balance,” Gallegos said. “I don’t look at this map as balance, just the interest groups.” 

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said it was “disingenuous” to claim that rural areas in northern New Mexico are similar to rural areas in southern New Mexico. 

“You look just right smack dab in the middle of this blue map, you can drive through the Hondo Valley, stop in at any of those ranches, and many of the people that ranch in that area are Hispanics that their family has been there for hundreds of years,” Pirtle said. “And tell me that they have anything, anything, in common with people in the northern part of that district.”

At one point during Pirtle’s comments, someone who was presumably participating online interrupted him while he was saying that he would be arguing the same point if Republicans were in power and doing what Pirtle accused Democrats of doing. 

“I understand, you know, if the Republicans were in power, there would probably be attempts to do some of the rest, but I wouldn’t agree with it, because I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” Pirtle said. 

“Bullshit,” an online voice interjected. 

After Sen. Daniel Ivey Soto, D-Albuquerque, who is also the chair of the committee, admonished the faceless voice, Pirtle made light of the interruption. 

“Although I’m very familiar with the substance that was stated, being a dairy farmer from  Chaves County, we will carry on now,” Pirtle said.  

Most of the public comment during the hearing came from members of community organizations that pushed for the initial “people’s map,” who said they supported SB 1 because it kept rural and farming areas together. 

In response to claims from Republicans that the map was overly-partisan, Cervantes referenced Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell. Without naming her, he said Herrell’s political stances do not represent much of the Second Congressional District. 

“This map is an exciting opportunity to have congresspersons who I think will better reflect New Mexico, candidly,” Cervantes said. “Some of my colleagues here today decried the partisanship of this map or this approach. My God, colleagues, look at the congressperson who represents me today, and tell me that we don’t have partisanship at an extreme representing southern New Mexico right now.”

The proposed congressional map’s next stop is the Senate Judiciary, which Cervantes chairs. Cervantes said his committee will likely hear the proposal first thing Thursday morning. But, Cervantes said, because the membership of Judiciary is nearly identical to that of the Rules Committee, there will be somewhat limited public comment.