December 17, 2021

After heated debate over race, NM Senate approves its own redistricting map

The New Mexico state Senate approved a proposal to redraw its own districts on Thursday by a 25-13 vote. SB 2, sponsored by Sens. Linda Lopez and Daniel Ivey-Soto, both Albuquerque Democrats, would redraw the state Senate districts and also adopt a Native American consensus map that tribes and pueblos spent months crafting. 

Much of the contentious debate was carried over from the night before and focused on two Hispanic Republican incumbents that would be paired together in one district.

After hours of inaction due to a call of the Senate that required all members to be present before any more substantive business continued, several Republican Senators accused Senate Democrats of being racist for pushing a map forward that would pair the two Hispanic Republicans in the same district. 

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen and Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Veguita, the two senators in question, live about 10 miles, or a 15 to 20 minute drive from each other, according to financial disclosure information. But Baca and Sanchez represent two different districts. The current Senate map carves out a portion of Sanchez’s district to include his residence in Veguita. The majority of Sanchez’s district stretches from the eastern border of New Mexico to I-25, except for a triangle-shaped section that includes Sanchez’s residence. 

Sanchez said his descendants started farming in Socorro county, an area Sanchez represents, generations ago. 

“My family’s been here over 400 years in New Mexico, long before statehood,” Sanchez said. 

Baca accused Senate Democrats of trading the needs of Hispanic voters for those of Native American voters in order to gain political power. Using a gambling analogy, Baca said the “chips” are people and “the pot” is political power. 

“The people that want the political power are trading one brown chip for another brown chip,” Baca said. “Well, you’re not going to trade my chips, because those chips are my kids.”

Sen. Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, railed against Senate Democrats and accused “white progressive elites” of making decisions for his constituents and pushing them out of his district, although ultimately voted for SB 2. 

“This may serve some interest, but it is not the interest of the people I represent or the people who get up and go to work and vote and run businesses,” Candelaria said.

The Senate met the night before with the intention of voting on the newest version of SB 2, but after a call of the Senate, which requires all members to be present on the floor and not leave, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, suggested a pause of the floor debate until Thursday. 

Leading up to the call, Lopez introduced the twice reworked bill and announced it “essentially will take us back to the original Senate bill to almost as was introduced just a few days ago.”

Three Native American senators each took a moment to offer their words of support for the bill. 

Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, (Navajo Nation) said honoring the requests of the nearly two dozen sovereign governments goes beyond raw data. 

“We also, in some instances, feel that when we approach a redistricting [session], that it is just about numbers,” Pinto said. “That is not the case.”

Sen. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, (Nambé Pueblo) thanked Senate leadership for taking a “pause” in order to “make the right decisions for all of New Mexico.”

Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, also praised the sovereign governments for their collaborative effort to come up with a consensus map and echoed Pinto’s comments about the issue being more than just numbers. 

“Special recognition goes to the All Pueblo Council of Governors and their leadership team, as well as the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Mescalero Apache Nation all were engaged over an eight month process to come to a consensus map that really supports their efforts to ensure that it reflects our citizenry, our tribal nations, in the ways that sometimes just the numbers don’t,” Shendo said. 

Lopez told the body that the latest version of the proposed Senate map managed to “unpair” some of the Republican Senate incumbents in the southeastern part of the state, but that Senators in Valencia County would be grouped into the same district after amending the map in order to honor the Native American consensus map of the northwestern part of the state. 

“Again, in honoring the Native American consensus map, this is what we have presented here at this point.”

But, Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who invoked the call of the Senate Wednesday night, implied there was an agreement to not pair incumbents and that “promises were made and promises have been broken.”

“Today is an unfortunate time in the history of our state,” Brandt said. “And this map is a travesty to our state.”

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a committee substitute to SB 2 that would have avoided pairing the Republican incumbents, but would have changed the Native American consensus map. The Senate slowed to a standstill that lasted for days as tribal and Senate leaders deliberated and negotiated over the Senate map. On Tuesday, the All Pueblo Council of Governors sent a letter to Democratic Senate leadership, urging them not go back on the agreement to create strong Native American voting districts.   

“The Pueblo Governors believe their reasons for supporting the tribal consensus plan are based solidly on redistricting principles that guided the work of the APCG Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee – namely, protecting the voting rights of Native citizens, incorporating Self Determination into the process, and adhering to the highly valued concept of creating Senate boundaries based on communities of interest,” All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman Wilfred Herrera wrote. 

SB 2 heads next to the House.