In some ways, the New Mexico Legislature operates the same way it did at statehood more than a century ago. The legislative session itself is the shortest in the nation and New Mexican legislators are the only ones not paid for the job of to producing, debating and approving legislation. One of the organizations behind the movement to update the legislative session for modern times is Common Cause, which hopes to have a state constitutional amendment placed on the ballot that would extend the session and add a five day recess after 30 days that would not count against the session’s active days. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Mario Jimenez, III spoke to New Mexico Political Report about this and other issues the organization is pursuing. “We often see legislation that is hastily run, and we often have to come back and fix those in future legislation because of a few things that the legislature may have missed over some conflicts within other sections of law or sections of the Constitution,” Jimenez said.
Oral arguments in the case that claimed Republicans were gerrymandered out of a congressional seat during the recent redistricting cycle went in front of the state Supreme Court Monday. The Republican Party of New Mexico and others filed the case against the State of New Mexico. Ninth Judicial District Judge Fred van Soelen filed a verified writ of superintending control against the state, prompting the high court to take the case. Both sides presented their cases to the state’s high court which adjourned shortly after the hearing without making a decision. “This is an issue of significant importance and we want to be deliberative,” Bacon said.” And because there is a stay in place and we’re a little ways out from the next electoral process, we don’t feel the need to act as quickly as we might otherwise.
New Mexico lawmakers protected themselves and their colleagues when they redrew political district maps crafted by a 2021 nonpartisan advisory commission, shielding incumbents of both parties from competition and making legislative elections less competitive, according to a new 59-page report co-authored by University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez. The study, released Sept. 28, found no evidence that New Mexico Democrats, who have strong majorities in the House and Senate, politically gerrymandered their districts, a conclusion based on statistical analysis conducted by Sanchez’s co-author and University of Georgia professor David Cottrell. “The protection of incumbents was the greatest source of gerrymandering this session,” the authors concluded, based on the analysis and interviews with experts.
That outcome resulted from inherent weaknesses in how lawmakers set up the state’s new Citizens Redistricting Committee – the committee doesn’t have final say on what redistricting maps are adopted, the report found. This story was written by New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission.
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.
On Wednesday, New Mexico’s newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee finalized its its recommended maps for the Legislature’s consideration.
Wednesday’s meeting was solely focused on advancing three map concepts for state House Districts.
The first map the committee approved was a modified version of a map submitted by the advocacy group Center for Civic Policy. The intention of the map, according to commentary submitted by CCP, was to “help consolidate Hispanic neighborhoods” in a southern district and to “better allow majority-Hispanic voters to elect a candidate of their choice.”
Discussion of that map, which is referred to as Map Concept E, revealed likely partisan disputes when the proposal gets to the Legislature sometime later this year in a special session.
Related: Commission votes to send proposed redistricting maps to Legislature
Committee member Lisa Curtis, who is an Albuquerque-based lawyer and a former legislator, said she moved the CCP map for consideration because maps that are generally regarded as “status-quo” tend to “perpetuate disenfranchisement for voters.”
“I’m proposing Concept E, to stop the disenfranchisement of the minority-majority of voters in this state,” Curtis said.
While the citizen committee did not take partisan data into consideration, one member said the districts in Concept E seemed to hint at gerrymandering in favor of Democrats.
Member Ryan Cangiolosi, who is the former chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said that while he had not looked into the political make-up of each proposed district in Concept E, many of the districts looked “snake-like” to him.
“The thing that I can say with all assurance is that I know that our CRC maps were drawn without partisan or performance data being considered,” Cangiolosi said. “Now I cannot say with a surety that that was done, that the people who drew those maps didn’t use partisan or performance data when creating those maps.”
Committee member and former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said he liked the concept because it would protect minority voters.
“This map, to me, protects our Hispanic population, probably not as much as I would like,” Sanchez said. “It definitely protects the Native American population. Again, possibly not as much as I would like.”
The committee also approved what is referred to as the Pueblo Consensus map or the modified version of Map Concept I. According to the redistricting committee’s website, the pueblo consensus map would create five “strong Native American districts” but is also “status-quo oriented.”
Sanchez’s voting record on the committee leans towards making changes to districts and shying away from status quo maps.
The newly formed New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee, tasked with presenting new political maps for the state Legislature to consider, decided on a series of maps last week, but still has more work to finish this week.
The committee approved three map concepts on Friday for congressional districts, state Senate districts and the state’s Public Education Commission. But the group is scheduled to meet again this week to approve state House districts.
Largely at issue throughout conversations during last week’s meeting was whether the committee should push for “status-quo” maps or instead opt for maps that make significant changes to how certain districts are drawn, particularly with congressional districts.
Congressional Concept A, for example, aims to keep New Mexico’s three congressional districts relatively similar to what they are now. It would keep Torrance and Bernalillo Counties in the First Congressional District, along with Placitas and the town of Bernalillo.
Former Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who was appointed to the committee by New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, advocated making changes to congressional districts that would group areas that have not been grouped together before. But former New Mexico Republican Party Chair Ryan Cangiolosi, who was appointed to the committee by House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, warned against changing map boundaries without a justified reason.
“Change for just change’s sake sometimes, we’ve seen in history, is not good,” Cangiolosi said. “It doesn’t move anything forward.”
Later in the meeting, Sanchez defended making significant changes to congressional districts by saying that if certain communities that have raised concerns about their congressional representation, “can vote for the person of their choice,” then it is a “good change.”
Albuquerque-based attorney and former state Senator Lisa Curtis, who was appointed to the committee by Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, agreed with Sanchez’s sentiment and further said the committee should be providing the Legislature with new ideas.
“I think we’re sort of abdicating our responsibility by just putting the status quo map out for the fact of it,” Curtis said.
Below is a breakdown of the congressional and state Senate districts the committee has approved so far.
Congressional Concept A would mostly keep the three districts the same, leaving Isleta Pueblo and Cibola County in the 2nd Congressional District.
While nearly a third of New Mexico’s state prisoners who disclosed where they were living prior to incarceration gave Albuquerque addresses, in the country’s once-a-decade census they’re counted as living in smaller towns and rural areas.Roughly a quarter of New Mexico’s population lives in Albuquerque, so it’s no surprise to find a prevalence of residents from New Mexico’s largest city in the corrections system.But corrections data obtained by New Mexico In Depth suggest the city’s voting power is diffused to smaller towns and rural areas where New Mexico’s prisons are, a practice criminal justice reform advocates refer to as “prison gerrymandering.” That’s where prison communities — often rural, and nationally, more white — benefit as prisoners from elsewhere increase their populations without being able to vote.Advocates are pushing New Mexico to end the practice in coming months as the state’s new Citizen Redistricting Committee, and state lawmakers, participate in a once-a-decade redistricting that will shape New Mexico’s political landscape for years to come.
And at least one says the last addresses inmates give corrections officials as they enter prison could achieve that goal.The ideal solution would be for the Corrections Department to hand over the same records it gave to New Mexico In Depth to the Citizen Redistricting Committee, said Mario Jimenez, campaign director of Common Cause New Mexico. If the committee were to request those records, the Corrections Department “would absolutely share that with them,” spokesman Eric Harrison wrote in an email.
Samantha Osaki, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said ending the practice of counting prisoners in the areas they’re imprisoned would create a more equitable redistricting process.“Bernalillo County residents who are already suffering from the loss of parents, friends and neighbors due to mass incarceration then doubly suffer from the loss of political representation,” Osaki said. New Mexico In Depth obtained the last addresses of 5,082 inmates after filing a records request. The Corrections Department initially refused to disclose the information but turned the records over after the New Mexico Attorney General’s office found the department had denied the request improperly. The department created the list of addresses in mid-July.
The seven members of the state’s redistricting committee are set, as the state prepares to do its decennial redistricting process. The Legislature passed a bill to set up a redistricting commission earlier this year.
Legislative leaders and the state ethics commission selected the members of the redistricting committee. The ethics commission picked retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward L. Chavez as chair last week. It was required by law to choose a retired state supreme court justice or appeals court judge as the chair according to the redistricting committee law. The committee could only have three members with the same political party and members could not have changed their party registration in the previous two years.
After a slow, bumpy and contentious start, a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission is on its way to the Senate floor. Senate Bill 15, a compromise bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and hammered out in the Senate Rules Committee less than a week ago, earned a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday. Four people — all advocates of open government and an independent redistricting commission — voiced support for the bill during the less than 10-minute hearing. No one spoke against it. None of the committee members commented on the bill or asked questions.
Lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee came to a quick compromise Monday on a measure they hope will set the state’s sometimes controversial redistricting process on a smooth path via an independent, bipartisan panel of people to redraw voting district boundaries. A substitute bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat, gained the committee’s unanimous approval, replacing two competing Senate bills — including one sponsored by Ivey-Soto. Monday’s deal came only after Ivey-Soto took a verbal swipe at critics who accused him of opposing the idea of an independent redistricting committee because his initial bill called for a committee composed of legislators. “I take a little personal some of the comments that have been made about the perspective of the Legislature in the redistricting process,” he said.
He said his name had been used as a “barrier to independent redistricting. Shame on you, shame on you for doing that.”