EDITORIAL: 3 congressional maps range from status quo, to tortured alignment, to just right

·5 min read

Oct. 24—One of the congressional maps proposed by N.M.'s redistricting committee would largely preserve the status quo, a system that has served the majority of New Mexicans, while disenfranchising many urban and rural voters. Another would consolidate the urban metro area, while aligning rural communities. And a third so-called "People's Map" that had backers offering cash to get folks to support it would intentionally carve up the Albuquerque metro area and gut the political influence of southeastern New Mexico, meeting the very definition of gerrymandering.

The Journal Editorial Board supports the middle option, aka Concept E Modified.

Congressional Concept A, recommended by a 4-3 vote last week by the New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee, generally preserves the state's three congressional districts — one based in Albuquerque, one covering northern New Mexico and one spanning the southern half of the state.

That's roughly the way the state's three congressional districts have looked for 30 years, giving much of the Albuquerque metro area a representative in Congress, while two others represent northern and southern New Mexico interests in the U.S. House of Representatives. Some adjustments to the current boundaries of the 1st Congressional District based in Albuquerque are proposed to reflect the wishes of Native American communities and acequia leaders, but Rio Rancho would continue to be in the northern district with Española, Las Vegas and Taos, even though its voters have the same concerns as residents in the greater metro area. In addition, this CD 1 would gobble up more rural area, stretching southeast nearly to Vaughn.

Concept E Modified garnered a 6-1 vote from the redistricting committee. It's much better, thanks in part to the stewardship of retired Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez, chairman of the committee, who adjusted boundaries after listening to public testimony.

Under Concept E, the new 1st Congressional District would take in the bulk of Rio Rancho, the third-largest city in the state, as well as the parts of northwest Albuquerque, including Ventana Ranch and Paradise Hills in Bernalillo County, that are currently in CD 3. While each are distinct communities in their own right, they are unquestionably urban and neighboring. With a target population of 705,841 residents in each of the state's three congressional districts, about 11,000 residents have to be added to the 1st District. Including the bulk of Rio Rancho accomplishes that.

To make the math work, the new boundaries would move Bernalillo County's unincorporated South Valley, an area south of Bridge, into the southern congressional district, reflecting testimony from residents who felt overlooked when lumped in with Albuquerque.

Then, there's Concept H, also called the People's Map, or El Mapa de la Gente. It was designed by the Center for Civic Policy, which, along with the NAVA Education Project, offered $50 stipends for people to attend and testify at redistricting committee meetings.

The so-called People's Map, approved 5-2, is blatantly partisan, defeating the whole purpose of the politically balanced redistricting committee, established earlier this year to limit partisan influence in drawing political boundaries. The People's Map ignores the idea of compactness and would carve up Albuquerque, while dividing southeastern New Mexico into three separate congressional districts, diluting the voices of voters and splintering their influence in the U.S. House. It would have CD 3 stretch 500 miles from the southeastern part of the state to its northern border.

Residents of northern Hobbs and Lovington would have the same representative as those in Gallup, Farmington and Raton. Most of Albuquerque would share a district with Roswell, Dexter, Hagerman and tiny Lake Arthur. And Carlsbad and Artesia would remain in the 2nd District, and be cut off from their neighbors. Talk about divide and conquer.

Supporters say the People's Map would establish a stronger Hispanic majority in the southern New Mexico-based CD 2 by moving parts of the South Valley and Albuquerque's West Side there. But CD 2 is already a majority-minority district with a 55.8% Hispanic population. And there's more to communities of interest than race and ethnicity, including concerns about public safety, agriculture or industry jobs, wages, tax bases, the environment and more. CD 2 voters have elected Republicans and Democrats, and their candidates have had to work hard to appeal across party lines.

That's as it should be.

Meanwhile, backers fail to note that, under the People's Map, New Mexico could end up with all three members of its congressional delegation from the metro area. So much for providing representation for all people in other areas of the fifth-largest state in the union.

Now, state lawmakers are set to hold a special session in December to consider these new maps (the redistricting committee is also finishing its recommendations on legislative maps).

While lawmakers will be free to choose from committee recommendations, revise or start from scratch, it would make a mockery of the system — and a colossal waste of time, effort and input — to ignore them.

In terms of congressional maps, Concept E Modified makes the most sense. Note that the two Democratic and two Republican appointees, plus Chávez and state demographer Robert Rhatigan, voted in support of it. It would keep communities of interest together in compact, contiguous districts within governmental subdivisions without partisan gerrymandering.

And wasn't that the point to begin with?

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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