NM Senate passes new congressional districts

Proposal in the Legislature eases the urban-rural divide and puts all three seats within striking distance for Dems

By: - December 10, 2021 8:22 pm

Redrawn congressional districts approved by the NM Senate on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021.

The New Mexico Senate passed a new congressional map Friday night, one that gets rid of the state’s urban and rural divisions. It also gives Democrats a better shot at sweeping all three U.S. House seats. 

The redistricting map was introduced by Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) and then modified by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday morning. It still needs to find a counterpart in the other legislative chamber and get the governor’s signature before those congressional districts are final. But the bill cleared a hurdle in gaining the state Senate’s approval and represents a major re-thinking of New Mexico’s political landscape. 

I think that this redistricting effort will fundamentally change New Mexico in positive ways,” Cervantes told fellow lawmakers as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor.

The new map divides Albuquerque into two Congressional districts, putting the city’s Westside into CD 2. That district would also contain the southernmost part of the state, all the way into the New Mexico bootheel. 

The plan gives Democrats a better chance of taking all three seats, while simultaneously making Republicans more competitive in the districts that have historically favored Democrats, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com

The way the districts are drawn today gives Democrats a 14- or 18-point edge in the central (CD 1) and northern (CD 3) districts, while Republicans hold a 14-point edge in the southern district (CD 2). 

With the new map, Democrats would have a 4-point lead in district 2, a 5-point lead in district 3 and an 11-point lead in district 1. 

The map is based on, but not entirely reflective of, a map proposed by the Citizen Redistricting Committee, a newly formed panel that aimed to take partisanship out of the once-a-decade redistricting process. 

Bipartisan members of the committee met more than two dozen times across the state to hear input from different neighborhoods and communities, but they did not consider party data in their analysis of where the lines should be drawn and what groups might prefer to coalesce into a political district.

Cervantes’ map was 86% percent faithful to the CRC’s plan, he told lawmakers, though he did not elaborate on the differences. The original map was devised by the Center for Civic Policy, an advocacy group, before it was approved by the CRC and deemed to be nonpartisan by an outside expert. 

Before voting in favor of Cervantes’ map along party lines, senators voted along party lines to defeat a proposal introduced last-minute by state Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque). 

Moores introduced a map completely unchanged from one of the CRC’s concepts — one that the seven-member, bipartisan committee voted for by a margin of 6 to 1. It looked more like the districts today, with Albuquerque as a metropolitan island sitting between southern and northern constituencies. 

This is the map introduced by state Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque) based on a nonpartisan map by the Citizen Redistricting Committee. This map failed on a party-line vote.

Moores said that plan better reflected New Mexico’s communities in rural and urban areas, as well as regions in the north and south. He said United States senators, who represent their entire state, are already meant to knit together diverse communities. U.S. House representatives, on the other hand, should remain beholden to the distinct regions here, he said.

“Our issues in Bernalillo County are different than in Capitan or Jal,” he said, referring to two small towns in rural, southern New Mexico. 

Before introducing the unchanged CRC map, earlier in the week, Moores criticized the CRC process, saying it was “tainted” when activists from the Center for Civic Policy basically laundered a pro-Democrat map through what was supposed to be a nonpartisan process. Before the floor vote Friday, Cervantes accused him of hypocrisy. 

“You can’t have it both ways,” Cervantes said. 

Moores’ CRC map also went against the priorities of several Native American tribes in the state, including Zuni, Laguna and Apache. Tribal leaders had asked that their lands be included in the same congressional district and not divided into two like Moores’ plan, which ultimately failed. 

The only non-Republican who voted for Moores’ map was Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque senator who said his Albuquerque Westside district would be ripped from the metro area that best reflects its needs.

Candelaria changed his party affiliation from Democrat to “decline to state” at the beginning of the special session Monday. He said keeping Westside residents, many of them low-income and Hispanic, as part of the Albuquerque-area congressional district makes their elected congressperson more responsive to their particular needs. 

He spoke against the redistricting plans before he voted against the Dem-supported map: “I really hope my constituents are listening, because it is an arbitrary and capricious and racially discriminatory approach.” 

Cervantes, in his closing arguments for the plan, disagreed that New Mexico’s problems are best solved by dividing residents into urban or rural categories. Instead, he said, issues like water, climate change, immigration, education and the state’s economy are all interconnected. 

“Re-imagine New Mexico,” he said.  “Re-imagine a state where Albuquerque is not an island unto itself.”

Correction

This story initially included the wrong version of the map the Senate passed.

It was updated Friday night with the latest maps, as well as analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com. We apologize for the error.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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