State House reps approve their new voting districts on a near party-line vote

HB 8 is supported tribal communities and nearly all Democrats 

By: - December 10, 2021 10:34 pm

The state’s House voted to approve a redistricting map for representatives’ voting districts on Friday night. Republican Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert was absent from the House floor, though her seat was the subject of some debate. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)

A full evening of debate and a couple of failed amendments led to the inevitable: New Mexico House Democrats passed a measure redrawing the boundaries of voting districts for the Legislature’s House of Representatives on a 43-23 vote. The bill heads over to the Senate where the party also holds a majority. 

“The Citizens Redistricting Committee specifically charged us with getting the tribal leaders to reach a consensus. And they did that. And so what’s happened is what’s in front of you,” said HB 8 sponsor Rep. Daymon Ely (D-Corrales). “House Bill 8, once passed and signed by the governor, will reflect the will of the Legislature and of the state of New Mexico.”

The map that achieved that tribal consensus saw broad support in committee hearings leading up to the floor vote, but there, criticism started in Ely’s own party. 

Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) said Hispanic voting strength was skewed in the creation of the maps presented in HB 8. 

“This measure before us — not belittling the Native American efforts that went into it — is really faulty in regards to Hispanic voting spread,” Garcia said. “Because the message is to rubber-stamp the legislation, you know, the moral authority of some of us Chicanos in this chamber doesn’t matter.”

Garcia said he is upset that traditional Chicano neighborhoods in Albuquerque like Atrisco and Westgate have boundary lines drawn right through them, splitting communities into more than one state House voting district.

“We never will split up a Pueblo in half in redistricting. So why do we do it to traditional land grant communities?” he asked.

Garcia wondered why there were not more Hispanic-majority districts. Ely responded by arguing HB 8 increases Hispanic-majority districts by three — from 24 to 27.

Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia) presented an amendment to rework the boundaries for House district 44, which is served by Rep. Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert (R-Corrales). Supporters for the amendment argued the original bill targeted Powdrell-Culbert’s seat. She was not in attendance on the House floor Friday night. 

“This bill does absolutely nothing to 69 members,” Townsend said, “This bill moves four precincts for the most senior legislator in this House who happens to be a Black female.”

Ely argued the maps in HB 8 do not take anything away from Powdrell-Culburt but fix a split district and give her the entirety of Corrales, her hometown. 

The amendment failed but did gain support from two Democrats: Garcia and Rep. Candie Sweetster (D-Deming).

Garcia was also the lone Democrat to vote against HB 8.

The measure rolled onto the House floor with support from all 23 tribal nations in New Mexico and nearly unanimous support in the two committees. It consolidated maps from the Citizen Redistricting Committee that were created by Navajo, Pueblo and Jicarilla Apache groups. 

Rep. Derrick Lente (R-Sandia Pueblo) spoke in support of the Native American coalition that backed the bill. 

“I stand here as a product of my people knowing that we live on the shoulders of giants, knowing that our debt to many of those that have come before me and those that live today,” Lente said. “Now is the time when you will be seeing more and more people paying more attention. Now you understand and can appreciate the power of a collaboration and the power of people that can come together.”

The proposal maintains the six Native American-majority districts where the population is more than 50% of the demographic. Half of those districts are currently served by Indigenous legislators and located west of the Rio Grande.

The bill will move on to the Senate, which passed a plan for congressional voting districts Friday night to be reviewed by the House. 

“We’re gonna be the authors of our own maps, of our own destiny,” Lente remarked. “And no longer will we live under the shadows of what used to be the reducement, the disenfranchisement, of a Native American community in this state or in this country.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.