Tribal leaders say they won’t accept changes to their state Senate map after hours of talks

By: - December 14, 2021 1:22 pm

A child dances during a tour inside the Roundhouse on Dec. 8. The Zia symbol, adopted by the state from Zia Pueblo, is combined with the state seal in the floor at the very center of the building. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

A coalition of tribal leaders announced Tuesday that despite “productive, meaningful, and respectful” conversations with leadership of the New Mexico State Senate, they still do not accept any of the alterations to the Senate district map they drew up earlier this year. 

The All Pueblo Council of Governors celebrated in September a “historic” consensus about what the 23 pueblos and tribes in New Mexico would like to see in political districts here for the next decade. It took them eight months to achieve agreement on a map, one that was ultimately endorsed as nonpartisan and fair by an independent expert and redistricting committee.

But on Sunday, tribal leaders said they were stunned when State Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque), the Senate’s president pro tem, introduced an amended map to the Senate Judiciary Committee, one that changed the layout of districts in and around tribal lands and pueblos. 

Tribal leaders object to 11th-hour NM Senate redistricting map

The map passed the committee 7-2. Since then, the public workings of the Legislature have been halted as tribal leaders and their allies in the Senate talk to resolve the impasse. 

State Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), sponsored the original SB 2, which includes the layout of Senate districts in accordance with the tribes’ map. That version was voted down in favor of Stewart’s changed map. 

The pueblo coalition released a letter Tuesday mid-morning to Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) saying that the tribes “remain steadfast” in their support of an unchanged SB 2. 

They said a senator told them in negotiations that protecting sitting legislators who live in current districts is a reason behind changes to their map. The tribes’ map would potentially draw two Republican senators in Districts 29 and 30 – Sens. Greg Baca and Joshua Sanchez – into the same district, meaning one would have to resign or move. Stewart’s amendment prevents that. 

Wilfred Herrera, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, wrote in the letter that protecting incumbents at the expense of the tribes’ preferred boundaries is unacceptable. The tribes did not draw maps considering the home addresses of sitting legislators, and neither did the nonpartisan Citizen Redistricting Committee.

“We find that wholly unacceptable,” he said, “primarily because that was never a priority for the CRC nor the All Pueblo Council of Governors, especially in designing Senate District 30.”

The tribal consensus maps aimed to protect Native American majorities of at least 65% in the three Senate districts where they are the biggest racial group and keep District 30 as an “influence group,” with 35% Native American composition. The map they agreed upon had 34.5% Native Americans, and Stewart’s map has 34.1% in District 30. 

“The Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, Isleta and Zuni have tribal lands and communities located in SD 30. All support maintaining the boundaries of SD 30 as contained in the tribal consensus plan,” he wrote. “Doing so will allow the tribes to increase their chances of not only electing a candidate of their choice, but also increasing the possibility of electing a Native candidate to the New Mexico Senate, a candidate who is responsive, understanding, and supportive of tribal issues and concerns.”

Pueblo governors previously told Source New Mexico that even if the decrease in Native Americans in each district might seem small, the data do not reflect the way Stewart’s amended map dilutes or divides specific Native American communities and boundaries that the tribe recognizes. 

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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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