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Locals worried about partisan redistricting

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When the state appointed Citizen Redistricting Committee recessed on Oct. 15 there were still a lot of matters left in the air — and a lot of comments left to be heard on the drawing voting lines in the state.

So much was left not finished that the committee had to schedule an additional meeting, originally slated for Tuesday this week but then moved to late Wednesday afternoon and went late into the evening.

One of the main focuses of the meeting was selecting up to three proposed redistricting maps for the three New Mexico Congressional districts, state senate districts, and state house districts, along with Public Education Commission districts. As with most years redistricting is done, all of the proposed redistricting maps met with opposition and support in varying degrees, but none were as divisive as the chosen Congressional district maps.

The most controversial of proposed maps is Map H.

Map H was submitted to the committee by the Center for Civic Policy. The CCP bills itself as a non-partisan 501(c)3 organization, but its top staff bios tout backgrounds in progressive activism causes and organizations. The proposed CCP redistricting map appears to fulfill New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf’s veiled threat shortly after the 2020 election, when Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., won New Mexico’s Second Congressional District (CD-2). Egolf threatened progressive Democrats would use their power to gerrymander Congressional districts in a way it would be difficult for Republicans to win the seat again.

“So this is the last election for New Mexico’s Second Congressional District with a map that looks like it looks now,” Egolf told reporters candidly. “So next time it’ll be a different district and we’ll have to see what that means for Republican chances to hold it.”

State Senator David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said Egolf’s prediction is coming to fruition.

“Speaker Egolf made the statement early on that he was going to do this in a way to wipe us out, so we would never have another (Republican) win,” said Gallegos. “What’s really sad is that the commission that was appointed should have been totally neutral, and it still feels likes it’s trying to give what Egolf and the Democrats want.

“What I would almost bet is they colored things in red and blue to find out where we had our strongholds, and figured out how to wipe us out. … We’ve caught (Egolf) lying time after time after time, but this time he actually told the truth. He started out the discussion saying this is what he was going to do.”

State Senator Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said she is also concerned with CD-2 and the way Map H looks to be the opposite of what redistricting is supposed to be — keeping like areas and people together as much as possible while redrawing lines to account for population shift.

“I’m concerned with CD-2 and the maps I have seen proposed. (Those maps) potentially could pull us up into a district with voters and population we really don’t have much in common with,” said Kernan. “Thinking about the committee and the work they are supposed to do, that should be a consideration.

“We are (currently) surrounded by like-minded people, to some extent, in the area which we live. I would be very disappointed if that changes and constituents from Lea County are removed from CD-2 and put in another Congressional district.”

Noting the proposed Congressional district would throw the northern half of Hobbs — bisecting the largest population hub in southeast New Mexico — along with the northern half of Lea County into the same congressional district as Santa Fe and on into the northwest corner of the state, officials pointed out the two areas are vastly different in more than just geography.

“Dividing Hobbs in half is not going to sit well with my constituents. I certainly could not support that. We feel like we have a very collaborative community, and all the different demographics work well together. We feel like we want to continue that. We’d hate to see the city to be cut in half like that,” said Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb. “I think there’s a substantial divergence in political philosophy between the two communities (Hobbs and Santa Fe). I don’t think that half of Hobbs shares the same views that Santa Fe voters may share.”

“It’s going to depend on what the leadership in the House and Senate decided to do with that,” said Kernan. “I’m sure they have to be a little bit cautious with being too flagrant with actually doing a map that is so unfair to this area — I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Gallegos spoke again to the obvious partisanship of Map H.

“They’re looking to split up the southeast for the Congressional race,” Gallegos said. “You’ll have one of the Congressional districts come into the Roswell area, then the other will come through north Hobbs, up through Clovis and back in with Santa Fe and over. … What does Bernalillo and Santa Fe have to do with Lea County? The views are so, so different.”

State senators also said some of the proposed redistricting maps for state senate seats are just as partisan, trying to make it difficult for incumbent Republicans to hold on to their seats.

“Gay (Kernan) would have all of Hobbs, and I would have Jal, Eunice, and Carlsbad,” said Gallegos. “The reason for that is to basically paint me out. Carlsbad will have the largest voting block to be able to get their own senator.

“I still think regardless of them moving things I still have an opportunity, because that area is very Hispanic. … I’m hoping it will be fair.”

Kernan noted her district grew in population more than almost any other district in the state, and Gallegos’ district also grew in population. She is reserved in how the districts will be redrawn in light of the proposed maps.

“I’ll loose about 10,000 voters (because of the +/- 5 percent population district rule). David Gallegos also looses about 5,000 (voters). So, we should contract, but you really just don’t know at all what that map will look like,” Kernan said. “The map will change many times before it gets to the floor of the Senate, in my view. And, I don’t think it will be one of the maps drawn by the commission, but it could be similar.”

But, nothing is set in stone, until the process is completed.

Kernan pointed out the maps submitted to the Legislature by the committee are just that — proposed. She said the Legislature has the final obligation in how district boundaries will be drawn, and that will be a fight of it’s own in both the New Mexico House and Senate.

“The Legislature has the final say, and we’ve never been through this before, so I can’t speak to the fact whether we’ll adopt one of the maps (submitted). I don’t think we will,” said Kernan. “I remember going through redistricting 10 years ago, and it was a little different ballgame then because we had a governor who could veto the map, then that puts it in the courts — something we don’t have this time.

“I’m going to assume that whatever the Legislature decides, that’s the map it will be.”

Both state senators said they hope their districts will look similar to what they currently do, though they may be smaller.

While not part of the state effort, the City of Hobbs also must deal with redistricting its own city districts — and must go through some of the same process the state goes through on a local scale.

“We’ve had growth, and there has been some shifts in the various districts, but we’re going to try and come up with a district map that fairly represents our community,” said Cobb.

Kernan said she appreciates all the work the CRC has put into gathering and drawing proposed maps, because having been through redistricting once before knows the task is not an easy one.

“It’s a difficult process,” Kernan said. “I think the (CRC) was a great idea because it brought people together to talk about representation, and that’s really important.”

Fairness, regardless of the Congressional districts, and state senate and house redistricting maps approved by the committee, is what officials said they hope happens along with a more moderate redistricting plan when it is eventually approved in the Legislature.

“It’s going to be different this year because the Democrats control the house, the senate and the governor’s office, so they really do control the maps,” said Kernan.

“If things don’t change (and Map H is approved), it’s going to be really hard for us (in southeast New Mexico) to have a voice, or an opinion, in Santa Fe or in Congress,” Gallegos said. “…Elections have consequences, and I fear for what’s going to happen to oil and gas, because if we’re not unified down here, fighting for the same things, it’s going to be really hard for us to protect our environment — our way of life.”

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