By MORGAN LEE Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic legislators on Wednesday advanced a plan to redraw New Mexico’s three congressional districts and reshape a southern district that has traditionally been dominated by Republicans.
The map revamp from Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces would bolster a Hispanic majority in New Mexico’s southern 2nd Congressional District by extending its boundaries into Albuquerque, the state’s largest metropolitan area.
The map also would break up a conservative stronghold in the state’s southeastern oil production zone into multiple districts. The change to the state’s 2nd Congressional District has been condemned by Republican state senators.
The new map moved forward after a Senate committee endorsed the redistricting bill on a 7-4, party-line vote Wednesday. Another committee review of the redistricting proposal is scheduled before a possible Senate floor vote.
The plan has deep implications for New Mexico’s three first-term congresswomen, including Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump who ousted a Democratic incumbent in 2020. New Mexico’s other two congressional representatives are Democrats.
Republicans need a net gain of just five seats in 2022 to take control of the U.S. House and effectively freeze President Joe Biden’s agenda on everything from climate change to the economy.
Two of the state’s congressional seats have been held by Democrats for more than a decade. Democrats hold the upper hand in New Mexico’s redistricting process because they control the governor’s office and have broad majorities in the state House and Senate.
Cervantes said his proposed congressional map would make the 2nd Congressional District more representative of New Mexico as a whole and break with a longstanding political pact that ceded the southern part of the state to Republicans.
“Southern New Mexico has elected almost consistently conservative Republicans largely because of where the lines are drawn,” Cervantes said.
Republican Sen. Gay Kernan labeled the proposal offensive to the largely conservative region, claiming it was aimed at imposing political representation that is hostile to the area’s important oil and natural gas industry.
“It’s an injustice to my community and to the industry that has provided so much to this state,” said Kernan, whose hometown of Hobbs would be divided between two districts under the plan.
She warned Democratic colleagues to be careful what they wish for, saying many Hispanic voters support Republican values and the oil industry and that the redistricting plan is likely to energize conservatives.
“You have certainly gotten the attention of people in my area,” Kernan said.
The Democratic proposal sticks roughly to a congressional redistricting map brought forward by the progressive leaning Center for Civic Policy group that promotes greater representation for disadvantaged communities and a coalition of advocacy groups that called for a strong Latino majority in the state’s southern district. They have said that the region’s minority populations feel overlooked by politicians.
Under the new congressional district map, Hispanics would account for about 56% of the proposed southern congressional district, up from about 51% currently.
Albuquerque resident Fernanda Banda, a 24-year-old organizer for an advocacy group that supports immigrant rights, applauded the plan.
“It’s time for my people to have a Hispanic majority district and exercise their power,” Banda testified.
About 48% of New Mexico residents claim Hispanic ancestry — the highest share of any state. For many, ties to the region date back to periods of Mexican and Spanish-colonial oversight. The state has elected three consecutive Hispanic governors — two of them women.
Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque said the redistricting proposal would create three districts that more closely mirror the state as a whole by combining urban and rural areas.
Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a dairy farmer from Roswell, denounced the new map as a blatant move by Democrats to capture all three congressional seats in New Mexico.
“We should have at least one Republican congressperson from the state of New Mexico, or at least one conservative congressperson,” he said.
Also Wednesday, a legislative panel endorsed a state House redistricting plan in a separate bill to shore up Native American voting majorities in six districts across the heavily Indigenous northwestern region of the state.
Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said he cast his committee vote for the plan in deference to Native American self-determination, as Indigenous communities pursue improvements in public education and infrastructure.
A broad spectrum of Native American leaders united behind that portion of the map amid efforts to improve educational and economic opportunity in Indian Country. New Mexico has 23 federally recognized Indigenous communities.
Republican House Minority Leader James Townsend of Artesia cast a committee vote against the plan, saying it would undermine minority representation in other ways including changes to a district held by state Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert of Corrales, who is Black.
The Democrat-sponsored bill is assigned one more House committee review before a possible floor vote.