New Mexico lawmakers start task of redistricting

Associated Press State Wire: New Mexico (NM) - Monday, June 20, 2011
Author: BARRY MASSEY - Associated Press

All of eastern New Mexico could be consolidated into the state's southern congressional district under a proposal outlined to lawmakers on Monday for revamping district boundaries to adjust for population trends during the past decade. 

A legislative committee reviewed seven proposals for drawing new boundaries of the state's three congressional districts.

The outcome of redistricting could alter the balance of political power and influence congressional races for the next 10 years. 

Democrats hold two of the seats the Albuquerque-area 1st District and the 3rd District of northern New Mexico while a Republican represents the 2nd District, which covers the southern half of the state. 

The committee will start the politically thorny task of redistricting by traveling across the state in July and August to seek public comment on redistricting proposals. A special legislative session is expected this fall, likely in September, for lawmakers to vote on plans to redraw boundaries of congressional, legislative and other districts. 

Any plan approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature must have the support of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to become law. 

Lawmakers must try to equalize district populations as much as possible to provide equal representation for roughly 2 million New Mexicans, conforming to the doctrine of one person, one vote. Redistricting plans also must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act by not diluting the voting strength of minorities. 

The Legislature's redistricting consultant Albuquerque-based Research and Polling Inc. developed the seven congressional plans for the committee to consider as a starting point. 

One of those proposals would shift Union, Harding, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties in eastern New Mexico from the 3rd District to the GOP-leaning 2nd District. 

That change would consolidate counties with common agricultural and rural characteristics, according to Brian Sanderoff, president of the redistricting consulting firm. 

The plan also would make other significant changes. Fast-growing Sandoval County would be entirely in the 3rd District rather than its current split between that district and the 1st District. Cibola County, with a large Native American population, would move to the 3rd District. It's currently in the 2nd District. 

The most dramatic changes are in another redistricting proposal, which would combine the cities of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque into an urban 1st District. It also would shift the south valley of Albuquerque into the 2nd District. Torrance County and the community of Edgewood would move from the 1st District to the 3rd District. 

Most of Rio Rancho, a GOP leaning community, currently is the heavily Democratic 3rd District. 

Sanderoff said the changes would make the 1st District's voting behavior a bit more Republican but the 2nd District would be somewhat less Republican. 

''It doesn't create as dramatic of a political impact as you would expect but it does create a political impact,'' said Sanderoff.

The Legislature is posting the redistricting proposals on its website. 

The committee plans public hearings on redistricting in Clovis, Roswell, Las Cruces in July and in August in Acoma Pueblo, Las Vegas, Farmington, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe.