Revamped state district map gets mixed reviews

Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) - Monday, February 27, 2012
Author: Milan Simonich/

SANTA FE — One state representative woke up Monday to find that a judge had shifted his district 100 miles to the east, so it stretches from Bayard to Las Cruces. 

Another saw his Republican-leaning Albuquerque district merged with one populated with mostly Democrats, creating what looks to be a tossup seat. 

Those changes and hundreds of others were set forth in state District Judge James Hall's final redistricting plan. 

Hall's redrawing of boundaries for 70 districts in the state House of Representatives did not please everyone, but one prominent Democrat said the plan was as equitable as any could be. 

"He did a really good job," said state Rep. Ken Martinez of Grants, floor leader of majority Democrats. Martinez said Hall's reasoning was sound, and that he had produced a "very fair" plan. 

Martinez predicted the redistricting case would not be appealed to the federal courts, given the logic and quality of Hall's decision. Hall reworked portions of his original plan after the state Supreme Court found them objectionable. 

Meantime, two top Republicans could not agree on whether Hall's revamped plan was good or bad. One praised it, but the other called it unfair. 

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said she was grateful to Hall for adopting a redistricting map that "did not make the drastic partisan changes Democrats in the Legislature advocated." 

But state Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, was not nearly so pleased as the governor. 

"Generally the plan is negative for us. It doesn't maintain our presence in the House," said Taylor, leader of minority Republicans. 

Republicans hold 33 of the 70 seats in the House of Representatives. Democrats number 36 and there is one independent. 

Taylor said Hall's plan was not in line with the will of New Mexico voters, who in 2010 added eight Republicans to the House of Representatives. 

In particular, Taylor had two complaints after reading the 17-page decision. 

One is that Hall would combine the central Albuquerque districts of Reps. Al Park, a Democrat, and Conrad James, a freshman Republican. 

Taylor said James would go from a Republican-leaning district to one evenly divided between the two major parties. 

But Park is not seeking re-election, meaning James would be the only incumbent in the race. Park is leaving the Legislature after 12 years to run for a seat on the state Public Regulation Commission. 

Taylor also said he disliked changes that would add more Democrats to the district of Republican Rep. Don Tripp of Socorro. 

Taylor said Republican Party leaders and his House caucus would decide whether they should accept Hall's plan or try to raise the money for an appeal. 

As the minority party, Republicans would have to pay their own way if they decide to challenge Hall's decision, Taylor said. Democrats used public money to challenge Hall's initial plan with an appeal to the state Supreme Court. 

That rankled Taylor. He said process had left Republicans at a disadvantage. 

One highlight of Hall's plan would mean a drastic change for Rep. Rudy Martinez, D-Bayard. Rudy Martinez now represents Grant and Hidalgo counties in southwestern New Mexico. 

But his district would shift, giving him new territory in Sierra County and a portion of Las Cruces in Doña Ana County. 

Rudy Martinez did not immediately return messages seeking comment. 

The original redistricting plan by House Democrats would have placed Rudy Martinez in the same district as Republican Rep. Dianne Hamilton of Silver City. 

Hall's plan would allow each to keep his or her district, though Rudy Martinez would have to persuade a new crop of voters to elect him. 

Hamilton and Rudy Martinez would share precincts in Silver City under Hall's new plan. 

Hall said he looked at putting Silver City into a single district, but could not do so without splitting another town. One result is that Deming remains whole, in the district of Democratic Rep. Dona Irwin. 

Hamilton said she liked Hall's plan in that it gives her a portion of Sierra County, where she always has been strong. 

Hamilton said she might not have run for re-election if she had had to face Rudy Martinez in an election. Though party rivals, they have worked cooperatively, she said. 

Another significant change Hall is proposing would be in the district represented by first-term Democrat George Dodge of Santa Rosa. His district would lose Democrats and perhaps be in play for a Republican challenger. 

Rep. Ken Martinez said that change by Hall also made sense because it kept together a community of interest in Clovis. Dodge now represents Curry, DeBaca, Guadalupe and Roosevelt counties. 

Gov. Martinez, in praising Hall's efforts, said he had accounted for the significant demographic changes in New Mexico. In particular, Hall would collapse three districts to add more legislators to the fastest-growing parts of the state. 

"This map equalizes population and gives the voters on Albuquerque's West Side and Rio Rancho the representation they deserve," said Scott Darnell, the governor's spokesman. 

In addition to merging the two central Albuquerque districts, Hall's plan would reduce four rural New Mexico districts into two. 

Republican Reps. Bob Wooley and Dennis Kintigh would be thrown into the same district and run against one another. Both are from Roswell. 

In northern New Mexico, two sitting Democrats would face off. They are Reps. Nick Salazar of Ohkay Owingeh and Thomas Garcia of Ocate. Salazar, in his 40th year in the House, is the body's longest-serving member.