New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf is facing sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike over his opposition to having an independent commission oversee the state’s redistricting process.

In particular, members of both parties were thrown by comments the Santa Fe Democrat made during a Zoom conference last week with Retake Our Democracy, an organization focused on social justice. Part of the discussion centered on bipartisan proposals in the Legislature to create a commission to take on the often controversial task of redrawing electoral district boundaries based on new census data.

Egolf told panelists the plans could weaken Democrats’ advantage in the Legislature, “and the [Democratic] agenda goes out the window.”

He said he did not understand why “Democrats want to unilaterally disarm and give advantage to the people who are trying to make the world a dirtier place, take rights away from people, make it harder to vote — all the things that we oppose. I don’t want to make it easier for them to do it.”

Reactions on both sides ranged from disappointment to outrage.

Dick Mason of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico said Egolf’s comments are “pitting progressive issues versus redistricting reform.”

Redistricting is required in every state once a decade, following the national census. The 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data is not expected to be released until at least September, due to delays largely caused by the pandemic.

The Legislature is likely to convene for a special session late this year, after the data is released, to choose a new district map.

Lawmakers have introduced three bills in preparation for the redistricting process — two proposing an independent panel to do the job. Those measures have the support of both Republicans and Democrats, while the third was sponsored by a single Democrat. All three are awaiting committee hearings with just a few weeks left in the 2021 session.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, is co-sponsoring one of the bipartisan measures, House Bill 211. On Friday, she said Egolf’s comments are “a direct attack on every New Mexican. He wants full control of this state without regard to the will of the people.”

Having an independent body create a redistricting plan is a “no-brainer,” she said, “and it’s unfortunate that a thirst for total power leaves every person in this state without a voice.”

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsor of a Senate version, said an independent panel is the only way to ensure the process doesn’t become one of “politicians picking their constituents — not the other way around.”

In a virtual news conference Thursday, Egolf reiterated his opposition to an independent redistricting panel. But he said the Legislature will “absolutely” produce its own redistricting plan.

“Until there is a uniform national program on independent redistricting, I’m not willing to take that step,” he said.

Egolf could not be reached Friday to comment on the criticism his remarks have drawn.



Kathleen Burke of Fair Districts New Mexico, an organization pushing for an independent commission, said she was “shocked” by Egolf’s comments at the event hosted by Retake Our Democracy.

She said Egolf “is cherry-picking” from the state Democratic Party platform to suit his own needs.

“That’s not really his job,” she said. “His job is to represent the whole platform of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. An independent redistricting commission is on the platform of the state Democratic Party.”

State Auditor Brian Colón — a fellow Democrat who said he has been friends with Egolf for decades and sides with him on most issues — said he “slightly” disagrees with Egolf’s view on redistricting.

“We should be skeptical of change — particularly when it shifts power from our legislative body — but I’m in favor of deliberately contemplating a fair districting commission and anything else that lends itself to more transparency in government,” Colón said Friday.

Voting districts in New Mexico were last drawn in 2012 by a state District Court after then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, vetoed a redistricting plan drafted by a Legislature with a majority of Democrats following the 2010 census.

HB 211 and SB 199 would create a seven-member redistricting commission and lay out requirements for choosing members. They require the commission to hold public meetings and formulate three to five options for the Legislature to consider during the special session.

Under each measure, if the Legislature does not agree on a redistricting plan, the commission would decide which option best satisfies the requirements of the Redistricting Act.

A different piece of legislation, Senate Bill 15, would create a 16-member commission made up of state lawmakers who would draft a plan for the Legislature to consider.

The political makeup of that commission would be proportionate to the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.

The sponsor of that bill, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, has said the other two bills violate the state constitution by potentially forcing the Legislature to accept a plan.

He said Friday he plans to hear both Senate redistricting plans in the Senate Rules Committee, which he chairs, on Monday.

“I’m a big proponent of an independent redistricting committee, but we have to do it in a constitutional manner,” Ivey-Soto said.

In his talks with Egolf on the issue, he said, the two have agreed the process “should take into consideration the state first, and not the Legislature first.”

He said he did not think Egolf’s recent comments “were contrary to that.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(16) comments

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

These are the times I am ashamed to say I am a Democrat. Everyone deserves and should be represented by their leaders. I have been seriously contemplating a move to Independent Party if it is made a third party. The Ultra-Progressive side of the Democrats do not represent anyone that is not in line with their full agenda.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Jarratt Applewhite

No reason to wait for the indies to form a party -- that might never happen. It only takes a few minutes to join the ranks of the nonpartisans (called Decline To State) in NM: https://portal.sos.state.nm.us/OVR/WebPages/InstructionsStep1.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1. You'll never have to feel ashamed again!

Mike Johnson

Can anyone, with a straight face, claim that Egolf is not biased, corrupt, and in the tank for left wing radical groups? Even the LWV knows what he is, that speaks volumes.

Khal Spencer

Gerrymandering has become as American as the flag and apple pie. Usually it has been the GOP but in some states where Dems rule, they are guilty too. And then we wonder why the pubic is so cynical about the democratic process. Seems to me that with my party commanding a near supermajority in both houses, the last thing we Dems need to worry about is putting on the black hats and torturing our legislative districts for partisan reasons. I'm a little disappointed in my House representative but hey, at least he put the bare knuckle realpolitic on full display, unlike those who whisper about these things behind our backs. Heh. Gotta give Brian credit for that.

Districts should be drawn impartially rather than turning into tortured shapes to maximize the power of whatever party is in the majority. If progressives can't convince the public of the worth of their ways, go back to the policy drawing board, not the election map board.

As far as the GOP, I think no amount of "fairness" will give them majorities until they become a party of (good) ideas again rather than blind followers of a failed national administration. But that other party seems to be marching into oblivion.

Russell Scanlon

The GOP has marched steadily forward since the rise of Ronald Reagan to be nothing more than a confederation of fossil fuel interests, 2nd amendment freaks, the super rich, and evangelicals with dreams of a “Christian” fundamentalist government. Unfortunately for the GOP, the optics are bad since they are also overwhelmingly of one race. Trump was the apotheosis of this deliberate, strategic shift in the GOP which for over 40 years has succeeded by clever (and sometimes not so clever) use of the odious “Southern Strategy” and by gerrymandering and voter suppression.

There is only one truth in politics that I can see: Sooner or later, you will be guilty of doing the very thing that you accuse your opponent of doing. This “whataboutism” is totally useless. The real question is: What do you believe in?

And just a thought folks: Why don’t we all tone down the labels? Stop calling what I believe in—mainstream, moderate, liberal philosophy—“Radical Socialism” and I will happily drop the Fascist label.

Khal Spencer

Don't forget populist-nativist. That was DJT's trump card, so to speak. Like I said, I think the GOP is doomed since they are drumming out of the party anyone who has ideas rather than cult loyalty.

I think carefully drawn districts can help bring people together. If you carefully draw districts to separate red from blue, you just reinforce the idea that the other is the enemy rather than a fellow American you have some political disagreements with.

My brother in NC says it better than I can.

http://leaningblue.com/tag/gerrymandering/

John McDivitt

Elridge Gerry would be proud!

Richard Irell

As tempting as it may be for Democrats t grerrymander like the GQP, we should not dunk to their level.

Russell Scanlon

The Speaker is acting like the leader of his political party, but I agree that the districts should be drawn by an independent commission. To hear the GOP cry foul on this issue beyond hypocritical. The Republicans have used gerrymandering as well as all sorts of voter suppression to maintain power for decades. (And then when they lose they indulge in “Stop the Steal” BS.) The only proof you need is to look at a map of the congressional districts around my former hometown of Austin Texas—tortured, twisted, snakelike, districts that defy any logic except when you factor in the animus of Texas Republicans towards “liberal” Austin. So enough with the phony outrage Republicans. Quit lying and pretending that you care about the will of the people. If the districts are drawn independently, I’m beyond confident that the Democrats would win more elections. As it stands now, the GOP will never win the popular vote in a national election again as long as they continue to only represent a dwindling demographic of our country.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Stefanie Beninato

Although I totally support an independent commission for redistricting the GOP's opposition is laughable. Have they denounced Individual #1's ongoing whining about stealing the vote that led to the day of infamy at the US Capitol on 6 Jan? Have they denounced Griffen as a violent insurrectionist or Harrell for her failure to uphold her constitutional oath? How about the clearly partisan redistricting in other states to disenfranchise people of color and to keep control in GOP hands? When they do that let me know. Egolf's ego is on display--perhaps his political goals have just suffered an irreparable injury....

Maria Bautista

Good. Once entrenched they become the voice for the wealthy, I support term limits.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

Completely agree! It is a democracy not a dictatorship!

Richard Reinders

The Speaker is toxic for New Mexico and acts like he wants a one party system, he needs to remind himself that although he is a Democrat he represents all people and parties of New Mexico. The will of the people need to make the final decision for New Mexico.

Maria Bautista

True. They beg us to vote for them, then they become what we voted against. How much did he have in the bank when he first ran for office? What is the balance now?

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