So what happens when you create an independent redistricting committee?
There are a lot of ways to answer that question, but one thing’s for sure: The complaint box needs to get a little bigger.
A day after the state’s seven-member independent redistricting committee was finalized, grousing could be heard in a variety of corners Tuesday — with many expressing concern the group that will help redraw New Mexico’s political maps for the next 10 years fails to represent the state’s diversity on a variety of fronts.
Some said there’s not enough women on the seven-member committee. In fact, there’s only one.
Some criticized the lack of a Native American member.
Others complained the panel — which includes two Democrats, two Republicans, three independents — is still too political, with some of its members possessing long histories of partisanship.
Finally, critics pointed to the committee’s Albuquerque-centric nature, unhappy it includes no one from a rural community more than 30 miles from the state’s biggest city.
Though Dick Mason of the League of Women Voters praised the committee as a step forward in creating a fairer districting process, he acknowledged the outcome is “not ideal.”
It was a sentiment shared by many others Tuesday.
Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, one of the legislators who appointed a member to the committee, said she was disappointed with the outcome. Stewart chose the only woman appointee to the committee, Albuquerque attorney and former state legislator Lisa Curtis.
“I am concerned about the lack of women, I am concerned about the lack of diversity,” Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said Tuesday. “But what do people expect when they put appointing authorities in all these different offices and don’t require us to work together?”
According to the guidelines set up by the Legislature when it created the committee, the State Ethics Commission was responsible for choosing three members. Stewart and three other legislative leaders — Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen; House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia; House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe — were required to pick one apiece.
Nothing in the law creating the committee directs those people to coordinate efforts with one another.
“It’s kind of the nature of the way it was set up that we weren’t really required to work with each other,” Stewart said. “And there is no way that I can ask Senator Baca, ‘Oh, instead of appointing who you want to appoint, let’s make sure your candidate is from a rural area and a person of color.’ It’s just awkward.”
Baca, who chose Albuquerque attorney Christopher Saucedo for the committee, said there could have been more coordination between the appointing parties.
“No one reached out to me with who they were picking,” he said.
Baca said some of the criticism of the committee selection is valid. But he defended his choice, noting Saucedo is a native of Doña Ana County and thus has “southern roots” that make him knowledgeable about the background of that part of the state.
Of the 69 applicants who contacted the ethics commission for consideration, nearly half came from the Albuquerque area. The commission referred 31 of those applications to the four lawmakers based on the fact the applicants identified as either Democrats or Republicans.
About 30 of those 69 candidates were women.
It’s not clear how many Native Americans applied, although Amber Carrillo of Laguna Pueblo, who did apply, said she recognized two other Native American applicants on that list.
She said the lack of Natives on the committee is “at its best an oversight and at its worst disenfranchisement.”
Carrillo, executive director of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 19 pueblos in New Mexico as well as one in Texas, said “for all of the gains that women have made in political landscape recently and Native American women as well, this is definitely a step back in the wrong direction.”
Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said he agrees with many of the criticisms about the committee’s makeup.
“Especially for Native Americans in New Mexico, it’s extremely important that we are included in any redistricting plan,” Lente said. “Not just as a matter of demographics but as a matter of the history we have in this state. As we move forward in the political process I want to make sure our people are included and not excluded.”
How that might happen now is unclear. But during a virtual redistricting presentation Tuesday, Mario Jimenez of Common Cause New Mexico said redistricting advocates will be pushing for a constitutional amendment to the redistricting act.
The amendment, he said, is intended to ensure regional, ethnic and gender diversity in future redistricting committees.
Both Mason and Kathleen Burke, project director for Fair Districts for New Mexico, said their organizations support such an initiative.
The redistricting committee is tasked with redrawing electoral district boundaries for the U.S. House, the Legislature and the Public Education Commission based on census data, with a goal of making those districts as equal as possible in size and population.
State lawmakers ultimately will vote on which plans to use.
The committee will hold a dozen public meetings, including at least two on tribal lands, to solicit public input and discuss possible redistricting map options.
Carrillo said it’s clear the appointment process was designed to give the various appointees some independence.
The problem, she added, is “it appears they were all thinking independently the same way.”
“It’s concerning that not a single one of them thought to have people of color — Indigenous, Black or Asian people — who do not have a voice and who are now relying on other people to make decisions for them,” she said.