The process of redistricting — conducted every 10 years after the U.S. census is taken — needs to be as fair and impartial as possible. That’s why it’s so distressing to learn House Speaker Brian Egolf is against creating an independent commission that will draw legislative and congressional districts, among others.

New maps will be created in 2021 in New Mexico and across the country as required by the Constitution. Too often, the process is unfair and overly political, designed to keep blocks of voters from having an equal say — or to build an impenetrable wall of political power.

The Legislature should approve the proposal to establish a nonpartisan commission to take on the task of drawing districts for state House, Senate, Public Education Commission and congressional seats.

We need it in New Mexico and across the country. That was our position in 2015, after the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona’s redistricting commission was constitutional. It remains our position today.

A less political redistricting process will ensure incumbents can’t draw lines to press their advantages and that the party in power doesn’t create districts to reduce their opponents’ strength. A fair process also reduces the likelihood of expensive lawsuits — challenges to redistricting plans cost millions — and means the courts don’t draw the plans.

Most of all, done right, redistricting gives each voter an equal say, keeps communities of interest together, protects minority views and improves public trust in the system.

House Bill 211, co-sponsored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, would establish a seven-member redistricting commission, laying out requirements for choosing those members, initiating a series of public meetings and charging the panel with responsibility for coming up with redistricting options. There’s a Senate version as well, Senate Bill 199.

After districts are drawn, the commission would hand over plans to the Legislature — which must meet in special session later this year to conclude redistricting. With census numbers delayed, having plans ready before the session will save precious time. Once they see the blueprints, lawmakers must choose an option without amendment and send it to the governor for approval or essentially let the commission pick the plan it believes best satisfies the law.

Egolf is no fan of an independent commission. It’s clear he wants to use the current lopsided Democratic majority — and the Democratic governor — to create districts that favor not only his party but the cause of its progressive wing.

Last year, Egolf pledged to redraw the 2nd Congressional District to reduce the power of conservatives after an incumbent Democrat lost to a Republican, saying, “So this is the last election for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District with a map that looks like it looks now. So next time it’ll be a different district and we’ll have to see what that means for Republican chances to hold it.”

He backed away from those comments, but recently went further in a speech to a progressive group, saying that an independent commission would put “all the progressive causes we care about” at tremendous peril. He believes legislators can draw fair boundaries, despite decades of evidence to the contrary.

As we have seen across the country, legislators often fail at that task, throwing fairness out the window. Redistricting needs to become less political now and in the future, and a commission that doesn’t owe its existence or effectiveness to Egolf or any lawmaker makes that more possible. This legislation is not about the moment, but about establishing a fair, impartial and lasting process for the future.

The bill to establish an independent commission has the support of half the House of Representatives. It has cleared one House committee but has two more to go — assigning legislation to three committees is generally a sign that leaders want to kill a bill. A companion Senate bill, 199, has had no hearing to date. It’s an absolute sign political leaders in the Legislature would rather engineer redistricting themselves, and for their own benefit, than actually work for the good of the voters of this state.

Sensible political reform — the kind New Mexico and the nation need — shouldn’t be allowed to wither without a hearing. Voters who call their legislators, including Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, can force the issue. Demand the Legislature find a better way to redistrict the state. Otherwise, it’s politics as usual. And we can’t afford that anymore.

(7) comments

Khal Spencer

If you missed it, go read former State Sen. Dede Feldman's essay on the 2001 redistricting.

Jerry Appel

Gerrymandering has been a founding feature of our republic and it is baked into the idea of a republic. The difference today is the application of data analysis and demographics which makes the process much more effective with the result of entrenching that particular party. If you really want to end that process . . . good luck. The European approach is to elect members based on how many votes a party gets in an election. The results can be just as unworkable with small parties gaining outsize power because of rules that require a majority coalition or the elected government falls apart, those dreaded votes of confidence.

No matter how this re-districting commission is formulated there will be issues, not to mention accusations. The trick is to not take the position that this commission will solve al the problems which it can't, but that it is a better approach because it can use the same data analysis and demographics to get a more equitable republic.

Mike Johnson

Well said, it is not often I agree with the esteemed editorial board on issues, but even they know the corrupt nature of Egolf and his Santa Fe Ring.

Khal Spencer

Very few seats are contestable any more on the Federal level and increasingly, at the state level, in part due to gerrymandering to ensure the other side's voters are diluted into powerless factions.

Politicians redistrict to cement majorities. This in turn tends to increase voter cynicism and suppress the vote. In many states, this is done by the GOP but here we have the House Speaker putting on the black hat. In New Jersey, the Dems have been blasted for gerrymandering by Vox, not exactly a right wing house organ.

Its about time we found a less toxic way to draw legislative boundaries. The system of gerrymandering simply increases polarization.

I agree with Mr. Scanlon, even though many Dems consider me a DINO. With the Dems currently holding near supermajorities in both houses, its absurd to think my party has to use unscrupulous means to draw new boundaries.

Russell Scanlon

No argument here. As a moderate/liberal (AKA “Radical Socialist”) I enthusiastically support the idea of an independent commission to oversee ALL redistricting, here in NM and nationwide.

Speaker Egolf should have more confidence in his agenda. If redistricting, and for that matter the entire voting process in this country, were fair and bipartisan I am confident that this current virulent version of the GOP and toxic politicians like Trump would disappear back in to the shadows where they belong. And that also includes overturning Citizen’s United.

Andrew Lucero

Sadly, we've reached the point where we can't afford to leave anything in the "hands of politicians"... It doesn't matter what side of the political aisle you sit on, two things are for sure. They all need go and we desperately need term limits.

Jarratt Applewhite

So right, Andrew. What we really need is to change our democracy so that it works. That means getting rid of the stranglehold of the two party system. We need more voices, more candidates and more competition. Opening ALL primaries to ALL voters (& all parties) and having ranked voting would fix it. You can tell that's a good idea b/c both the Ds & the Rs hate it.

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