New Mexico’s brand-new redistricting process — designed to be fair, diverse and nonpartisan — is off to a disappointing start.
The new committee, appointed by legislative leaders and the State Ethics Commission, fails to represent the state adequately.
Individually, the people doing the hard work of drawing new voting districts for Congress, state legislative seats and the Public Regulation Commission aren’t the problem — although it makes little sense that so many of them come straight out of New Mexico’s potent political soup. It’s difficult to be more partisan than a former state party chairman or Senate majority leader. But as bad as that is for a group created to reduce politics during redistricting, it’s only part of the problem.
Collectively, the group in no way resembles New Mexico.
It is too male, too Albuquerque-centered and, yes, has too many political types. Native tribes and rural New Mexico are excluded. That is not just wrong; such grave omissions will lead to mistrust of the process before it begins.
Headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez, the committee is tasked with holding hearings across the state and then redrawing voting districts based on 2020 U.S. Census data. Chávez says he is confident the group can produce high-quality maps.
That may be, but the point of redistricting through a committee and away from the legislative process was to include diverse points of view while reducing political considerations. In other words, limit or eliminate gerrymandering to protect incumbents and political parties.
A committee without one rural voice fails that test. A committee with so few women fails. So does a committee without one Native representative.
Having citizens conduct redistricting is a result of bipartisan legislation — which we endorsed — passed during this year’s legislative session. The goals included taking politics out of redistricting and saving the state millions of dollars in defending lawsuits over overly partisan maps. The process, done right, stops politicians from choosing their voters and builds faith in our electoral system.
Once hearings are completed and maps drawn, lawmakers will meet in special session to approve new districts. They have the choice of adopting the recommended maps, amending them or starting over — considering how late census data is expected to be, their work will be easier if the committee delivers maps that can be adopted with little fuss.
Central to all of it is a committee that more adequately represents New Mexico.
The legislation called for giving consideration to the “cultural and geographic diversity of the state,” but appointments apparently were not coordinated. Thus, we have seven appointments that fail to collectively meet that standard.
Consider the State Ethics Committee, which appointed three members — one had to be a retired justice or appeals court judge and the other two unaffiliated with political parties. Surely, with three slots, someone considering appointments could have discussed the need to move outside metro Albuquerque. Its appointments went to state demographer Robert Rhatigan, high school teacher Joaquin Sánchez and Chávez, all of Albuquerque.
Legislative appointees include former state GOP party Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, attorney and former GOP legislative candidate Christopher Saucedo, and attorney and former Democratic state Sen. Lisa Curtis.
All are from Albuquerque, except Sanchez, who is from Belen. The only nonmetro Albuquerque appointee lives in a town 33 miles away. There are no committee members from Northern New Mexico, either — and we know the residents of Mora and Rio Arriba counties have a lot to say about how their legislative district is divided by a mountain range.
There’s still time to remedy this. It’s essential this committee be seen as representative of a diverse state for its value to be maximized. Anything less shortchanges the people of New Mexico.