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Adair sees tough round of redistricting ahead for GOP

Former state Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, speaks to an audience at the Sept. 15 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women. Adair, who represented New Mexico's Senate District 33 from 1997 to 2013, spoke about the redistricting process in the state and how it could impact Republicans. (Alex Ross Photo)

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A local demographer and former Republican state legislator said he sees a bleak decade ahead for his party in New Mexico as the state prepares for its upcoming round of redistricting.

Rod Adair, a former state senator from Roswell whose company New Mexico Demographic Research assists local governments with redistricting, spoke before the Chaves County Federated Republican Women at their Sept. 14 meeting.

“All power is in the hands of the Democratic Party at this time,” Adair said.

Later this year lawmakers will head to Santa Fe for a special session to consider redistricting plans that could merge or eliminate some districts where the census shows decreases in population. Adair noted that in New Mexico, the Legislature has the authority to determine how the state’s three congressional districts, 70 state House districts, 42 state Senate districts and 10 Public Education Commission districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in population based on 2020 Census data and ensure fair and equal representation.

His pessimistic assessment comes as Democrats hold the governorship and majorities in both legislative chambers in New Mexico.

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In the 2001 and 2011 rounds of redistricting, Adair said, Republicans played a role in the redrawing of the state’s political maps because they had one of their own in office: Gary Johnson in 2001 and Susana Martinez in 2011.

“That’s important because in both of those redistricting years, 2001 and 2011, both of those Republican governors vetoed the Democratic plan that passed the state Legislature,” he said. That led to a deadlock on the redistricting maps between the governors and the Democrat-led Legislature, forcing the courts to ultimately define the district borders — something Adair said gave Republicans “a good deal” and minimized the seats they would lose.

Adair said Republicans do not have a seat at the table this time. 

“You have to have one of the three legs. You have to have either the state House, the state Senate or the governorship. If you don’t have any of them, then they (the Democrats) can pass exactly what they want to pass,” he said.

As a result, Adair sees any effort for Republicans to wrest control of either the New Mexico House or Senate from Democrats as an uphill battle.

“I don’t look for the Republicans to have a chance of winning back the Legislature until after the next census of 2030, and the redistricting that will take place in 2031, for the elections in 2032,” he explained.

The implications could reverberate all the way to the U.S. Capitol.

In particular, there are questions about the future of New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, now held by Republican Yvette Herrell. The district runs from south Albuquerque down to the border with Mexico and encompasses all land in that area between New Mexico’s eastern border with Texas and its western border with Arizona. Herrell is now the only Republican in the state’s five-member congressional delegation.

A Democratic candidate has only twice won that seat since 1981: Once in 2008 and another time in 2018. Both times the Democrats ended up losing their bids for reelection two years later.

However, Adair said the boundaries of the district could be reconfigured to dilute the Republican advantage there.

“That can be done very easily and I kind of expect that to be done,” he said.

One scenario Adair outlined involves moving Republican-heavy areas out of the 2nd Congressional District, such as Portales, Dora and portions of Roosevelt County, and placing them into the 3rd Congressional District, a Democratic stronghold. Additional Democratic precincts in Albuquerque’s South Valley would then be taken from New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District and placed in the 2nd Congressional District.

Adair said states across the nation face similar questions. New Mexico is one of 15 states where Democrats have control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, compared to 23 states where Republicans do, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Nebraska’s single legislative house is non-partisan, while in 11 other states the governor and at least one house of the state legislature are held by different parties.

While new maps of electoral districts may give one party an edge, Adair said it is still possible for the minority power to regain power, such as if there is a radical shift in the country driven by circumstances or events that prompts a large-scale realignment in how the country votes. He cites the Great Depression as an example, where Republicans who previously had a near monopoly nationally were turned out of office in 1932.

For decades afterward, Democrats held the upper hand in politics nationally as well as at the state level. However, Adair said he does not envision that happening in the current political environment. In New Mexico, where Adair said Republicans are losing statewide races by an average of 100,000 votes, the chances of such a flip are very slim.

“You can have a sea change. It’s possible, but its unlikely because the American voters are so polarized that nobody is really switching their views,” he said.

Adair explained he views the country divided by about 47% on either side, with another 6% who are truly undecided.

“They hold the balance of power in the country, so that you might go 51 to 49 in one election based on how this middle 6% goes,” he said.

This year marks the first time that the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee will be working to collect input from the public that the nonpartisan committee will take under advisement when crafting proposed redistricting maps to be presented to the Legislature.

Adair noted that the Committee plays an advisory role and its recommendations are not binding.

“It certainly doesn’t do any harm, but it doesn’t really have any power,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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