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Redistricting proposals discussed in Roswell

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh speaks to the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee during an Oct. 5 public meeting at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. A proposed map that would, among other things, move Chaves County into New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District was the subject of ample public comment during the meeting. (Alex Ross Photo)

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A proposal that would divide southeastern New Mexico counties among three congressional districts sparked ample discussion last week when the state’s redistricting committee visited Roswell.

The proposal was one of a series of political maps presented by the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee at an Oct. 4 public meeting at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, where people got the chance to view and critique some of the options submitted to the committee for how the state’s congressional, legislative and Public Education Commission districts should be redrawn as part of the decennial redistricting process.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill that authorized the creation of the committee, which is charged with gathering public feedback about redistricting and then submitting maps to the Legislature, which will consider those proposals during a special legislative session in December.

In all, eight maps were unveiled that will determine the boundaries of New Mexico’s three congressional districts. Maps were also presented on the New Mexico Senate, House and Public Education Commission districts.

By Oct. 30, the non-partisan committee must submit its recommendations on redistricting to the state Legislature. The Legislature, during a special session in December, will decide how the new districts should be reapportioned.

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No decisions have been made about which maps go before the Legislature, but one option, known as Map H, would reconfigure all three districts.

Under that map, the 1st Congressional District based in Albuquerque, and which includes Torrance County — and is now represented by Democrat Melanie Stansbury — would have Chaves, De Baca, Guadalupe and Lincoln counties added to it, along with the northern half of the Mescalero Apache reservation.

All of Roosevelt and northern Lea counties would be in the 3rd Congressional District, which currently covers most of northern New Mexico and stretches down into northern Roosevelt County. The 3rd District is now represented by Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez.

The unincorporated area of the South Valley in Bernalillo County would be added to the 2nd Congressional District, which would also include southern Lea County and the lower half of Otero County. U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, currently represents the 2nd Congressional District.

Map H, also known by its proponents as the People’s Map, was submitted to the committee by the Center for Civic Policy with input from several organizations, according to information posted on the website.

Supporters of Map H say including the South Valley, which includes a large population of Hispanic workers, in the 2nd Congressional District and placing northern Lea County in the 3rd District will ensure better representation of the state’s Hispanic population.

Marcela Diaz, who was among those who offered public comments, noted the latest census data show Lea County’s population grew by 15% in the last decade, while at the same time the county’s white population dropped greatly.

“So we want the maps to change to reflect the growing Latino and Hispanic population,” she said. Supporters of Map H said currently the issues they care about — such as immigrant and workers’ rights — are often neglected in favor of the interests of the owners of oil, gas and agricultural operations.

Eduviges Hernandez, who also commented during the meeting, said candidates seldom even campaign within her community.

“At this time nobody has knocked on our doors and said ‘Oh, my name is blah blah, we are going to support you, we are going to know your people or something like that.’ And they don’t do that,” Hernandez said.

The idea of placing Chaves County with Albuquerque in the same congressional district made little sense to others who were in attendance.

“Albuquerque has so little in common with Chaves County,” said former state Sen. Tim Jennings.

He added that Chaves County and other areas of southern and eastern New Mexico have an economy based on the oil industry and agriculture operations, and with that comes different priorities, such as access to water and land use.

Others, such as state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, told the committee many fear that given the Albuquerque metro area’s large population, it will overshadow the needs of the more sparsely inhabited south.

“We know that the urban areas get the representation because they have the people. So we need efforts to protect the rural parts of the state,” he said. “We ask you and implore you to try and protect the rural parts of the state, the rural agricultural base of the state, which is largely southern and eastern New Mexico.”

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh voiced concern about separating areas that are close geographically. He noted that historically, Roswell and Silver City have been in the same congressional district despite the vast distance between them, yet places like Roswell and Portales, which are linked by Highway 70 and closer in distance, are not.

“Let the geography drive the map. Look where the roads are, look where the mountains are, look where the interconnections naturally occur,” said Kintigh, a former state representative.

Other speakers stated the 2020 Census showed only minor changes in the state’s population.

“I don’t understand why we need to change what we have if the population is very similar,” said Carol Parish, chair of the Republican Party of Lea County.

New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from south Albuquerque down to the state’s border with Mexico and spans from the state’s eastern border with Texas to its western border with Arizona, is currently represented by Herrell, the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation.

Parish said she believes the proposal is meant to skew the playing field in favor of Democrats. She referenced comments New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf made following Herrell’s win in November, in which he said 2020 would be the last election for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District “with a map that looks like it does now.”

Following outcry from Republicans, Egolf said redistricting would be conducted in an open and fair manner and that the comment was “a statement of fact in response to a direct question about the future of the district and nothing more.”

“So I look at it as political. It would disenfranchise a lot of my voters in Hobbs, Roosevelt and a lot of other counties,” Parish said.

State Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, said some of the maps would dilute the representation of rural elements of the state and are “nothing more than political gerrymandering.”

“I think it is very disingenuous to think we would have people go from Eunice all the way to Albuquerque to have an audience with their congressional person,” she said.

Edward Chavez, former chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court and chair of the committee, told the audience that in deciding which concepts to send to the Legislature, they will make their best judgement in accordance with the law.

People can view mapping concepts for the congressional districts as well as New Mexico’s state Senate, state House and Public Education Commission Districts — or submit a proposal of their own — at https://www.nmredistricting.org/mapconcepts/.

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

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