June 2, 2023

Debate, testimony over maps fills second day of session

The New Mexico House of Representatives spent much of the second day of the second 2021 special legislative session discussing the merits of proposed maps. The special session is largely focused on redrawing the state’s political boundaries for U.S congressional districts and state House and Senate districts and is expected to last 12 days.

During a more-than three-hour presentation to the House, both Republicans and Democrats debated the merits of one congressional map concept in particular and whether a newly formed citizen led redistricting committee had presented the best map concepts for the Legislature to choose from. Later in the day, a House committee heard public testimony on a House map that is an amalgamation of three concepts from the citizen committee.

During a House committee of the whole on Tuesday morning, a representative of the citizen committee along with members of the prominent New Mexico polling company Research and Polling fielded questions and sometimes criticism from members.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, who is also vying for the Republican nomination for governor, questioned a congressional map concept put forward by advocacy group Center for Civic Policy and adopted by the redistricting committee. Known as el mapa de la gente, or the people’s map, the concept would drastically change the three congressional districts and group rural areas like Roswell and Carrizozo with the urban Albuquerque area. According to the Center for Civic Policy, the goal of the map is to create a strong Latino or Hispanic district. But critics have also raised concerns with the group behind the map of creating a politically charged map and paying stipends to those who testified in favor of the map over the summer, when the redistricting committee heard from the public.

Center for Civic Policy has repeatedly dismissed the criticism and said the stipends were designed to help offset the cost of travel and child care and that no one actually requested or accepted a stipend to testify.

Dow criticized the proposed map because it was not drafted by Research and Polling and alleged that the Center for Civic Policy likely considered partisan data when drafting it. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, would later counter that all of the map concepts were analyzed by a neutral expert who found them to be drawn fairly.

Still, Dow, who was a vocal advocate of creating an independent redistricting committee, said she found the Center for Civic Policy map problematic and that the issue would likely end up in court.

“Unless there are some major amendments and we work together, there’s no way this is going to end up anywhere other than court,” Dow said.

Maps approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor can still be challenged in court. The last two attempts at redrawing state districts resulted in a veto from the governor and were ultimately drawn by a judge.

Minority Floor Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, further accused Center for Civic Policy of designing a highly partisan map.

“I am afraid that the facts show that what you started out trying to do was hijacked by advocates for political parties and special interests for their own benefit, and not the benefit of the state,” Townsend said.

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, who voted against creating an independent redistricting committee, countered Republican criticism by arguing that the concepts were a direct result of Republicans pushing for an independent redistricting committee.

“Day after day, after day, you sat there, we sat there last session and you cried, you whined, ‘We got to do it this way, we got to do it this way,’” Alcon said of Republicans “You got it your way. So why are you complaining today?”

Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, also criticized Republicans and accused them of acting like children.

“I think we need to all act like adults and realize that what’s good for the state may not be what’s the best for us,” Thomson said.

Later, Thomson evoked a phrase commonly used by teachers and parents.

“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” Thomson said.

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, dismissed claims of dubious efforts and said taking the issue to court would belittle the time tribal leaders and members spent working to make sure Native Americans in New Mexico are fairly represented, calling the work “efforts of self-determination.”

“If a court case is going to challenge those efforts of self determination, that’s a sad day in New Mexico,” Lente said. “For all that the Native American populations were doing in their efforts to produce their own maps was, again, those notions of self determination. And for them to be challenged by way of ‘Well, we don’t like what you did, so we’re gonna challenge it in court,’ is again, a slap in the face.”

Later in the day, the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee heard a brief presentation from Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque about a map concept he is sponsoring that combines a “consensus that was reached by the tribal interest” along with another map approved by the redistricting committee.

“We’re gonna fight about the congressional maps, I get that,” Ely said. “But when it comes to the House maps, this is something that we as a body should all be proud of, Democrats and Republicans, citizens of New Mexico, that we were able, number one, to have a body that was bipartisan, that came to a conclusion on most of the maps, except for the tribal interests, and then to have the tribes themselves, instead of us telling them what we expected, to have them come to us and tell us what they expected.”

Governor of the Pueblo of Acoma Biran Vallo told the panel that the blended map concept protects a right of Native Americans that for generations was not existent.

“The map underscores our greatest desire and concern, and that is to protect the voting rights of our tribal citizens,” Vallo said.

Governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque Mark Mitchell told the panel that “the best way to proceed” is to approve the map concept that includes input and consensus from pueblos across the state.

“We have done the hard work for this body to secure the redistricting maps that met the approval of our respective tribal nations,” Mitchell said.

Former Governor of Cochiti Pueblo Regis Pecos urged the panel to approve Ely’s proposed map and stressed that it was a “monumental challenge to get 23 sovereign nations moving in the same direction.”

“I think the heart of the will and the spirit is clearly demonstrated with the kind of consensus brought forth to you,” Pecos said. “And it is our utmost desire, working in partnership with all of you as a member of this body, that House Bill 8 be the preferred bill moving forward.”

The legislative committee did not vote on the proposal and at least one more map is expected to be introduced in the coming days by Committee Chair Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, who is from the Pueblo of Acoma.

This article was originally posted on Debate, testimony over maps fills second day of session

Sydney Boles