Republicans and Gov. Susana Martinez picked up a big win Tuesday evening as a judge in charge of redistricting New Mexico’s political boundaries sided with the governor’s attorneys in choosing a map for the state’s House of Representatives for the next 10 years.
Judge Jim Hall picked a plan drawn up by the governor’s legal staff over maps devised by five other plaintiffs, including one headed by the Democratically-controlled state legislature that Martinez vetoed after a special session of the legislature was convened back in September.The governor’s plan “best complies with legal standards for court-ordered redistricting,” Judge Hall declared, adding, “It properly places the highest priority on population equality and compliance with the Voting Rights Act as required by law.”
Hall rejected the Democrat legislative maps, saying the plan backed by Speaker of the House Ben Luján (D-Nambé) ignored parts of fast-growing Albuquerque “which would dilute the votes” of those living on the city’s west side and that the legislative plan protecting the north-central districts in the state would result in a “significant regional imbalance” that was “not justified.”
Here’s a look at the map Hall sided with:
Two other Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque and Brian Egolf of Santa Fe — put forth their own plans but Hall rejected them, saying the Egolf plan “pairs the only Republican incumbent in north central New Mexico with a Democratic incumbent and splits Los Alamos from White Rock” while the Maestas plan contained “highly partisan incumbent pairings.”
During the September special sessions, Republicans complained Democrats purposely gave them the short shrift and unfairly consolidated too many GOP districts. But the Democrat-controlled House and Senate approved the House redistricting plan and sent it to Gov. Martinez, who vetoed it – along with a Democrat-supported redistricting plan for the state Senate and the Public Regulation Commission.
The veto sent the redistricting controversy to the courts. Judge Hall — a retired district judge who ran as a Democrat — was selected to ajudicate the disagreements. A couple weeks ago, Hall signed off on a redistricting plan for US Congressional races that basically left the three New Mexico congressional districts the same.
Hall has two more decisions to hand down — drawing up lines for state Senate races for the next 10 years and approving a PRC redistricting map.
Immediately after Hall’s decision on the House races, Maestas sent out a news release bitterly complaining about the ruling and threatening to appeal:
“We are disappointed that the court is siding with the Governor as she rigs districts to protect Republican incumbents and ignores several key factors including incredible growth in Las Cruces.
“These maps were drawn behind closed doors by the National Republican Party and Gov. Susana Martinez, favor Republicans overwhelmingly, and were hidden from the public and the people’s representatives in the Legislature — only to be snuck in through litigation after the public had been removed from the process.
“The Governor’s game plan is pretty clear: veto anything that comes out of the legislature so you can force an expensive court battle, then pull a fast one to rig the game in Republicans’ favor for the next decade.
“This Governor’s office has proven to be the most partisan in state history. Injecting a partisan agenda into the most noble of governmental processes – redistricting – is a disservice to the many centuries-old communities in New Mexico.”
“We are absolutely weighing every legal alternative that will allow us to continue fighting for fair representation for New Mexicans all over the state.”
The governor’s office released this statement:
“The Governor is pleased with Judge Hall’s ruling. She believes this is a fair plan that consolidates districts in areas that have experienced such tremendous population decline that they justified being collapsed and moved to areas that have seen significant population growth, such as Rio Rancho and Albuquerque’s Westside. This plan does not favor one party over the other and instead ensures competitive districts that will allow New Mexicans to determine who represents them in the House.”
So what happens with the map approved by Hall?
First, Native Americans get what they were looking for, namely that maps drawn up by the Multi-Tribal and Navajo Nations plans keep the Native American interests concentrated in six legislative districts. “Native Americans in New Mexico continue to suffer the effects of historic discrimination,” Hall wrote in his ruling.
Second, under the governor’s plan, the number of statewide districts with Hispanic voting-age populations over 50 percent increases from 27 to 30.
Third, there are now 34 majority Republican districts and the number of swing districts increases from five to eight.
Fourth, there will be three incumbent pairings as some districts consolidate: one pairing will see a Democrat facing a Democrat, another will see a Republican squaring off with a Republican and the third will see a Democrat battling a Republican.
Update: The two Republicans who will face each other will be Rep. Dennis Kintigh and Rep. Bob Wooley, both from Roswell, who happen to be officemates at the Roundhouse. “He is a wonderful, fine gentleman,” Kintigh told Capitol Report New Mexico Tuesday night. “This is not good.”
The Democrat vs. Republican faceoff will match the GOP’s Jimmie C. Hall of Albuquerque against a Democrat in part of a district represented by Al Park, who is stepping down to run for the PRC. But while talking to Capitol Report New Mexico on Tuesday night, Hall said that after studying the map and the judge’s ruling, “I still have very good Republican numbers” in the redistricted area. Hall estimated GOP performance at 53 percent so there’s a chance a Democrat won’t challenge him. We’ll see.
Egolf sent us this reaction to the decision:
I am distressed that the Judge has ignored the important issue of maintaining Hispanic voting strength while buying into the governor’s crass effort to achieve a radical Republican gerrymander under the guise of alleged respect for Native American self-determination.
The Judge had before him plans that achieve low deviations and showed true respect for Native American wishes; selecting one would have been in the interest of New Mexico’s citizens. It is regrettable that the judge ignored these options.
To read Judge Hall’s decision, click here.
And to get a closer look at the map he chose, click here.