On Thursday afternoon, the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee met, which was chaired by vice-chair state Sen. Bill O’Neill (D-Bernalillo) to discuss congressional redistricting plans. O’Neill presided over the meeting since Judiciary chairman Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana) was presenting the congressional district map bill, for which he was a sponsor.
After the in-person testimony of a handful of individuals ended, O’Neill demanded the body go back to discuss the bill despite many Zoom attendees, who were promised a seat at the table, wanting to be recognized. O’Neill being challenged by another member claimed, “We’re pressed for time,” adding, “We don’t have the capacity.”
The ban on virtual testimony lit a match in the comment section of the Zoom meeting, with citizens writing angry comments.
One person wrote, “Wow, how messed up!
Another citizen commented, “I’m not understanding why there is not enough time to hear remote public comments?”
“[T]his is messed up!!! and unfair!!!” one individual proclaimed.
“Shame on the Senate for ignoring public input,” another commenter wrote. “A perfect example of bad leadership. Good leaders listen and do not impose self-interests by squashing public comment.”
Finally, O’Neill reluctantly permitted public comment right before the final vote on the bill, blaming technology for not being able to permit it before.
Surprisingly, all of the public commenters who testified via Zoom were in opposition to the proposed congressional map, including the brother of Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM-03), Martín. In the proposed map, Leger Fernandez’s district is poised to be drawn to be much more Republican. The district which is currently a D+14 district would be redrawn to a mere D+4 partisan advantage, with the addition of conservative southern New Mexico communities, including Lovington, northern Hobbs, and all of Portales, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis. Leger Fernandez only won the D+14 district by 16.8 points.
The move came as Democrats, in the attempt at getting another Democrat representative by skewing the current Second District, which is an R+8, to a D+4, may be actually harming their own Democrat representative from the Third District.
“What the S.B. 1 bill does it is really destroys that community of interest,” Martín Leger told the committee, referring to acequia communities. “Many of you have very, very large districts and you understand how hard it is to represent those various areas of your district. The S.B. 1 would make it really [difficult]. I mean, from going from Gallup all the way to Roswell… is not a good way to have a representative represent their constituents. The acequia to the oil patch are not communities of interest.”
“If there’s nobody in the public in favor of it, why is it still being pushed?” asked Leger.
Michael Sperberg-McQueen of Rio Arriba County said, “I was very happy when we created a Citizen Redistricting Committee,” Ne noted, “I don’t suppose redistricting is ever nonpartisan, but states seem to have better results when they have independent bodies drawing maps and not people who are necessarily assailed by the exigencies of political self-preservation.”
“If you find that you cannot keep your fingers off of it … there needs to be a detailed explanation of why the CRC maps were not good enough,” concluded Sperberg-McQueen.
Despite all the opposition to the proposed map, it passed the Senate committee on a vote of 6-3, now making its way to the Senate floor.
Other redistricting bills: The House will discuss H.B. 8, redrawing state House districts, on the floor Friday, according to the floor calendar.
Senate Bill 2, revising maps for state Senate districts, is awaiting action from one committee after it passed another on Thursday. “It would establish 27 Democratic-leaning districts, similar to the total now. Democrats have held 26 or 27 seats in recent years,” the Albuquerque Journal reports.