Bill enacting independent redistricting commission advances to House floor after tense debate

On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced two redistricting proposals, one bipartisan bill, H.B. 211, brought forth by Rep. Rebecca Dow (R-Truth or Consequences) and Natalie Figueroa (D-Bernalillo), and the other, S.B. 15, brought forth by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Bernalillo) and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe).

Critics of S.B. 15 noted how it uses partisan data and incumbency as tools for redrawing maps, whereas H.B. 211 does not exclusively use that data. H.B. 211 takes into account the needs of local communities, including tribal communities, and encourages public input in the fair process of redrawing legislative maps. It also would discourage litigation, as has been done in all but one census year over the past fifty, according to Rep. Figueroa. 

At the beginning of the meeting, a poll of attendees showed that 89% of them supported H.B. 211 compared to the meager 11% who opposed it. 

During the committee hearing, Speaker Egolf continually whined about Republicans “casting aspersions” that he did not want a fair redistricting process, demanding an apology from Republicans, including GOP Leader Jim Townsend (R-Chaves, Eddy, and Otero). He did not end up getting one, as Egolf has continually worked to favor Democrats in the redistricting process and only recently joined Sen. Ivey-Soto’s last-ditch redistricting bill to install a more political way of redrawing district maps. After the meeting, Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Bernalillo, Sandoval & Santa Fe) wrote, “We will NEVER apologize for standing up for the people of New Mexico!” 

Previously on a Zoom call with a left-wing group, Retake Our Democracy, Egolf blasted the idea of an independent redistricting commission, saying, “I think that it puts at unacceptable peril a woman’s right to choose, environmental protection, fairness in taxation.” He added, “It puts at tremendous peril all of the progressive causes that we care about.”

Regarding districts, such as Sen Liz Stefanics’ (D-Bernalillo, Lincoln, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Torrance, and Valencia), which covers six counties, Egolf claimed it was not gerrymandered, despite its strange shape going all the way from Santa Fe to Lincoln counties. 

“They look strange, and they are long—that was not a gerrymander, That was—the litigation around that district, in particular, was focused on trying to preserve and maintain a rural seat…. That’s why we have that district…. That was the purpose for that, and I think that was a good purpose,” said Egolf. 

“The boundaries we have right now in the Legislature were not drawn by legislators…. I don’t believe we have legislatively created maps since 1990 so we are operating basically coming up on thirty years of maps that were drawn by members of the Legislature. And the current maps were drawn by a judge in Santa Fe,” said Egolf.

Egolf also claimed the Republican Party was trying to push laws that were making “it harder to vote,” invoking Georgia strengthening their voting laws to discourage fraud. Egolf claimed laws such as Voter ID are “obvious” discrimination against minorities, even though members of his own party, including Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez (D-Bernalillo), have noted the value of an ID. During a March 7th hearing on H.B. 127, a bill regarding youth ID cards, she said, “Try going a week without an ID and see how difficult it is.” 

Rep. Eliseo Alcon (D-Cibola & McKinley) complained about an independent commission taking away representatives’ “rights” to redraw their own districts, saying, “I don’t think it’s our duty to give up our rights.” He did not like the idea of a seven-member commission making the decisions, not him. “If these seven people really want to be part of the redistricting, then they should run for our spots,” he said, adding, “I will be a solid no matter how you look at it,” despite the majority of people in the committee hearing in support of giving more power to the people. 

Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia) made similar comments, discounting the people in support of the bill, saying, “I appreciate the public’s participation, but to say that we should be bound in this committee by the poll of a few dozen people is absurd.” 

Other opponents of H.B. 211, including Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Micaela Cadena (D-Doña Ana), constantly invoked the January 6th incursion of the U.S. Capitol as the pivotal moment that they were not in favor of independent redistricting. Chasey said, “January 6th changed that a lot for me. 40-45% of the country doesn’t think we had an election that was valid.” 

Both S.B. 15 and H.B. 211 cleared the committee with bipartisan support, with H.B. 211 getting a vote of 7-4. It now heads to the House floor.

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