Analysis: Eastern N.M. could lose in redistricting

By Barry Massey: The Associated Press

SANTA FE — The once-a-decade exercise of legislative redistricting will produce winners and losers, and Albuquerque’s west side is as close as it comes to a guaranteed winner of more political clout.

Because of rapid population growth during the past decade in the city’s sprawling areas west of the Rio Grande, residents will almost certainly gain seats in the House and Senate.

As for the losers, nothing is certain. Legislators will make those decisions when they meet later this year in a special session to conform political districts to new population counts from the 2010 census.

Eastern New Mexico and central portions of Albuquerque are among the areas that could lose seats in the Legislature when new boundaries are drawn for the House and Senate, according to Brian Sanderoff, who runs an Albuquerque-based research company that analyzes census figures for the Legislature to assist in redistricting.

The Legislature’s job is to redraw the boundaries of legislative, congressional and Public Regulation Commission districts to balance their populations. That means adding and subtracting precincts as needed to shrink or expand a district.

A guiding principle is to equalize the population of districts as much as possible to reflect the legal doctrine of one person, one vote.

Based on the 2010 census, the “ideal” population of a House district is 29,417 — up from 25,986 after the 2000 census. The Senate target is 49,028, up from 43,311 in 2000, according to calculations by Sanderoff’s firm.

To understand the explosive growth on Albuquerque’s west side, consider that one House district — held by Republican Tom Anderson — is twice as large as the ideal district size.

Nearly two-thirds of the 70 House seats are below the ideal size. In the Senate, about 70 percent of the 42 seats fall short of the target and will need to pick up population.

Districts typically need to expand their boundaries — gain precincts — if their populations lagged behind the state’s average population growth during the past decade. That’s the situation for eastern and north-central New Mexico and portions of Albuquerque, such as districts around the downtown and in the northeast.

Two districts may have to be combined, for example, to even out populations and make way for a new district in the fast-growing west side of Albuquerque.

However, the Albuquerque metropolitan area isn’t guaranteed an overall increase in representation. Instead, there will be a redistribution of existing seats across the state. While the city’s west side, including Rio Rancho, should gain a seat, it’s possible that slower-growing parts of the city may end up losing a seat.

Democrats and Republicans have a lot riding on the outcome of redistricting. Democrats hope to hold on to their majorities in the House and Senate. Republicans want district boundaries drawn to improve their chances of picking up seats.

And there’s a self-preservation factor for all incumbents, who hope their new district boundaries will help them win re-election.

A decade ago, a court-ordered redistricting plan paired four incumbent legislators in new districts.

Democratic Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, of Gallup, beat Leo Watchman Jr. in a race in northwestern New Mexico in the 2002 primary election.

Republicans Larry Larranaga and Rob Burpo avoided a primary battle for a combined seat in Albuquerque’s northeastern side because Burpo ran for governor rather than seek re-election. Larranaga and Lundstrom continue to serve in the Legislature.

“Wherever you must add legislative seats, that means somewhere else two districts or two incumbents have to be merged,“ said Sanderoff.

When lawmakers start drawing new district maps this year, look for a no-holds-barred fight over whose districts will be combined