Lack of growth in area could mean loss of legislative representation

Sharna Johnson

The one consistent thing that emerged in discussion of state redistricting during a three-hour meeting Monday was that because it lacks the growth of the northern part of the state, eastern New Mexico could lose legislative representation.

The discussion came during a meeting at the Clovis Civic Center, the first of three meetings to being held through Wednesday in Clovis, Roswell and Las Cruces. It is the second time the committee has met to discuss redistricting.

The committee, comprised of 41 members of the state Legislature, is tasked with forming recommendations to the Legislature during a special session planned in September to tackle the issue.

Brian Sanderoff of Albuquerque’s Research and Polling, Inc., presented redistricting concepts his company has created based on demographic studies stemming from 2010 census data.

Every 10 years when the U.S. Census is conducted, Sanderoff said, in accordance with federal law, legislative districts must be re-evaluated to ensure the population is equally represented throughout the state.

Due to high growth in the northern areas of the state — for example House District 44 in Sandoval County which has grown more than 73 percent —Sanderoff said it is logical to compact areas of lesser or no growth in the eastern part of the state.

The ideal population for a House district is 29,417 and 49,028 for a Senate district, according to the 2010 Census.

Clovis and Portales saw growth — 15.6 percent and 10.3 percent — but it doesn’t compare to the northern part of the state where one House district has more than twice the population it should.

In the calculation for House seats, De Baca County dropped nearly 10 percent and Quay County 11 percent.

“You have 10 Senate seats on the east side, but only enough population for nine,” he said.

“Shall we let two new seats emerge on the west side of Albuquerque, and, if we do, what seats are consolidated?”

Sanderoff said the factors considered in creating proposals for change are population, minority voting rights, compactness, contiguity and communities with shared interest.

Of more than 20 proposed changes to districts for the Senate, House and Public Regulations Commission, choices range from minimal to the elimination of complete districts in some cases.

The committee will have to decide whether Curry and Roosevelt counties belong in the second or third congressional districts and whether a district such as House District 63 should be absorbed by neighboring districts and moved to the west side of the state.

In other cases, a district change could result in splitting a county between districts, but he said changes can be positive and better meet the needs of communities.

“If you’re a small county in a big congressional district you might not have much clout — you might prefer to be split,” he said.

The meeting Monday met with little discussion or public input.

Jose Griego, who in 2010 made an unsuccessful bid as a democratic candidate for the District 63 seat, was the only Clovis resident to speak.

He urged lawmakers to remember the importance of the eastern part of the state as they make their decisions on redistricting.

New Mexico League of Women Voters member Cheryl Haaker also encouraged the committee to remember the importance of the task before them.

“Redistricting can help a community or split it apart,” she said.