Let’s Talk Redistricting In New Mexico
Let’s Talk New Mexico 9/30 8am: The once-in-a-decade redistricting process is underway in New Mexico. Lines are being redrawn for the U.S. House, state legislature, and Public Education Commission. For the first time, an independent commission, the Citizen Redistricting Committee, is advising the Democrat-led legislature. The body released its concept maps for public comment and on this week’s Let’s Talk New Mexico, we’ll take a look at them and what’s at stake.
Are you confused about the redistricting process and how to engage in it? Are you concerned about gerrymandering? Are you part of a community that you don’t want split up by district lines?
Email LetsTalk@KUNM.org, tweet with #LetsTalkNM, or call in live during the show at 505-277-5866 (505-277-KUNM).
- Justice Edward Chavez, Chair of the Citizen Redistricting Committee
- Kathleen Burke, Program Coordinator of Fair Districts for New Mexico
- Casey Douma, Co-Chair of the All Pueblo Council of Governors' Redistricting Committee
- Dede Feldman, former Democratic state Senator
Nash Jones: Good morning. This is Let's Talk New Mexico. I'm your host, Nash Jones. You know, you probably heard about gerrymandering and how it's distorted elections around the country. Gerrymandering can happen as a part of redistricting, something that happens only once every 10 years and that New Mexico is in the midst of right now. It's an important process that will impact the state and who represents you for the next decade. And more than any time in state history, you, the public are being called on to participate by sharing your values and your needs. The process is well underway, but it's not too late to jump in and make your voice heard. The state legislature will decide on the new district maps in a special session that's expected to be held in December. And for the first time an independent commission, the citizen redistricting committee or CRC is dedicated to engaging you the public in drafting the maps that will be submitted to lawmakers for consideration. That said the legislature is not required to adopt one of these suggested maps. They can scrap the committee's work and start anew if they choose to. And for the first time in 30 years, the state legislature and the governorship are all controlled by Democrats. And so that’s who will have the power to make the changes if they decide to do that. The CRC is holding public meetings throughout this week, and next on a set of concept maps that they've put together. And this morning, we're going to dig into the new process catching you up with where it's at what's at stake, and answering your questions. With that here are some questions for you. Are you feeling confused about what redistricting is? Or how to engage in the process? Do you have questions about the CRC concept maps? If you do want to take a look at them while you're listening this morning, you can head to the post for this episode of Let's Talk New Mexico. It's at the top of our homepage at kunm.org. We have some links there for you. Are you concerned about gerrymandering in New Mexico? Or do you have opinions about which district you end up in? Tell us why. Give us a call this hour at 505-277-5866. That's 277-KUNM, you can also tweet us with #LetsTalkNM or send us an email at LetsTalk@kunm.org. I'd like to welcome on the phone this morning, Ed Chavez, a former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice and the chair of the seven-member citizen Redistricting Committee. Good morning, Justice Chavez.
Justice Ed Chavez: Good Morning.
Nash Jones: So, we want to help our listeners understand this process so that they feel like they can engage with it. So maybe we can start with defining it. What is redistricting? And why are we doing it now?
Justice Ed Chavez: Every 10 years, the bureau, the Census Bureau takes a snapshot of the populations for every state. And based on those population counts, uh and I should say that it's April 1 of the year ending in zero. So this is a population that existed on April 1, 2020. That's the official count, it's presumed to be accurate, although we know that there can always be some changes. And as a result of the population, we are supposed to take our districts, three congressional 70 house, and 42 Senate districts and divided by the total population so that a representative represent an equal number of people. That's the beginning premise. There's are exceptions,
Nash Jones: Ok, and so you mentioned the districts that are getting redistricted or the bodies that are getting redistricted in New Mexico, which is the state legislature, the US Congress, and the public education commission? What will this mean for our representation in the legislature or in in the US House?
Justice Ed Chavez: Well, because you have population shifts over the course of 10 years, you have people not only coming into New Mexico, maybe New Mexico, you have births, you have deaths, so the populations change in the districts. And we have to equalize the districts as best as we can. And as a result of that, you know, you can wake up one morning, having voted in district 42 and now you're voting in a different district because of the way the lines were drawn. So, it's important for the public to participate, so that we learn what their common needs and interests are to try to keep those communities of interest together as best we can.
Nash Jones: And the 2021 process, this year's redistricting process looks quite a bit different than it has in the past. You've mentioned public participation and that's something that's an emphasis in this year's constructure of redistricting. But before we get into that, I'd like to revisit a little bit about where New Mexico has been when it comes to redistricting. So, what has the process looked like over the past two decades in New Mexico?
Justice Ed Chavez: Well, in the last few decades, the courts ended up drawing the maps. The governor and the legislature were not able to agree so it resulted in litigation. Courts drew the maps, I think they based it primarily on the 1990 maps, but they were drawn by the courts, and it was a Taxpayer Bill about $6 million for attorney fees and costs. So new courts ended up drawing the maps instead of the legislature.
Nash Jones: Gotcha.
(Bit of a mix between Nash and Ed)
Justice Ed Chavez: Go ahead.
Nash Jones: Well, so the Independent Commission that you chaired the citizen Redistricting Committee, it didn't exist before this round of redistricting. It was established by the redistricting Act, which passed just this past January. So, can you break down as opposed to what the process looked like in the past, what your committee's role is in this in this year's round?
Justice Ed Chavez: Yes, this is a seven-member cross-partisan committee. We have the responsibility of holding at least six meetings throughout the state to obtain evidence from the public input about their needs and interest in how they would like to see their district strong. We've already done that, we've gone beyond six meetings, we hold eight meetings, at 11 venues, because we have some satellite venues available to the public to reduce travel time. And we've already been through that process. We've gathered all that information. We have summarized the testimony, we have recordings of all of our meetings that is on our website, nmredistricting.org. You can read the testimony, a summary of the testimony chronologically. That testimony related to congressional districts, House districts, Senate districts, the PEC (Public Education Commission), and we even provide you with information on where you can actually go to listen to the testimony of the individual. That's a requirement that we have that has not existed in the past.
Nash Jones: Fantastic. And we do have those links. If you're interested in seeing some of the public comments and seeing some of the meetings that have happened so far. On our show page at kunm.org, you can find the links there. And so, what are…. tell us a little bit more about the rules that the CRC needs to follow as you draft these maps to propose to the legislature?
Justice Ed Chavez: Sure, we are instructed by the legislature. We're given some very delicate balancing requirements. Number one, for congressional districts, we have to draw them with populations that are as equal as possible or practicable. It's what they stated and really what we've tried to do is make it a 00 deviation, which means you can have up to about 70, people deviation, total deviation. And then we’re told that we have criteria to follow. We cannot use race, for example, as a predominant consideration. On the other hand, we have to protect the minorities voting strength.
Nash Jones: And what does that mean to protect minority voting strength? What does that mean?
Justice Ed Chavez: Well, a protected group, Native American, Hispanic, for example, have, if you can establish that they are in an area that is compact and that they vote, their vote is cohesive, that is they vote as a bloc, and that they are unable to elect a representative of their choice. Because a majority vote as a bloc and is always or usually able to defeat the preference of the minority group, you have to make adjustments in the population so that they are given a fair opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.
Nash Jones: Great and go on. Are there other rules that you all have to be sure that you're following as you're navigating this process?
Justice Ed Chavez: Yes, for the state legislature and the PEC, we are allowed to deviate from the ideal population, keeping in mind that the ideal population is basically an equal amount of people, voters and non-voters alike. And what we are told is that you can deviate for a total of 10%. And the question is, just because you can deviate 10%, does that mean you should deviate? And the answer is no because we have to look at traditional principles. Keep communities of interest together, they have to be contiguous, we have to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which I just described. We can also take into consideration political and geographic boundaries. We can think about preserving cores of existing districts so that there's not a disruption, but we have some prohibitions as well.
Nash Jones: Yeah. And what are those receipts?
Justice Ed Chavez: Well, we cannot split precincts, for example, we can't dilute minority voting strength, race cannot be a predominant factor, we cannot even look at partisan data while we are drawing our maps, except to look to see if we are complying with the Voting Rights Act. We can look at incumbent addresses to avoid pairing. We're gonna be required to pair if other districting principles dominate it.
Nash Jones: And so, you cannot use partisan performance data when making these decisions about where to draw the lines. You mentioned the word contiguous. I'm not sure if that's something that all of our listeners understand. And that’s a term that you hear a lot when you're looking into redistricting. What does that mean?
Justice Ed Chavez: Well, you cannot have a district that is two islands. I think that's the best way to visualize it. They have to connect to make one whole district.
Nash Jones: And why is that important when it comes to a district.
Justice Ed Chavez: We look at compactness and continuity for a couple of reasons. And the main reason is because you want to make sure that your representative can stay in continuous contact with their constituents and not have to, you know, leave the district while they are trying to go out and meet with their constituency.
Nash Jones: That makes sense. We do have a caller on the line. Maria of Albuquerque is calling and wanted to talk about the importance of redistricting. Good morning, Maria. Do we have you on the line?
Caller: Oh, yeah, this is me.
Nash Jones: Hi. Good morning.
Caller: I'm here. Awesome.
Nash Jones: Thanks for calling in.
Caller: I don't remember who I just talked to you. I was just listening to let's talk New Mexico.
Nash Jones: Yeah, you're on the air with let's talk New Mexico, what would you like to talk about with your district?
Caller: Yay. My name is Meara, Elaine, Brooklyn. Thank you for letting me say my full name.
Nash Jones: Of course, of course. What would you like to share? Of course, what would you like to talk about when it comes to redistricting?
Caller: I would like to talk about the concept of gerrymandering, and what it started as. I'm 27 years old, I consider myself a local to Albuquerque, New Mexico. And I'm just trying to live here on my own with government assistance. And I have never been through boarding school. But I've worked in them. And I know that there's a lot of kids in New Mexico that had to go to boarding school in one shape or another. And I was very grateful that I had parents that never sent me away. Before I was 18. And that's, of course, their business and not mine. But, however, I just want to reinforce the concept of gerrymandering. And that is just another form of saying redistricting.
Nash Jones: And what are your thoughts on gerrymandering?
Caller: My thoughts on gerrymandering, just being what I consider a New Mexico native is that it can be very, very, very, very hurtful to at least who I consider to be locals of my hometown, because of misinformation that they were given when they were younger.
Nash Jones: Thank you, Maria, thank you for calling in and sharing your experience and your thoughts on gerrymandering. Justice Chavez, as the chair of the Citizen Redistricting Committee, can you break down for those who are listening right now and maybe be unfamiliar with the term gerrymandering? What is that?
Justice Ed Chavez: It’s basically reaching out to different population areas so that you can favor a political party or favor a particular group of people. Race, like I told you, race cannot be a predominant factor. And so, you don't want to go out and draw districts in a way that you're reaching out intentionally creating these really goofy-looking maps that just bring in large populations to gerrymander to give power where power is unfair.
Nash Jones: I see, thank you. Thanks for breaking that down. This morning, we are talking about the 2021 redistricting process in New Mexico. The Citizen Redistricting Committee is taking public comment on concepts of the maps that it will recommend to the state legislators for consideration. You can check those maps out on today's show page at kunm.org and call in with your thoughts or your questions. The phone lines are open, and we have justice Ed Chavez on the line, the chair of the Citizen Redistricting Committee. If you have questions about their process, call in 505-277-5866 That's 277-KUNM. If you'd prefer to tweet at us it's #LetsTalkNM. This is let's talk New Mexico on 89.9 KUNM. I'm Nash Jones we'll be right back.
Nash Jones: Welcome back to Let's Talk New Mexico. I'm Nash Jones. And our focus today is breaking down the redistricting process which is underway here in New Mexico. It's a once-in-a-decade process and this year more than any other you the public, is being called on to shape the maps. Do you have ideas about where you would like district lines to be drawn for the US Congress here in New Mexico? Give us a call, 505-277-5866. That's 277 KUNM. We're also on Twitter with #LetsTalkNM. We are joined this morning by Justice Ed Chavez Chair of the Citizen Redistricting Committee at the moment. And so, we were just before the break talking a bit about gerrymandering. And I'd like to use that to kind of transition into the conversation about the fact that the CRC, the committee that you chair, Justice Chavez is an advisory role, and that is that the legislature does not have to choose one of your committee's maps. Do you see that as a problem? Would you have preferred that lawmakers were required to adopt one of your maps that is being created without partisan data?
Justice Ed Chavez: Personally, the answer is yes. I worked on a taskforce I was a co-chair with Rod Kennedy. And we chaired a task force and we actually swung for the fences and tried to get legislation that would give complete authority to a Citizens Redistricting Committee to decide the district boundaries. The legislature concluded that that raised constitutional issues, so we went to an advisory committee. I think it's a better approach. We're actually getting out there getting public input, summarizing that public input. We've drawn maps, based on the public input that we have already received. We put those maps out there for the public to review and comment on and we're going to have another round of eight meetings, summarize that testimony. And on October 15, actually, adopt three maps for each district actually a minimum of three maps, we might send up more than three for Congress, the State House and State Senate, or the PEC to the legislature. We expect to give them maps that are compliant with federal law, state law, excuse me, and that do not dilute the voting strength of a minority group. And we also have to provide them…. provide the legislature with a written evaluation of every map we submit. And part of that evaluation is a partisan fairness evaluation. So, this is really unheard of. It's something that it's very, it's a very transparent process. Because what we do, we do publicly, and what we recommend to the legislature has to have a written evaluation that explains how we preserved communities of interest. We did not dilute the voting strength of the minority group, how we complied with one person, one vote, constitutional requirement, etc. So, it's, this is a really good process. Would I have preferred that the committee have the full authority? Yeah, that's a personal preference. And if the voters liked that concept that would require a constitutional amendment is and is what would be required and that could go on the ballot one of these years.
Nash Jones: And so that would go on the ballot for voters to make decisions on if that is something that they want in future redistricting processes. Again, this happens every 10 years. And so maybe there's time between now in 10 years from now, where that conversation can be had. We do have a caller on the line, Rochelle, who would like to speak a little bit more on this conversation about preserving minority voting strength. Good morning, Rochelle.
Caller Rochelle: Good morning.
Nash Jones: What would you like to talk about?
Caller Rochelle: Well, I had heard him mention that one of the goals is to preserve minority voting strength. But I also heard that they're not supposed to take race into consideration. I'm curious if I were sitting down and looking at the data, one of the dimensions I would look at would be race. So how do you make sure you do both of those things?
Nash Jones: Great question. Justice Chavez, how do you do both of those things, preserve minority voting strength, but also not be considering race in the process? Or did Rochelle misunderstand that?
Justice Ed Chavez: That is the very delicate balancing requirement that the United States Supreme Court has imposed on states, is you can use race to protect a group of minorities right to elect a representative of their choice, or the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice. But you can't make it the predominating factor. So how do you try to balance that? Well, you look at the racial group turnout and what you want to do is you want to narrowly limit how you accomplish the goal of not diluting their voting strength. And the way we do that, I think is with deviations, we can deviate from the population, up to 10%. We, as a committee have chosen to try to do this with a plus or minus 5% deviation because that is historically how things have been done in New Mexico. And if you are effective, with a plus or minus 5%. That's, that's a good way to demonstrate that you have actually narrowly tailored the protection of the voting groups. The question that we ask is, can the CRC recommend maps that are compact, that do not dilute a protected minorities voting strength, that are partisan fair, while preserving communities of interest, with the smallest population deviation possible, so that representatives pretty much represent a similar amount of populations?
Nash Jones: Thank you for bringing that down, Justice Chavez, your process around preserving minority voting strength as you're contemplating where to draw the lines for new district maps across New Mexico that you'll be recommending to the state legislature. I'd like to keep you on the line if I can as I welcome our next guest to the show. I want to bring on Casey Douma, the co-chair of the All Pueblo Council of Governors Redistricting Committee. Good morning, Casey. Casey, do I have you on the line?
Casey Douma: Yes. Good morning.
Nash Jones: Good morning. So, the All Pueblo Council of Governors represents the state's 19 pueblos. How has the All Pueblo Council of Governors been engaging in the redistricting process?
Casey Douma: Good morning, thank you for allowing me on this morning. The All Pueblo Council of Governors has been very engaged in the redistricting process. This has been an ongoing process for at least several… about four months now with many intense discussions with Pueblo leadership on the types of districts that would allow them to have the opportunity to let candidates of their choice. The Pueblos have engaged in redistricting, not only in this cycle but as well as the 2011 cycle where the Pueblos as well as Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache merged together, to formulate the coalition to present maps that allow them to have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. So, the public had been very much engaged in this process, very attentive to the process since the beginning.
Nash Jones: And so, you have a goal of ensuring that the Pueblos and tribal nations across New Mexico can elect candidates of their choosing. You have developed your own maps as a committee and submitted them to the citizen redistricting committee that Justice Chavez chairs. What issues unique to the Pueblos and redistricting across tribal lands did your committee consider when you were making your maps?
Casey Douma: So as we look at the history of Native American voting within the state of New Mexico,, we can understand that there's been a history of being denied equal access to the political process. So, the Pueblos see redistricting as a means to correct that, to remedy that situation. So being very engaged in creating these districts that would maximize Native American voting power is one of the central goals. Also, very important in this process is the importance of self-determination when it comes to a tribe being able to determine what's best for its community. And so, tribal leadership has weighed in very heavily on how the districts are formed, the types of communities that are within these districts, there has been a very important cross governing approach to this process that the governors of the Pueblos Jicarilla Apache nation, as well as Mescalero Apache Nation, Navajo Nation that really look thoroughly, and it's very precinct by precinct analysis. One to help them protect sacred sites, areas that are very important and significant to our communities that may fall outside the reservation, as well as looking at the types of access, to representation that can reflect their values. There are a lot of issues that happened in the state legislature and in Congress that oftentimes are easy to neglect as far as tribal issues. But if these districts can be designed in a way that provides the type of representation that's necessary, there's gonna be a lot of issues, that the representatives from these districts will be able to champion, a lot of issues that can be put forth in a way that can increase our access to the political process. So that's one of the very important aspects of this process.
Nash Jones: And you mentioned protecting sacred sites as an example of an issue that tribal governments are concerned with when it comes to their districts. Can you break down an example of a sacred landscape that was protected through redistricting in past rounds? And why it is that the redistricting process would even have an effect on a pueblo's ability to protect a sacred landscape?
Casey Douma: Yes, in 2011, during the redistricting process, one of the focal points for many of the Pueblos was Mt. Taylor, located there and Cibola County, having very significant meaning to many of the Pueblos throughout the state. And the redistricting process at that time, also correlated with a time period where there was a huge amount of interest in uranium mining in the Mount Taylor area. And so, as part of this process, the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, the Navajo Nation really wanted to make sure a district that they belonged to contained Mount Taylor within it. So that way, whoever represented that district would understand and be able to respond to those issues as they came before the state legislature, they would find an advocate within that representative. And so redistricting was very much a part of including Mount Taylor in an area in a district that contained Acoma, Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Zuni Pueblo, and Navajo Nation. And we saw through this process, the political divisiveness of trying to have others that would attempt to separate Mount Taylor from the Pueblos in order to have that leverage when it came to working on any type of uranium issues. So, it can become very divisive. And this process that's in place, protecting the minority voting power from being diluted is one of the central figures that we really rely upon to secure these types of districts.
Nash Jones: Thank you. And you've mentioned that your committee with the All Pueblo Council of Governors has advocated with the CRC about the maps that you would like to see. And it's important to note that the CRC, the Citizen Redistricting Committee of the state, importantly, does not have any Native American representation on it, and that you've been calling for meaningful tribal consultation throughout this process. So, I might ask Justice Chavez, who's still on the line, the chair of that committee, how your committee has been engaging Pueblo leadership in this process, and what it looks like to engage in meaningful tribal consultation as a committee.
Justice Ed Chavez: To begin with the legislation requires that we have one meeting on tribal lands. Well, the committee voted to do more than that. We are having two meetings on tribal lands yesterday; we were in Crown Point. We'll be back at the end in Pueblo Cultural Center next week, and so we're reaching out in that passion. I've been in contact with representatives of the Navajo Nation, as well as the Pueblos. And I think we're keeping the dialogue open. We've spent a good day getting testimony during the first round of meetings at the cultural center. And so, we're taking all that information, we've seen what they've drawn, we've made our effort at drawing a map that would accommodate their voting strength. And now we just have to get more public input, including from the Pueblos and Apaches and Navajo Nation so that we can do our best to protect your voting strength.
Nash Jones: And then in the public council of governors have created consensus maps with their redistricting committee and submitted them through the public comment portal where anyone in the public including those of you listening right now can create your own district maps or your own maps of your community and submit them for the CRC consideration. The All Pueblo Council of governors Redistricting Committee has done that work. Are you considering adding more maps to the concepts that you've released that are kind of at the center of this week's public comment meetings? And if so, are you considering including those public consensus maps? And what would need to happen for those to be included in the concepts that you all have laid out as a commission?
Justice Ed Chavez: The concepts we have laid out are subject to change, subject to revision. We've asked the public to take a look at them, give us their input. We just recently received the, I guess the consensus pueblo, Apache maps if I'm not mistaken, includes the Apache’s. And we have just yesterday saw some proposals from the Navajo Nation. So yes, we are taking all those into consideration if we wanted to move one or both forward, we could. I think the Navajo nation's maps differ from the Pueblos maps; I haven't really focused on the details of how they differ. Ultimately, we would prefer that the Navajo Nation, the Apache, and the Pueblos reach a complete consensus on what they are thinking for their maps. And if not, you know, we have an obligation to submit a minimum of three maps to the legislature and we could either submit maps and incorporate the Navajo Nation analysis, the Pueblo Apache analysis, and an independent map that is our best shot at trying to reconcile their maps.
Nash Jones: Yeah, well, okay, Casey Douma, who's on the line, I'd like to ask Casey, is that possibility, reaching consensus across the Pueblo maps that you all have created as well as those that just came in from the Navajo Nation?
Casey Douma: Yes, yes. That's the ultimate goal. I think that's where we continue to work as part of this process is, as you heard any other consensus built between the Pueblos, the Jicarilla Apache, and the Mescalero Apache. The ongoing effort, we see the success of when there is an overall consensus on how important that is. And so that's continued to be the goal. And if you can imagine the amount of effort to obtain the Pueblo consensus as well as Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache maps that's meeting with over 22 plus tribes, their leadership, their councils, so it's a very intensive process.
Nash Jones: Quite an undertaking.
Casey Douma: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Nash Jones: We do have a question here on Twitter from Krista. Krista says I live in Albuquerque’s North Valley. And for 20 years, I see the North Valley and the South Valley residents lose their vote because we are lumped in with people who live on the west side in a much different housing and cultural perspective. Can the valleys be put together into one district? I think that question might be best posed to justice Chavez. Is it possible that the north and south valleys of Albuquerque could be districted together?
Justice Ed Chavez: We've had similar comments during the first round of meetings. And I think if you look at some of our concepts that you will see that we have done our best, made our best effort to separate basically the west side from the valley.
Nash Jones: Okay.
Justice Ed Chavez: And so, we're looking at that.
Nash Jones: Yeah, Krista, so go ahead and get on kunm.org on the let's talk New Mexico page, and you will see some of these concept maps. And as Justice Chavez said, there are some considerations around doing just that. And again, you can also take a look at the All Pueblo Council of Governors Redistricting Committee maps at kunm.org. We have them linked on the page of today's show. If you have comments about them, you can also submit those through the online public comment portal Districtr, where you will be viewing those maps where the links lead you to. I want to thank Casey Douma, co-chair of the redistricting committee for the public council of Governors for joining us this morning. Thank you, Casey, for sharing your perspective.
Casey Douma: Thank you
And this morning, we are talking about New Mexico's redistricting process. Decisions that are made this year will impact the state and your representation in the Roundhouse and US Congress for the next decade. We want to hear your thoughts on how you'd like these maps to look and how you'd like the legislature to navigate the proposals from the Citizen Redistricting Committee. Our phone lines are still open, you can call us at 505-277-5866, this is let's talk New Mexico. I'm Nash Jones. We'll be back in a minute.
Nash Jones: You're listening to Let's Talk New Mexico here on 89.9 KUNM. I'm Nash Jones. We're talking redistricting this morning and we want to hear your thoughts. Do you have concerns about how New Mexico is structured the process this time around? Do you have ethical concerns about the process? Let us know at 277-KUNM, that's where you call in to get live on the show this morning. 505-277-5866. We are joined this morning by Justice Ed Chavez, chair of the Citizen Redistricting Committee, which is charged with proposing maps to the state legislature and as well as Kathleen Burke on the line. I want to welcome Kathleen Burke coordinator of fair districts for New Mexico, a program of the League of Women Voters advocating for a fair and legitimate 2021 redistricting process and working to make sure that you the public is engaged and has it say good morning, Kathleen.
Kathleen Burke: Good morning, Nash.
Nash Jones: So fair districts for New Mexico advocated for the legislature to create the Independent Commission that Judge Chavez chairs to lead the redistricting process. Why was it important to create an independent commission to create a more fair process?
Kathleen Burke: Well, because prior to this year, redistricting has been arguably, extremely unfair throughout the history of the state since territorial times. And so, because it is has been so unfair, The League of Women Voters among other organizations felt that it was time for us to try to push this movement forward to have a fair redistricting process. And really, the only way to do that was at this stage of the game this year was to create the Citizens Redistricting Committee, which would advise the legislature. Now, there were other ways that this could have been done but considering time constraints and considering the way that our government in New Mexico is organized. This happened to be the best way forward.
Nash Jones: And what has Fair Districts for New Mexico's role been since the redistricting Act passed and the CRC his work has gotten underway?
Kathleen Burke: We've been primarily involved in the latter three quarters of this year with promoting the CRC work and getting the message out to the community that the community of the entire state that that participation is welcomed, that voices are welcomed, that in order for the CRC to succeed in its job that we need the public to participate. Just like the members of the CRC must do their job in fully participating in the process. We also need ourselves, the community to participate by attending meetings, submitting map drawings of our own commenting on map drawings. And generally, just making our voices heard because that's eventually how we do get to a fair process. It's people who care about their districts, people who care about their communities have to make those cares known to the CRC.
Nash Jones: And if you want to make your cares known about your district or your community and make sure that the CRC is aware that your community exists, that you have similar interests as those who live in your area, and where those lines should be drawn to make sure that your community doesn't get split up across districts, you can find links on kunm.org, you can find the show page at the top of the page. And there's links to submit your own map on the portal that's called districtr where you can kind of draw your own map and mess with those lines. And it gives you a lot of data around population and what that map that you are submitting, whether it's lawful and whether it kind of conforms to those principles of redistricting. You also can attend either virtually or in-person, public meetings that are happening this week and next week across the state. And you don't have to go to the one that's in your region of the state either. There's a schedule of those meetings on kunm.org. You can attend by zoom or you can attend in person, you can also mail in your comments on your district or mailing a map to the CRC if getting online isn't accessible for you. Kathleen, as a watchdog group, what are some of the ethical concerns related to redistricting that persists despite reform in New Mexico? That is, we have this reform Justice Chavez said earlier he feels like it's a better process, though, the CRC remains in an advisory-only role. What are some of those ethical concerns that the public as they're continuing to watch this process as the Maps get into the to the Roundhouse, that we should all be keeping our eye out for?
Kathleen Burke: Yes, well, thank you, Nash, some of the larger ethical concerns would be issues around race. We need to make sure that there is not what's called packing and cracking happening, that all races in New Mexico have some sort of voice, particularly the predominating races have, are not marginalized through redistricting. And there has been questions about that in the past and there is truly a history of that happening here in our state. So, there's that. There's also very big on our list right now is the concept of incumbency protection and preventing that from continuing to be the case in our state. Because incumbency protection hurts the progress of a state in the long run.
Nash Jones: Can you break that down. What is incumbency Protection? Can you just break that term down real quick?
Kathleen Burke: Sure. Happy to. So, incumbency protection is just as it sounds, that is when the incumbent elected officials are protected via redistricting. So, the lines, because incumbents currently get to draw their own districts, excuse me, then they have the opportunity to draw the districts in a way which favors their own chances of being reelected.
Nash Jones: I see, so they kind of dilute the competition in their district by drawing the lines in a certain way, or they could even draw out, draw out their competition out of the district.
Kathleen Burke: That's right. That's right. There are certainly cases of that happening. So, for example, if my neighbor, Natalie Sanchez, wants to run for office and the incumbent knows that Natalie Sanchez wants to compete in this race, the incumbent could essentially draw her house into another district, so that she cannot compete. There are clear instances of that happening in the United States. And New Mexico does have a strong history of incumbency protection, which prevents new faces, new people, new ideas getting into the legislature. So those are some of the big ones on our list. And of course, there are more. Redistricting is a giant topic, but these are some of those.
Nash Jones: Yeah, and that's why we're trying to break down the process this morning. It is a complex process. And we want to make sure that those of you listening who are interested in engaging, feel like it's an accessible process that you can start to do that. We do have a call on the line from Barbara, who I believe has a question for Justice Chavez. Good morning, Barbara. What would you like to share this morning?
Caller Barbara: Hi, yes, I'm I really am excited that we have this opportunity, and I thank the judge for stepping up to do this job. It seems like New Mexico is being fairly open, although, as Kathleen just pointed out, there are these you know, it's an advisory group and incumbents still have they still have the final say, basically. But I'm sort of curious about what the judge thinks in the way of the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act at the federal level by the supremacist court. And I'm curious as to what he feels are the most important aspects of the Voting Rights Act and how we can protect the whole process at the federal level, from interfering with what happens in New Mexico since it still seems to be a political process. To a large degree anyway, that's my question. I hope I made it clear.
Nash Jones: I think so. And Justice Chavez, thoughts on the Voting Rights Act and how it impacts our process here in New Mexico.
Justice Ed Chavez: I think the Voting Rights Act, Section two still has application, you cannot dilute the voting strength of a protected minority group. So, New Mexico is going to apply that we buy by statute and by federal law, it still applies and has to do so. And that is our plan. That's our effort. And what's important about it, again, is that if you have a minority population in a compact area, that votes cohesively that is they vote as a bloc, they try to elect candidates of their choice, but they cannot because the majority also vote as a bloc and can usually defeat the candidate of the minorities choice, then you have to make adjustments in the voting age population so that you increase the opportunity for the minority group to elect a representative of their choice. Despite the fact that the US Supreme Court may not be looking at certain gerrymandering issues, the state of New Mexico will continue to do so. I do not see our courts refusing state courts refusing to look at maps and whether or not they are gerrymandered. Look at them just to determine whether or not they comply with law.
Nash Jones: We do have a comment from Julie on email this morning. Who's asking if there is a way for the maps to break down the districts by number and have clear boundaries marks such as freeways in the rivers, that Julie saying it's hard to tell how specific boundaries have shifted by district, particularly with the broad maps. Julie, if you are looking at the citizen redistricting committee website where the concepts are all laid out. Underneath each map, there is a districtr link, you can click that link and it will bring the map up in districts and that way you can zoom all the way in and bring in some different boundaries and things like the river in the freeway, you'll be able to see that. Thank you for taking that question Justice Chavez and Kathleen Burke, Program Coordinator with Fair Districts for New Mexico. Thank you so much for coming on the show this morning.
Kathleen Burke: Thank you, Nash.
Nash Jones: And you can find more from Fair Districts for New Mexico on the show page at kunm.org. You'll see that colorful map at the top of our homepage. That's where you go to find that out. We are working towards the end of the hour this morning. I want to be sure to get time to talk with Dede Feldman. Dede is a former state senator and author of the book, 10 More Doors: Politics and the Path to Change. Good morning to you Dede.
Dede Feldman: Good morning, Nash.
Nash Jones: So now you were serving in the legislature and involved in both the 2011 and 2001 redistricting processes. While this year's process is a bit different, as we've been talking about all hour, once the citizen redistricting committees' work is done and the lawmakers begin their process, it does have the potential to look quite similar to how it has in the past. So, can you just briefly break down, what is the legislative process for deciding on the new maps? What are the legislators going to go through in terms of a process once they get these suggested maps in the CRC?
Dede Feldman: Well, this year the legislature has some guidance and a rough draft to work from. The Citizens Committee has done the hard work of soliciting public comment and putting down some of those ideas on paper. So, the legislature this time will have the final word on how these lines are drawn and hence how resources are allocated in our state for the next 10 years. But it will have to really take seriously these maps, which have gotten a great deal of public participation and I want to applaud Justice Chavez for the amount of public participation this committee has elicited. And I think that they, I think that they ignore them at their own risk.
Nash Jones: Do you think that public scrutiny will be increased? Because so many more people are involved in the process this time around?
Dede Feldman: Yes, yes, there's already been 1000s, who have listened into these hearings, much more so than public participation in 2001, and 2011, which was essentially a process that was done before a few committees in the special session of the legislature. And then the final decisions were made by the leadership, by the Democratic and the Republican caucuses coming to a compromise and then passing a bill embodying that compromise. And in both cases, both decades, that compromise was, was vetoed by the governor. And so finally, the courts, courts ended up deciding but it's important to know that the courts base their decision on the maps that have been submitted by both the legislature and this time, I think they'll be looking at the Citizens Committee as well.
Nash Jones: And can lawmakers have these conversations? You know, you're we're talking about some, you know, public scrutiny as the public is engaging and watching what the lawmakers are doing. But they can have these conversations behind closed doors. What has that looked like in past redistricting? Are these conversations amongst lawmakers, they're happening in caucus, no? So, in secret?
Dede Feldman: Mostly. Caucuses are not open to the public in the New Mexico legislature. In some states they are, but in New Mexico, they are not and so, this is where you get it down to the nitty-gritty of swapping precincts, what precincts should be in your district, what precincts should be in the neighboring district. And as Kathleen mentioned, this is the time when legislators can exclude potential opponents from their districts either in the primary or the general. And so that's something that really goes against the idea of voters picking their leaders rather than the leaders picking their voters, which I think is something that the general public in a democracy really agrees on.
Nash Jones: That's right. So that's a nice way to phrase it right there. We're looking at creating a fair process where voters are picking their lawmakers and not lawmakers picking the voters who elect them. You can engage with this process that Dede Feldman is referring to. Head to kunm.org to find links to how you can attend public meetings all this week and next. As well as engaging online by submitting your own maps. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks for everyone who called in and to each of our guests; Justice Ed Chavez, Former Senator Dede Feldman, who you just heard from, Kathleen Burke with Fair Districts for New Mexico, and Casey Douma with the Pueblo Council of Governors Redistricting Committee. We can keep the conversation going on Twitter with #LetsTalkNM and I know we weren't able to get to everyone's comments so let's do that. If you miss part of the show, you can stream it online or subscribe to the podcast. We'll have the show posted on this episode's page at kunm.org shortly here, along with a list of resources that were mentioned throughout the hour and don't forget the CRC is holding meetings this week and next throughout the state looking to hear what you think about the map concepts that they've put forward before they head to the legislature at kunm.org Thanks to our hard-working team, our engineers Marino Spencer, Kaveh Mowahed screened your calls and subbed in for me on Morning Edition earlier today. And the live-tweeting was done by Robert Maldonado. Megan Kamerick produced today's show. I'm Nash Jones. This is let's talk New Mexico on KUNM.
- KUNM 2021 redistricting coverage
- Citizen Redistricting Committee website
- Concept maps for public consideration
- All Pueblo Council of Governors' proposed House map, Senate map, and Congressional map
- Districtr public comment portal to submit map concepts or comments
- CRC public comment meeting schedule (both in-person and virtual attendance available)
- CRC meeting live stream and 2021 meeting archive from New Mexico PBS
- New Mexico 2011 redistricting litigation documents
This public service is part of our #YourNMGov project, in collaboration with KUNM radio. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.