SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Efforts to shore up Native American political influence in New Mexico through the redistricting process got a boost on Thursday as legislators advanced a state Senate map that incorporates consensus recommendations from an array of Indigenous communities.
A Senate redistricting bill from Democratic state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque cleared its first hurdle with a 6-3 committee endorsement. A second committee review for the bill is scheduled before a possible Senate floor vote.
The map includes recommendations for the heavily Indigenous northwestern region of the state that are endorsed by the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe and New Mexico’s 19 Indigenous pueblos. The region ceded population to the rest of the state over the past decade, threatening to dilute Native American influence in key state legislative districts.
Keegan King, an Acoma Pueblo member and co-chairman of a major Indigenous redistricting alliance, urged lawmakers to back the proposal.
“It upholds the principles of the Voting Rights Act,” King told the panel of state lawmakers. “These maps have been crafted with true tribal consultation and in collaboration with communities across our state. They have the support and blessing of the sovereign tribal nations.”
In three of the districts, Native Americans would account for at least 62% of the voting-age population.
Two additional districts would be roughly 35% Native American each, ensuring significant influence in elections.
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One of those proposed “influence” districts has undergone substantial changes to unite Indigenous residents of Zuni, Laguna, Acoma and Isleta pueblos across a sprawling swath of the state. In the process it would pair two Republican incumbents in the same district.
“I hope that wasn’t intentional or partisan in nature,” said Republican Senate minority leader Greg Baca of Belen, who could be paired against GOP Sen. Joseph Sanchez in future elections in the proposal.
Baca and Republican colleagues lamented that none of the maps recommended by a citizens advisory board have been translated directly into proposed legislation.
New Mexico adopted an advisory board to vet maps proposals at public meetings. State lawmakers have the final say in a hybrid approach designed to temper political inclinations.
“We empowered a body to produce maps, and we have yet to see any one of those maps,” Baca said.
The proposed Senate political map also pairs two incumbent Democrats in a single Albuquerque-based district.
Separately Thursday, two Native American communities voiced opposition to a congressional redistricting plan that would extend the state’s traditionally Democratic northern 3rd District into a conservative oil-producing region of the state.
Lobbyist Conroy Chino, representing the Indigenous communities of Taos Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo, said that the Democratic-backed redistricting proposal would have a negative influence on political representation for the two tribes.
Despite the criticism, the congressional redistricting bill from Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes and Rep. Georgene Louis advanced Thursday toward a Senate floor vote, with a 6-3 endorsement by the judiciary committee.
The proposal would alter the political panorama in the 3rd Congressional District for incumbent Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, wrapping more politically conservative voters into the traditionally Democratic district and diluting Native American representation.
Chino also noted a close relationship between Taos and Acoma pueblos and Leger Fernandez, a first term congresswoman an attorney with lengthy experience on Indigenous issues and projects.
“Under this current iteration the number of Native Americans in congressional District 3 gets reduced down from 20% to 16%,” Chino said. “And the tribes that I represent feel that will have an impact when it comes to their interests at the congressional level, they will have competing interests from where they sit in the state with, perhaps, the southeastern part of the state.”
The redistricting plan would break up a conservative stronghold in the state’s southeastern oil production zone into multiple congressional districts, a proposal that has generated protests from Republicans holding the legislative minority and from oil industry representatives.
The plan would also bolster a Hispanic majority in New Mexico’s southern 2nd Congressional District by extending its boundaries into Albuquerque.