Judge’s ruling means a more competitive N.M. House

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The Roundhouse in Santa Fe (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe (Photo by Heath Haussamen)

A judge’s decision to side with Gov. Susana Martinez in redistricting of state House seats is certainly a win for Republicans, but it’s arguably more significant as a loss for Democrats.

The Democratic judge, James A. Hall, ruled Tuesday in favor of Martinez’s plan, saying it’s better because it protects Native American-majority districts while changing districts less than other plans.

The critical quote from Hall’s ruling about the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s plan, which Martinez vetoed and Hall rejected, states that it “contains significant population deviations between districts which are not justified by historically significant state policy or unique features.”

Hall wrote that Martinez’s plan, on the other hand, “properly places the highest priority on population equality and compliance with the Voting Rights Act as required by law.”

Republicans gained significant ground in the state House in 2010. The current makeup is 36 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent, making it the closest Republicans have been to political balance in the House in more than eight decades.

The Legislature’s redistricting plan would have shifted the advantage back toward Democrats. Martinez proposed a plan that shifts things more to the right, but not as much as the legislative plan shifted things in the other direction.

So Hall backed Martinez’s plan. Imagine if Democrats had proposed a plan that shifted the balance in their direction less than Martinez’s did toward the GOP.

You can read Hall’s ruling here. You can view the new districts here, the old districts here for comparison, and find all plans that were proposed here.

Some districts gain Rs, some gain Ds, some gain independents

Democrats were quick to express outrage over Hall’s ruling.

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“We are disappointed that the court is siding with the governor as she rigs districts to protect Republican incumbents and ignores several key factors including incredible growth in Las Cruces,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in a news release sent out by the state Democratic Party. The Dems promised to seek legal avenues to fight the ruling.

But the governor’s plan doesn’t “rig” districts to protect all Republican incumbents. It certainly improves things for some: The makeup of the district represented by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, for example, shifts under the plan Hall approved from 52 percent Democratic and 31 percent Republican to 50-34.

But the district of Los Lunas Republican David Chavez shifts from 47 percent Democratic to 49 percent and from 35 percent Republican to 32. The district of Rep. David Doyle, R-Albuquerque, shifts from 43 percent Democratic to 44, and from 39 percent Republican to 38.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Mimi Stewart’s Albuquerque-area district shifts from 47 percent Democratic to 48, and from 30 percent Republican to 26, with independents gaining 2 percentage points.

That points to something interesting I saw as I looked at key districts: Independents gained because their numbers have increased in the last decade. In Southern New Mexico, for example, the district of the House’s only independent, Andy Nuñez from Hatch, goes from 50 percent Democratic, 31 percent Republican and 16 percent independent to 48-30-19. The district of Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces, goes from 43-36-18 to 42-35-20. The district of Rep. Rick Little, R-Las Cruces, goes from 41-35-21 to 41-32-25.

Unfamiliar territory for Democrats

To be clear, Republicans should be happy. In the 2004 election, President Bush won 36 of the House districts that existed at the time. Under the plan Hall approved, Bush would have won 39.

But what the plan really means is a more competitive House, with fewer safe incumbents from both parties.

That’s what Martinez sought.

“This plan does not favor one party over the other and instead ensures competitive districts that will allow New Mexicans to determine who represents them in the House,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

Maybe Martinez truly believes in more competitive districts and fewer safe incumbents, regardless of party. Maybe she was simply smarter than Democrats and sought to gerrymander districts less than they did.

Either way, the Democrats lost big on this one. Assuming that Hall’s ruling stands, the N.M. House will be more evenly split over the next decade, and fewer incumbents from both parties will be safe.

And that is unfamiliar territory for Democrats who have safely controlled the House for more than eight decades.

Comments

  1. jmaxb7 says:

    Check out my announcement for new (relocated) house district 68 here: http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=322678837762800&id=100000620601423

  2. wedum59 says:

    jUNMs, The SE portion did lose HD 57, which was moved from [Chaves, Lincoln, Otero] to Sandoval county.  Here in Otero county we are now split up into 4 HDs instead of 6, which is good, IMHO.  On to the Senate!

  3. DAVID says:

    Maybe the Judge thought the Democrats approach was arrogant. 

  4. D Foley says:

    This is a HUGE victory for Governor Martinez.  It only highlights the partisan nature of the Democrat controlled Legislature.  This ruling comes from a Santa Fe Judge that nobody would say is a conservative!  The tide is changing in NM and the people are tired of single party rule for over 70+ years.  If Ben Lujan and the other out of touch Liberals would have taken the time to listen during the session this entire trial could have been prevented and saved tax payers money. 

    In the end with the Judges ruling the Democrats and the Lawyers that were hired to consult the NM Legislature should be ashamed of what they did.  The Lawyers who tried to represent both the Democrats and the Republicans working for the Legislative Council should be ashamed of their conflict of interest and their inability to advise their “Democrat” clients, the taxpayers should seek a refund from those attorneys who clearly exhibited “situational ethics” by trying to play both sides of the issue.

  5. Dr. J says:

    The judge made a surprisingly good ruling here.  I particularly liked the ruling on the LULAC challenge and his explanation showing the facts to totally destroy their case.  This ruling and the objectivity and fairness shown, as well as the fact based discussion and explanation by the judge gives me great hope the judiciary in NM has at least entered the 20th century.

  6. Qui Tam says:

    It is refreshing to see Republicans such as Secretary Dianna Duran and Governor Susanna Martinez clean up New Mexico’s abyssmal record of desicrating the Voting Rights Act. I particularly like the fact that this is is being done by woman who not so long ago didn’t even get to vote in the United States.

    Hillary Clinton for Vice President!

  7. justaUNMstudent says:

    What truly matter is the population.  What i dont like about the Martinez plan is it protect the eastern part of the state.  That part of the state should have lost 2 seat, and they should have been moved to the west side of albuquerque and part of Las Cruces.  But sadly the district just got shifted towards the center of state.  

    Albuquerque, LC, and SF and RR are responsible for 65% of the population in the state.  These four cities should have 65% of the legislative districts, but just like years before, the rural districts begin to stretch hundreds of miles just to pick up population.  Martinez simple followed the Fifth floor on this one, and did not stand up for the people.  

    We are quickly becoming and urban state it is time our legislature reflected this.   

  8. FreddyV, I expect that Hall’s ruling will stand. But we’ll see.

  9. FreddyV says:

    Heath, what happens from here? You wrote that some who are unhappy with the new map have “promised to seek legal avenues to fight the ruling.” But what would those avenues be? Since the Governor is issuing the election proclamation on January 30th, doesn’t that mean the districts have to be in place by then?

    Thanks for the good reporting you do.