Pueblo map seeks to spread power, but Republicans fear loss of New Mexico House seat

by Gwyneth Doland, New Mexico In Depth | October 13, 2021
8 min read
Nineteen Pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache have proposed this consensus map showing how they agree New Mexico's Congressional districts should be redrawn. On Friday the Citizens Redistricting Committee will consider all public input before sending its recommended map choices to the state legislature.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published today by New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

New Mexico’s inaugural use of a nonpartisan committee in the once-a-decade political tradition that will reshape state elections for the next 10 years could mark a milestone on Oct. 15.

This Friday, at a public meeting from 1 to 7 p.m., the seven-member committee created by state lawmakers earlier this year is scheduled to select maps that would redraw the boundaries of  legislative and Congressional political districts and send them on to New Mexico’s 112 state lawmakers. [Editor’s Note: Click here for details about how to attend the map adoption meeting in person or virtually.] Redistricting is undertaken after each U.S. Census to ensure political districts represent roughly the same number of people.

New Mexico’s new Citizens Redistricting Committee’s recommendations are non-binding. State lawmakers will decide whether to accept or reject them and approve different plans when they meet in Santa Fe in December. But the committee’s months-long process of collecting public input from hundreds of New Mexicans and disparate groups provides a window into choices before the legislature.

Whatever plans are ultimately adopted, the stakes are high, with final maps having the potential to remake politics in New Mexico and impact the balance of power in Congress for the next decade. 

Republicans fear that Democrats, who have near-total control over the redistricting process for the first time in 30 years, will take advantage of the opportunity to redraw lines that make it easier for them to win while disenfranchising GOP voters, especially in the southern Congressional district that leans Republican now.

Other groups say that the committee has opened an opportunity for long-neglected communities of interest to better push for districts that serve them. 

The independent, nonpartisan Citizens Redistricting Committee, modeled on similar nonpartisan bodies across the country, including in states such as Colorado and California, was born out of compromise, giving its members a say in the state’s redistricting process, but not taking final approval out of the hands of state legislators. People across the political spectrum are commending the work it did this year..

“The committee is doing admirable work, it’s a very august group of people,” said Robert Aragon of the state Republican Party, which he said would offer its own proposed maps. 

Mason Graham and the newly formed New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative got involved in redistricting for the first time this year, and Graham said he felt his group’s concerns were genuinely heard. “The committee was invested in the process and invested in making sure that the representation was equal,” he said. After giving testimony on the proposed maps, members of the committee suggested the group elaborate on its ideas by submitting its own map, which it did.

Many have appreciated the transparency of the process. “The CRC has provided another layer of advocacy that the Pueblo leadership really appreciates,” said Casey Douma, co-chair of the All Pueblo Council of Governors Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee. “It brought the process out of the back rooms and put it on full display in public, which is very good.” 

The CRC met nearly twice as many times as the legislature’s interim redistricting committees have in past years, traveling beyond Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces to Farmington, Roswell, Española, Gallup and Crownpoint. Unlike former legislative hearings, the CRC webcast the meetings and the public was invited to testify in person or on Zoom, to upload written comments or use interactive software, called Districtr, to draw their own maps. 

Simple and user-friendly, Districtr alone has made a big difference in people’s ability to share their ideas. “Ten years ago those who had access to the software could act as gatekeepers and if you didn’t have access you were left out,” Douma said. “It’s a game-changer.”

Those practical and technological changes are welcome among good government groups. “We’ve had tremendous input,” said Kathleen Burke of Fair Districts New Mexico, a coalition that includes Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, New Mexico First and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. “People have become educated and they are rising to the occasion to change the status quo.”

And yet, when state lawmakers meet to vote on maps in December, nothing will prevent them from doing things the way past participants say they always have (according to the linked report by this story’s author entitled “Redistricting NM 2021: A troubled history and opportunities for change”): by breaking into Democratic and Republican caucus meetings that are closed to the public, and drawing maps that benefit themselves and their parties.

Not everyone is so sanguine about the public input process. “I’m not sure what any of these people are going to accomplish,” said former Republican state Senator Rod Adair, a demographer who has worked on several rounds of redistricting. “The majority is going to produce whatever maps they want and all the Republicans can do is stomp their feet,” he said.

Several of the best-organized groups who have submitted maps and testimony, including the All Pueblo Council of Governors, represent largely voters of color who mostly vote Democratic. And because the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits racial gerrymandering, their testimony carries special weight. These are the folks who might  sue if they believe minority voting rights have been infringed by the new maps.

Both the All Pueblo Council and the Center for Civic Policy, a progressive public policy organization, submitted plans that provide a template for how to radically change the state’s congressional districts. 

And Aragon charges that they favor Democrats, especially in the traditionally Republican southern congressional district.

The CCP plan creates a solid Hispanic voting-age majority district in an eye-catching way, bringing a finger of the northern district down to the edge of Hobbs; shifting the South Valley of Bernalillo County to the southern district; and combining most of Albuquerque with parts of nine counties to the south and east, reaching past Roswell and Ruidoso.

The All Pueblo map adds Rio Rancho and most of Socorro County to the first Congressional district which includes Albuquerque, and shifts the South Valley, and parts of Laguna Pueblo and To’Hajiilee (Navajo) to the southern district. What’s most contentious is the proposed move of Santa Rosa, Fort Sumner, Roswell, Ruidoso and part of the Mescalero Apache Nation out of the southern district to the north.  

“Their maps ensure one party has an absolute advantage over the next 10 years, and that’s not good governance,” Aragon said.

But partisan politics aren’t the reason for the proposed changes in the All Pueblo map, said Pueblo representatives. 

“There’s a reason why the map does that,” said Keegan King, co-chair of the All Pueblo Council redistricting group. The council did not look at performance data, which gives detailed insight into how precincts perform politically, in preparing its maps, King said. 

The northern district reaches so far south in order to give the Mescalero Apache influence in two Congressional districts, as Zuni Pueblo has now, he said. 

“We want to consolidate voting power in some places, but in others we don’t want to pack all that power into one district,” he explained. “It is important for tribes to be able to say what a community of interest looks like and also to say we need additional representation.”   

Those in power have historically neglected the voices of tribal nations, Douma argued, and the All Pueblo Council’s maps are the result of a long process of engagement that resulted in a consensus among the 19 pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache. (The Navajo Nation has submitted separate plans.) Any plans put forth by the committee and the legislature should be evaluated accordingly. “Ultimately, what will give validity to those concepts is their ability to incorporate our maps,” Douma said.

The Black Voters Collaborative didn’t submit a Congressional map, focusing its effort instead on protecting and strengthening the influence of Black and African-American voters in areas including Albuquerque’s International District, Hobbs, Alamogordo and Clovis. 

Graham said the group’s main goal was to make sure that Clovis had appropriate representation for its Black community of about 2,000, which includes a significant number of people serving at Cannon Air Force Base. Their proposed map adjusts the boundaries of state House districts 63 and 64 slightly to more equally balance the population between the two districts. Black voters would make up less than 5 percent of the voters in each district, but their hope is to encourage Black candidates to run.

Plenty of Republican groups and individuals have given powerful testimony, Burke said. “They are making their voices heard, too, maybe not in the same numbers, but they are showing up with good arguments and good reasons to have their districts drawn the way they propose.”

All of this falls in the laps of the seven CRC members, who have been listening to testimony, taking notes and working on their own draft maps with contract demographers from Research and Polling Inc. This Friday, members will put the proposals on the table and debate. 

“There’s no such thing as a perfect map,” said CRC chair and former state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez. But he’s hopeful that the group will be able to sift through all the proposals and complete their mission to approve at least three maps each for the state House, state Senate, Congress and Public Education Commission.

He said he’s pleased with the committee’s work in collecting the public’s ideas and responding with new maps that incorporate those ideas for a second round of public meetings. “So if we are able to agree on maps that provide the legislature with some options that comply with the Voting Rights Act and preserve as many communities of interest as we can, then I think they’re going to select one of them.”


Gwyneth Doland has been a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines, online news, radio and television. Since 2008 she has reported for New Mexico PBS, New Mexico in Depth and KUNM Radio News. In 2012 and 2015 she authored reports on government accountability for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. The 2012 State Integrity Report was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Her work covering state government been honored with a First Amendment Award from the ACLU of New Mexico, and top honors from the New Mexico Broadcasters Association. She is a former editor at New Mexico Magazine and a former executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. 

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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