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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia: Redistricting Process Entails More Than Meets the Eye

GarciaThis guest blog is by State Senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana-36), Senate Majority Whip of the NM Senate, and former member of the 2011 Interim Redistricting Committee. 

Many constituents that I represent have raised their concern that nothing was done during the recent redistricting session, and I believe they deserve a response.

This year's redistricting legislative session was expensive, contentious and has caused much disappointment to many New Mexicans—there is no denying that. I and my Senate colleagues understand the frustration that the public has with the outcome of the session, especially when our constituents wonder why it took nineteen days to develop redistricting legislation that was ultimately vetoed by Governor Martinez.

Preserving and Protecting Constitutional Rights
The true story of the redistricting session is anything but nineteen wasted days of “golfing” and time spent not doing anything. The story of the redistricting session was one of preserving the sacred rights of equal representation and voting rights granted to us through the New Mexico Constitution and United States Constitution.

It was a continuation of the fight that African Americans faced when they willfully met the gnashing of canine teeth, blasting of water cannons, burning of tear gas and pounding of police batons in Selma, Alabama—all to guarantee the right to vote. It was the fight of the Native American, which for nearly 172 years, from the inception of our country, did not have the right to vote. It was the persistence of Hispanics fighting to not have their political voice diluted by clever gerrymandering of district lines. This story was the great modern day reminder of the sacrifice leading to the approval of women’s suffrage.

The Complicated Redistricting Process
Along with the tremendous responsibility of the session went enormous effort. Preparations for the session actually began in 2010 as the federal government conducted the decennial census. As the 2010 census was being completed the Legislative Council Interim Committee met in January of this year to determine guidelines for the redistricting session. (See 2011 New Mexico Redistricting page.)

Subsequently, Senator Linda Lopez and Representative Mary Helen Garcia were chosen to serve as co-chairs of the Redistricting Interim Committee which was made up of 40 members of the legislature. In order to gain community input, the co-chairs convened five meetings throughout the state from June to August of this year.

The interim committee’s work developed into eight concepts for the House, nine concepts for the Senate, seven concepts for Congress, five concepts for the PRC and one concept for the Public Education Commission.

We were able to take the interim concepts into the session and that’s when much more technical and time consuming work began.

In the context of an individual Senate redistricting concept, we were tasked with assigning 2,059,179 people in New Mexico to 1,483 precincts that make up 42 Senate Districts.

"Dominoe Effect"
Enormous challenges were found at the precinct level. As I worked on my Senate district, I found that simply adding one precinct could require a neighboring senator to pull one or more precincts from their neighbor and a similar occurrence happening thereafter. One precinct change in southern NM would often result in a “domino effect,” eventually requiring changes to districts in Northern NM. Imagine all the different combinations possible when 42 Senators were simultaneously making changes to 1,483 individual precincts! Now, this is all in reference to only one Senate concept.

The previous complexities do not even point out the central rules that were to be followed such as: the Voting Rights Act of 1965, preservation of minority voting rights, one-man-one-vote, and sustaining communities of interest.

Look Beyond Slogans and Spin
Measuring the success of the redistricting session requires looking beyond clever slogans and glitzy sound bites. An accurate view shows that the work done during the special session was significant, heartfelt and meaningful.

Redistricting allowed many of us to stand on the shoulders of those who came before us to persist in the great struggle assuring equal voting rights for all people in New Mexico.

This is a guest blog by State Senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana-36). To submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

October 11, 2011 at 10:36 PM in Guest Blogger, Hispanic Issues, Minority Issues, Native Americans, NM Legislature Redistricting 2011 | Permalink


I went to the redistricting meeting in Roswell and was very impressed by the high quality of the presentation and the information provided. However, considering the Republican governor's determination to bushwhack the process, it seems to me that what our legislators should do in January (by when we voters and potential candidates may finally know what districts we are in) is to give an independent non-partisan citizen commission the authority to determine all redistricting. They have just done this in California, and my friend who lives there (and is active in the Democratic party) is pleased with the results, even though it has made his Democratic congresswoman's seat less "safe." That is, the seat is now more competitive, which is, along with the goal of preserving minority rights, etc, the important goal.

Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Oct 12, 2011 10:29:12 AM