SANTA FE, N.M. – Republicans will keep their political advantage in the 2nd Congressional District under a proposal to make it a Hispanic majority district covering southern and west-central New Mexico, a retired political science professor told a state district court on Tuesday.
The New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, advocates revamping congressional district boundaries to give Hispanics a stronger voice in elections in the 2nd District, which currently has the greatest Hispanic population of the state's three districts.
But Theodore Arrington, a redistricting consultant who taught at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for 37 years, said the LULAC proposal "does not achieve what they want to achieve."
Voters in the 2nd District historically have favored Republican candidates and that will continue even if the court adopts the boundary changes recommended by LULAC, Arrington testified at a trial that will determine the future boundaries of New Mexico's congressional districts. Arrington moved to Albuquerque after retiring last year.
Hispanics ages 18 and over would make up 52 percent of the population in the 2nd District as proposed by LULAC, but that figure includes non-citizens who can't vote. Hispanics would make up less than a majority of the adult population who are citizens and potentially eligible to vote, the court was told.
The LULAC proposal would split Lincoln, Chaves and Lea counties in southeastern New Mexico between two districts. Currently they are entirely in the 2nd District.
It will be up to District Judge James Hall to decide how to adjust district boundaries for population changes during the past decade. Groups of Republicans, Democrats and minority voters, including LULAC, have recommended three options for him to consider.
The goal of redistricting is to equalize district populations as much as possible to ensure that each New Mexican's vote has equal weight. That's necessary to comply with the legal requirements of one person, one vote.
Arrington testified in support of a redistricting plan proposed by GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, other Republicans and a group of Democrats, including Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe. They say their "least change" proposal would move the fewest number of New Mexicans into new districts, leaving the current districts intact and not altering their political tilt.
Arrington said the Albuquerque-area 1st District is a "two-party district," in which either a Republican or Democratic candidate can win. The 3rd District of northern New Mexico is solidly Democrat and the 2nd District has been reliably Republican in congressional elections.
A separate group of Democrats, including Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas of Albuquerque, wants the judge to adopt a plan that would consolidate Valencia and Bernalillo counties into the 1st District. It also would move Torrance County from the 1st District into the 2nd District. Those changes would give Democrats a better chance of winning in the district, according to Arrington.
The congressional redistricting trial will wrap up this week and Hall will issue a decision later. The judge is scheduled to start a trial next week on redistricting of the state House of Representatives. Trials will be held in January for redistricting of the state Senate and the Public Regulation Commission.