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New Mexico Legislature sends redistricting plan to governor

December 12, 2021 GMT
Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
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Disability advocates Ellen Pinnes and Jim Jackson look at proposed redistricting maps posted on a wall inside the state Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Legislature convened Monday to hammer out the new maps, which will draw new political boundaries. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic legislators in New Mexico on Saturday approved an overhaul of the state’s three congressional districts that would reshape a southern district in an oil-production region traditionally dominated by Republicans.

The state House voted 44-24 to approve the redistricting bill from Democratic state Rep. Georgene Louis of Albuquerque and Democratic state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces. The vote sends the bill to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for consideration.

The redistricting plan would bolsters the voting-age Hispanic majority in New Mexico’s southern 2nd District to 56% by wrapping in working class Latino neighborhoods from southern and western Albuquerque.

It also divides a conservative, oil-producing region in southern New Mexico into multiple districts, stoking outrage among Republican state legislators who say that dilutes the conservative vote.

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Louis said the congressional map would incorporate both urban and rural communities into each of the state’s three congressional districts, instilling greater accountability.

“We’re making these districts really listen to the voices of both the urban and the rural” residents, she said.

But Republican state Rep. Greg Nibert of Roswell said the revisions would diminish the political influence of rural residents in ranching and oilfield communities of southern New Mexico.

“The issues we face in rural New Mexico are going to take a back seat,” Nibert said.

He also warned the new political map could further undermine support in Congress for petroleum extraction on federal lands. Surging oil production in New Mexico’s portion of the Permian Basin — much of it on public lands — has catapulted the state past North Dakota to become the nation’s No. 2 oil producer.

“Those (oil) interests are going to be divided and apparently championed by three separate congress (people) who are likely to be from the metro area and know nothing about that industry,” Nibert said.

The 2nd District seat is currently held by first-term Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump who defeated a one-term Democrat in 2020. The redrawn district would slightly favor Democratic candidates, according to an analysis commissioned by the Legislature.

The state’s two other seats have been held by Democrats for more than a decade. The redistricting plan would wrap several rural, conservative-leaning counties into the 1st District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury won election in a June special election to succeed Deb Haaland after her appointment as Interior Secretary.

The redistricting plan would extend the state’s northern 3rd District into staunchly conservative stretches of southern New Mexico where the economy is sustained by oil development. That holds potentially jarring political implications for first-term Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, who campaigned in 2020 on support for a rapid transition to renewable sources of energy production in recognition of climate change.

A state Senate vote on the new congressional map fell along partisan lines in a 25-15 vote with united Democratic support and no Republican support. An unaffiliated senator voted against the plan.