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New Mexico redistricting stalls amid discord on tribal plan

December 14, 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) — A state Senate redistricting plan is in limbo amid a standoff over Native American priorities for achieving fair representation and efforts by lawmakers to avoid competitive pairing of incumbents in the next election.

The Senate canceled a floor session Monday amid discussions between legislators and Indigenous tribal leaders.

States must redraw their congressional and legislative districts every 10 years to reflect new population numbers, and New Mexico lawmakers are in the midst of a special legislative session on redistricting.

A broad coalition of Native American communities is backing a plan to shore up voting-age, Native American majorities in three state Senate districts in northwestern New Mexico and reinforce robust minority-Indigenous voting blocs in two additional districts.

Left intact, the proposal from Indigenous groups would leave Republican state Sen. Joseph Sanchez of Bosque outside the boundaries of his current district, potentially to compete in a neighboring district against GOP Senate minority leader Greg Baca of Belen.

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Leading state legislators including Democratic Senate President Mimi Stewart are backing amendments that diverge from the consensus Native American proposal in an effort to avoid several incumbent pairings.

“We tried very had to maintain the majority of the Native consensus map but deal with issues of pairing and deal with issues of drastic changes to our seats,” Stewart told a Senate panel.

Native American leaders emerged Monday from an hourslong meeting with several senators to say the tribes remain steadfast in their recommendations.

“The easiest solution is to support the tribal consensus plan,” said Casey Douma, a Laguna Pueblo tribal member and co-leader of a redistricting alliance of 19 Indigenous pueblos and the Jicarilla Apache Tribe. “To undo that in a very short time, negates months of work.”

Indigenous leaders say their recommendations emerged from several months of painstaking conversations aimed at preserve communities of common interest and ensuring minority voters have a fair shot at electing candidates of their choice.

Those conversations did not give weight to incumbent politicians and whether they are paired in future elections, noted Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo.

State Sen. Harold Pope of Albuquerque urged colleagues Sunday not to tamper with the Native American blueprint for redistricting.

“This was a herculean task for our Native American communities to develop this consensus,” he said. “They worked with us, let’s honor it.”

The amendments that stray from the Native American recommendations were endorsed on a 7-2 committee vote Sunday with bipartisan support, over emphatic objections by representatives of tribal governments.

New Mexico is home to 23 federally recognized Native American communities. Tribal leaders are seeking to bolster Native American influence in the political process amid dissatisfaction with public education, access to basic household infrastructure and economic opportunities.

Regis Pecos, a former governor at Cochiti Pueblo and advocate for Indigenous educational initiatives, urged legislators to honor tribal recommendations on redistricting, noting New Mexico’s leading example in enshrining requirements for tribal consultation into state statute — as well as past laws and policies that harmed Native Americans.

“I just simply want to reflect on the long history of intentional enactment of laws that have prohibited the speaking of our languages in our schools, the prohibition of the free exercise of religion, the laws and policy disconnecting us from our homelands,” Pecos said. “You have provided consultation as part of the statutory framework.”