One of my core beliefs is that bad things happen when nobody is looking. Right now bad things are about to happen in Sandoval County, the fourth largest county in New Mexico. While the rest of us are worried about COVID, Thanksgiving, Build Back Better, and redistricting at the state and national level, the Sandoval County Commission is trying to work quietly and without fanfare to gerrymander the county’s commission districts for a permanent Republican majority.
Sandoval County is generally assumed by politicos to be “purple.” In the 2020 presidential election, 55% went for Biden, but more often votes are closer to a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats. The current County Commission is divided between three Republican and two Democratic commissioners. Districts 1 and 5 tend to vote Democratic. Districts 3 and 4 are usually solidly Republican. District 2 has been a swing district in the past, although in the past two election cycles it has been won by Trump enthusiast and current Republican candidate for governor, Jay Block.
Until last week, I had never given a thought to redistricting County Commission districts. I am pretty sure that 99+% of Americans are in the same boat. Then someone pointed out to me what was going on in the commission. The Sandoval Commission had hired a “demographic consulting company” run/owned by former GOP State Senator Rod Adair, to come up with potential plans to redistrict the county.
The core strategy behind Mr. Adair’s plans is to “pack” all Democratic voters into two districts and Republican voters into the other three. He does this by ignoring many of the rules that govern redistricting: keeping districts geographically compact, minimizing the number of split political subdivisions, preserving the cores of previous districts, and protecting and taking into account the concerns of like-minded communities within whole districts without splitting them between districts.
His main strategy is to tear the Village of Corrales, whole or in part, out of the very compact District 2 and attach it to Placitas, across the Rio Grande, 20 miles away. His other strategy is to “pack” the widely-dispersed Native American population (seven Native pueblos and all or portions of six Tribal entities/lands) into one giant district over 3,000 square miles in area. Mr. Adair claims he did this to protect the voting power of “Indians” (his words). Somehow he forgot to ask any of the Native American communities what they actually wanted and whether this proposal was acceptable to the majority of them. (Judging by the Native turnout at last night’s meeting, it is not.) Finally, he massacres the small town of Bernalillo and divides it into as many as three different commission districts.
Apparently, the Commission, especially Chairman David Heil, thought it could sneak this through without anybody looking. The plans were set to be presented at the Sandoval County Commission meeting on November 18, but when Chairman Heil found out that local Democratic, Native American, other grassroots groups, and individual concerned citizens were planning on attending the meeting, he sent out a hyperbolic plea to local Republicans to fight back, tarring Commissioner Kathy Bruch in the process. Per the email sent out to Sandoval Republicans, “The Bruch plan is being presented as the fair plan however only a far-left Democrat could be so delusional that they can think the plan is fair to anyone but themselves.” By the way, there is no “Bruch plan”. There was another plan, presented by a local citizen, Isaac Chavez, that followed all of the redistricting principles and that Commissioner Bruch had nothing to do with. In last night’s meeting, Chairman Heil spent 15 minutes cross-examining Mr. Chavez like Johnny Cochran defending O.J. Simpson.
Although no voting has yet happened, it is apparent that the Republican commissioners (David Heil, Jay Block and Michael Meek) are resolved to ram through these egregious gerrymanders. Commissioner Block’s statement at the end of the meeting’s public comment period was “elections have consequences,” which I interpreted to mean, “we really don’t give a hoot what all of you whiners have to say…We are doing it our way.”