SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic legislators advanced a plan to redraw New Mexico's three congressional districts and reshape a southern district traditionally dominated by Republicans.
The map proposal from Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces would bolster a Hispanic majority in New Mexico's southern 2nd Congressional District by extending its boundaries into Albuquerque, the state's largest metro area.
The map also would break up a conservative stronghold in the state's southeastern oil production zone — currently part of the 2nd District — into multiple districts, a change condemned emphatically by Republican state senators.
The plan holds implications for New Mexico's slate of three first-term congresswomen, including Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump who ousted a Democratic incumbent in 2020.
Republicans need a net gain of just five seats in 2022 to take control of the U.S. House and effectively freeze President Joe Biden's agenda on climate change, the economy and other issues.
Two of the state's seats have been held by Democrats for more than a decade. Democrats hold the upper hand in New Mexico's redistricting process, controlling the governor's office as well as broad majorities in the state House and Senate.
Cervantes said his proposed congressional map would make the 2nd Congressional District more representative of New Mexico as a whole and break with a longstanding political pact that ceded the south of the state to Republicans.
"Southern New Mexico has elected almost consistently conservative Republicans largely because of where the lines are drawn," Cervantes explained.
Republican Sen. Gay Kernan condemned the proposal as an affront to a conservative region, aimed at imposing political representation that is hostile to the oil and natural gas industry.
"It's an injustice to my community and to the industry that has provided so much to this state," said Kernan, whose hometown of Hobbs would be divided between two districts under the plan.
She warned Democratic colleagues to be careful what they wish for, noting that many Hispanic voters support Republican values and the oil industry and that the redistricting plan is likely to energize conservatives.
"You have certainly gotten the attention of people in my area," Kernan said.
The Democratic proposal hews roughly to a congressional redistricting map brought forward by the progressive leaning Center for Civic Policy and a coalition of advocacy groups that called for a strong Latino majority in the state's southern district, contending the minority populations there feel overlooked.
Hispanics would account for about 56% of the proposed southern congressional district, up from a narrow 51% majority currently.
Albuquerque resident Fernanda Banda, a 24-year-old organizer for an advocacy group for immigrant rights, applauded the plan.
"It's time for my people to have a Hispanic majority district and exercise their power," Banda testified.
About 48% of New Mexico residents claim Hispanic ancestry — the highest share of any state. For many, ties to the region date back to periods of Mexican and Spanish-colonial oversight. And the state has elected three consecutive Hispanic governors — two of them women.
Democratic Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque said the Democrat-backed proposal would create three districts that more closely mirror the state as a whole by each combining urban and rural areas.
Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a dairy farmer from Roswell, denounced the new map as a blatant move by Democrats to capture all three congressional seats in New Mexico.
"We should have at least one Republican congressperson from the state of New Mexico, or at least one conservative congressperson," he said.
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