Sunday, May 28, 2023

Letter to the Editor A Tale of Many Cities: A view of the failed CABQ Redistricting of 2022


By Travis Kellerman, Vice-Chair of the 2022 Albuquerque Redistricting Committee

Why is the redrawing of Albuquerque’s City Council districts so important?  It’s about the future.  In the US, the center of power and functional government will rapidly shift to cities.  I believe in the potential and the people of Albuquerque.  Redistricting happens once every 10 years here.  Where we draw the lines of this city determines who has a voice—and who will control the new power.  

I was once a policy analyst for the Council, working for then-Councilor Martin Heinrich.  Beyond policy and task forces and proclamations, I was responsible for “constituent services,” i.e fielding the requests of the 60,000 people in the district.  One person for tens of thousands of people, with only a few hundred consistently communicating.  The resources, the mental health of the staff, and the law allow for no more.    

We need a dramatic increase in the Council Services budget, to resource a dramatic increase in public engagement.  The priorities of our city have been written by a loud few.  How can we call ourselves representative when less than a fifth of some districts vote?  Why was the Redistricting Committee barred from considering simple, non-partisan, voter turnout data?  

The 2022 Redistricting process failed.  The map with the least change became law.  It accomplished the bare minimum—sorting population shifts into existing districts with as little boundary movement as possible.  Key Principles of Redistricting were not upheld. 

Progress was seen, however, in the start of a respectful, data-driven dialogue. 
Calls for hard reform and radical shifts challenged long-held assumptions.  Fear drove a stubborn resistance to change.  The revelations from this dialogue—including a new metric, the Social Vulnerability Index measuring the unequal distribution of poverty in our city—came to be buried in the politics of a city different.  These recorded realities now wait in the archives. I predict some will be revisited and repurposed, when the symptoms of our ten-year decision to avoid them become unavoidable.

During the four months of Redistricting, the call went out to the press, the neighborhood associations, social media, and the networks of committee members.  Older, retired residents chimed in with concerns on changes.  Non-profit groups and their younger members spoke with passion on the need for equity.  New maps were drawn to consider what was avoided.  A broader dialogue had begun.  Our time had run out.  

On September 19th, the City Council voted to adopt a map with the least change as the new-old Albuquerque.  In 2032, at the next Redistricting, we will have a debt to pay— and an archive of uncomfortable truths to reference.


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