Analysis: Eastern N.M. could lose in redistricting

Staff and wire reports

SANTA FE — The once-a-decade exercise of legislative redistricting will produce winners and losers, and Albuquerque’s west side is as close as it comes to a guaranteed winner of more political clout.

Because of rapid population growth during the past decade in the city’s sprawling areas west of the Rio Grande, residents will almost certainly gain seats in the House and Senate.

As for the losers, nothing is certain. Legislators will make those decisions when they meet later this year in a special session to conform political districts to new population counts from the 2010 census.

Eastern New Mexico and central portions of Albuquerque are among the areas that could lose seats in the Legislature when new boundaries are drawn for the House and Senate, according to Brian Sanderoff, who runs an Albuquerque-based research company that analyzes census figures for the Legislature to assist in redistricting.

“There’s certainly an acknowledgement to that,” said Rep. Dennis Roch, who represents Curry, Roosevelt, Quay, Harding, San Miguel and Union counties in District 67. “I joked with my friends I may (have to) pick up some of West Texas next year.”

The Legislature’s job is to redraw the boundaries of legislative, congressional and Public Regulation Comm-ission districts to balance their populations. That means adding and subtracting precincts as needed to shrink or expand a district.

A guiding principle is to equalize the population of districts as much as possible to reflect the legal doctrine of one person, one vote.

Nearly two-thirds of the 70 House seats are below the ideal size. In the Senate, about 70 percent of the 42 seats fall short of the target and will need to pick up population.

Based on calculations from Sanderoff’s firm, despite population gains in Clovis and Portales, only two districts in the area meet “ideal” population numbers.

The Senate target is 49,028, according to calculations by the firm. Clovis and Portales both belong to Senate Districts 27 (Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, 44,424 residents) and 42 (Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, 50,650), and Clovis is part of Senate District 7 (Clint Harden, R-Clovis, 42,634). The target population was 43,311 in 2000.

Based on the 2010 census, the “ideal” population of a House district is 29,417. In the House districts, Clovis and Portales both belong to Districts 63 (George Dodge, D-Santa Rosa, 24,938 residents) and 67 (Dennis Roch, R-Texico, 25,041). Clovis holds District 64 (Anna Crook, R-Clovis, 28,070) and Portales is part of District 66 (Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, 29,720). The ideal population was 25,986 after the 2000 census.

To understand the explosive growth on Albuquerque’s west side, consider that one House district — held by Republican Tom Anderson — is twice as large as the ideal district size.

Districts typically need to expand their boundaries — gain precincts — if their populations lagged behind the state’s average population growth during the past decade. That’s the situation for eastern and north-central New Mexico and portions of Albuquerque, such as districts around the downtown and in the northeast.

Two districts may have to be combined, for example, to even out populations and make way for a new district in the fast-growing west side of Albuquerque.

Separating Albu-querque into different areas is a tough process, Roch said, because the city has different characteristics. Reorganizing a district like his has similar challenges.

“I think the courts typically try to stay with similar districts,” Roch said. “My district is largely rural, very agricultural. I don’t see the process taking large swaths of rural land out of my district and putting parts of downtown Clovis into my district.”

More likely, Roch said, his district could be split up to strengthen other rural districts, or vice versa.

Democrats and Republicans have a lot riding on the outcome of redistricting. Democrats hope to hold on to their majorities in the House and Senate. Republicans want district boundaries drawn to improve their chances of picking up seats.

And there’s a self-preservation factor for all incumbents, who hope their new district boundaries will help them win re-election.

Roch said that some legislators may prefer to retire rather than run in primaries against members of their own party. But any planned retirements will be “closely-guarded secrets” because such announcements would hurt their districts in redistricting talks.