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Who's in 2nd District again?

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By Hal Rhodes

Just a year ago New Mexicans and other Americans were stumbling out of mid-term elections, wondering how a Republican group calling itself the Tea Party would use its powers as the new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Today campaigning is already underway for next year’s elections, which promise to be equally unfathomable.
The uncertainty is palpable in New Mexico where Democratic and Republicans hopefuls are jousting for seats in Congress and the state Legislature from districts, the shapes of which are unknown.
It couldn’t be otherwise after Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislature failed to agree on how to remap the state’s sundry political districts at a special redistricting session this summer.
It’s another unwanted mess in which we’ve allowed ourselves to be ensnared. Campaigns are organized processes that find candidates hustling prospective voters for their support in advance of elections.
The hitch this year is that hundreds of would-be candidates for 42 seats in the state Senate and 70 seats in the House haven’t a clue whether those voters they are courting will actually end up living in the districts they plan to run in next year.
How can they know who to hustle for support needed to get elected? Candidates can waste bunches of time and money second-guessing that one.
For the dozen or so men and women who are known (or believed) to have their eyes on one of the state’s three U.S. House seats, the guessing could end within a week or so when state District Judge James Hall renders his decisions in the congressional redistricting trial over which he is presiding in Santa Fe.
Testimony has now concluded in that trial where three redistricting schemes, involving population shifts ranging from 25,000 to 250,000, were in play. Judge Hall is under no obligation to accept any of those proposals and could conceivably come up with yet another alternative.
But whatever the courts decide, a sizeable number of New Mexico voters who currently live in any one of the current districts will likely find themselves in another come the 2012 general election.
Undeterred by the looming changes in their political home bases, two incumbent congressmen, District 2 Republican Steve Pearce and District 3 Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, are seeking reelection.
The sprawling southern District 2 has traditionally been safely Republican, although in 2008 Democrat Harry Teague was elected to a term in Congress before Pearce returned from a failed Senate bid to reclaim his old seat in 2010.
Whether the next iteration of District 2 remains comfortably Republican depends on the outcome of the redistricting case in Judge Hall’s court. Nonetheless, at least four Democrats, including former state Rep. Jeff Steinborn, are reportedly weighing a run against Pearce.
In the heavily Democratic northern 3rd District, there are also rumblings at the grassroots as politicos and voters await Hall’s decision.
By some accounts, Lujan could face a challenger in the June Democratic primary. What’s more, at least three Republicans, including a Tea Party stalwart, are reported to be considering a general election run against the incumbent Democrat.
Perhaps the liveliest scramble for political advantage in a district yet to be configured is in Metro Albuquerque’s District 1, where Democratic Congressman Martin Heinrich is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by longtime Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
It’s an open seat and a gaggle of top name Republican and Democratic politicos are pressing the flesh and courting the donors with dreams of a berth under the Capitol Dome.
Time and political ambition, it seems, wait for no one, not even a judge’s rulings establishing legally sanctioned U.S. House districts in the state of New Mexico.

Hal Rhodes
New Mexico News Service