Trial starts on NM congressional redistricting

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A trial began Monday that will influence the political tilt of New Mexico's three congressional districts for the rest of the decade.

State District Judge James Hall is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last several days this week. Democrats currently hold two of the state's congressional seats. Groups of Republicans, Democrats and minority voters are recommending options to the judge to consider in drawing new district boundaries.

GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, other Republicans and some Democrats, including Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, support a "least change" plan making few revisions to current districts.

A separate Democratic group, including Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas of Albuquerque, proposes consolidating most of Bernalillo and Valencia counties into the 1st Congressional District. The plan would make the district slightly more Democratic in its voting.

A Hispanic civil rights group, the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, advocates creating a Hispanic majority district in southern and south-central New Mexico. If the judge adopted that proposal it would transform a solidly GOP seat into a swing district that would give a Democratic candidate a much better chance of winning.

Redistricting landed in court after the Legislature failed to approve a plan for new congressional districts and the governor vetoed Democratic-backed proposals for legislative and Public Regulation Commission districts.

District boundaries must be adjusted for population changes during the past decade to ensure that each New Mexican's vote is of equal weight to comply with the legal requirements of one person, one vote.

Hispanics account for 46 percent of New Mexico's population. Currently, Hispanics represent 47 percent of the voting-age population of the 2nd District, 44 percent in the Albuquerque-area 1st District and 36 percent in the 3rd District of northern New Mexico.

Republican Congressman Steve Pearce represents the 2nd District. Democrats hold the state's other congressional seats — Martin Heinrich in the 1st District and Ben Ray Lujan in the 3rd District.