Logo
News Updates Today

Delivered to you inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes

GOP hopes expert witness, top Democrat's text message will help in gerrymandering suit

Business IMG

Sep. 27 -- LOVINGTON -- A nationally known political analyst was in southeastern New Mexico on Wednesday to argue in court that the Legislature's redrawing of the state's 2nd Congressional District boundaries was designed to diminish Republican power. "It's almost inconceivable that these maps were not drawn with heavy political considerations behind them," Sean Trende said, while testifying in a lawsuit challenging the Legislature's 2021 congressional redistricting plan. Trende, a senior policy advisor for the political and polling analysis website RealClearPolitics, said the mapping plan for the 2nd district moved so many Democrats in and so many Republicans out that "it punished the Republican Party and advantaged the Democratic Party by taking a district that was a Republican-advantage district ... and making it much, much more Democratic." Trende, whose redistricting experience includes serving as the Virginia Republicans' pick to help oversee redistricting in that state in 2021, was the last in a string of witnesses for the plaintiffs on the first day of the trial. The often-controversial process of redrawing political maps in response to population changes generally happens every 10 years, after each U.S. census. The Republican Party of New Mexico and seven individuals sued Democratic state officials in January 2022, saying the map drawn by Democratic lawmakers is an illegal gerrymander which bolstered Democratic voter numbers in the 2nd Congressional District while decreasing Republican power there. Trende said in court that the map for the 2nd Congressional District, created and passed into law by the Legislature -- where Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers -- reflects "a very concentrated effort" to change a formerly Republican-leaning district. His testimony came after several Republican lawmakers testified that members of their party were not involved with the redistricting process in 2021. Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, and Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, were the two first witnesses called by lawyers for the plaintiffs, and both said Republicans had no say behind the scenes. Though Republicans did get to debate and vote on those maps and propose amendments, "to my knowledge there was absolutely no involvement by any member of the minority" in the original shaping of those maps, Townsend testified. Attorney Carter B. Harrison IV, who represents the plaintiffs, introduced a copy of a text message from Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, which he read to Townsend during the hearing. The text exchange -- which Harrison provided to reporters -- from Stewart to a representative of the Albuquerque-based Center for Civic Policy quotes Stewart as saying one effort to reconfigure the 2nd district gave the district a "Democratic performance index" of 51.8%. "That's not enough for a mid term election so we adjusted some edges, scooped up more of abq [Albuquerque] and are now at 53%," Stewart texted. Trende said Stewart's texts support his analysis of the data. "They made [Congressional] District 1 and District 3 somewhat more Republican but not so much that they are going to elect more Republicans [while] ... District 2 is made more Democratic. "It's extremely unlikely this happened by chance," he added. State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce called Stewart's texts "the linchpin" of their case. "This is the reason we brought the case," Pearce said in an interview. "It's strongly indicative that they intended to entrench Democrats and that was one of the things that needed to be proved here -- that they had intent. Pearce was pleased with the first day of testimony and that Trende's testimony was allowed. "This first day has been very strong," Pearce said. Sharer, who has served in the Legislature since 2001, said any Republican-led efforts to alter the map in committees or in floor sessions were probably not seriously considered before being tabled by Democrats. He said Republicans and Democrats worked more closely together on past redistricting efforts than in 2021. He said this time there "wasn't even pretending to be an effort. This is the way it is and y'all can take it." The 2nd Congressional District map adopted in 2021 shifted some communities with large numbers of Republicans into New Mexico's two safely Democratic congressional districts in the north and moved some Democratic communities into the 2nd District, according to the suit. The end result was a bluer 2nd District. Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell was narrowly defeated in the 2022 midterms by now-U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, a Democrat. The bench trial, which 9th Judicial District Judge Fred T. Van Soelen is presiding over in Lovington, is expected to run through Friday. Van Soelen has until Oct. 6 to issue a ruling; if he rules in favor of the Republican plaintiffs, this could lead to a redrawing of New Mexico's congressional district boundaries. It remains unclear if any of the Democratic lawmakers who received subpoenas to testify -- state Sens. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque, Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and then-House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe -- will do so. Van Soelen, referring to a ruling he issued on legislative privilege earlier this week, said lawmakers can't be called to testify about their thoughts or reasoning behind legislation they supported. But, he said, any public comments those lawmakers made about redistricting, as well as any conversations or correspondence they exchanged with others outside the Legislature on the issue, can be considered. Lawyers for the defense are likely to question Trende on Thursday.

News Updates Today

Delivered to you inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes