Legislative Actions

Republicans Lost The Redistricting Battle Because of Elections, Not Gerrymandering: The New Mexico GOP Needs to Rebrand, Not Sue

The Republican Party of New Mexico will meet this week to consider suing over the congressional redistricting map Democrats approved in the just-completed legislative session.

They shouldn’t. 

Here’s why.

For one, they’ll lose.

The state legislature has the authority to approve a new congressional district map every ten years, based on changes in the census. New Mexico legislators followed proper procedure and obtained the required majority to approve a new map. The governor has signaled she will sign the bill. The process was legal, democratic, and above board.

No district court will overturn a map on the grounds that it might hurt Republican election odds, particularly when Democrats can argue that two of the three seats are more competitive for Republicans under the new map than they were under the old one.

The state Supreme Court isn’t an option. All five justices are Democrats, four of which were appointed by the sitting governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. A lawsuit over a bill that makes two of three congressional districts more competitive to Republicans will not be overturned simply because a majority of Democrats approved it without a Republican vote. Democrats hold the majority, and by law they can wield their majority influence over legislation so long as no laws were broken. Complaints of partisanship does not a broken law make. 

Two, a lawsuit signals weakness.

Elections matter. State legislators are elected by the people, and Republicans have continually fallen short in state legislative races. Democrats hold a 44–24 majority in the state House and 26–15 majority in the state Senate. The new congressional map is a consequence of that split. Not only will courts see a lawsuit by the minority party as little more than post-hoc whining, but it will look the same to voters.

The New Mexico GOP will not only lose, but they will look like sore losers, complaining about a legal and democratic process not because the process was abused or in violation of state laws, but because it won’t benefit them politically.

So What’s The Point?

The point of a lawsuit of this kind, filed after the fact, is optics. Suing signals to the public that something untoward has occurred and the courts are needed to deliver justice. But the optics don’t favor the GOP either.

Nobody in the 21st century believes politicians are non-partisan. A lawsuit won’t signal to anyone who didn’t already think it that something untoward took place. It will signal to the partisan public that partisan politicians are bickering over partisan politics. 

Residents will skim headlines — “GOP Sues Over Redistricting Map” — and interpret the legal action along party lines. Democrats will scoff at the attempt by the minority party to get the courts to do their bidding, while Republicans will side with Republicans and claim the new map is unfair.

And it may be. While two of the three seats will become slightly more competitive for Republicans in future elections, the GOP’s single seat in U.S. Congress, District 2, currently held by Yvette Herrell, will become less competitive. 

No one should be fooled by Democrats’ claims that the purpose of the redistricting map is to better represent New Mexicans. Even if it were true, it would be consequential, not the intended outcome.

No party in power would pass a redistricting map that hurts their future election odds. That Democrats are sacrificing a portion of the vote in districts they have won by an average of 18% (District 1) and 26% (District 3) for the past eight to ten years in order to be more competitive in a district they have lost by an average of 12% (District 2), is not an accident. It’s calculated political maneuvering, and it’s the same maneuvering Republicans would be doing if they were in the majority.

This situation is playing out across the country, where majority parties in state legislatures are cutting up congressional districts in a way that benefits their party just as Democrats are doing in New Mexico.

While some maps are egregiously gerrymandered and the courts will intervene to redraw certain district lines, most legal challenges go nowhere, for the simple reason that majority parties represent the majority of voters. Unless the process was abused or the new maps are egregiously drawn, courts will not intervene on behalf of the minority party simply because of partisan disadvantage. 

The problem is not the map. The problem is that Democrats are in a position to specific the map’s boundaries. Which means the problem is the GOP’s minority representation, in the state house as well as in the voter rolls. 

A lawsuit won’t fix that. Only elections can. Republicans need to wake up to the reality of the new political arena.

Why Is New Mexico So Blue?

It seems counter-intuitive that New Mexico is so heavily Democratic. New Mexico is the most Hispanic state in the country, at 47.7%. The runner up is a distant second in California, at 39.4%. 

Hispanics are Conservative in values — in faith, family, and personal independence — yet somehow vote Democrat at the polls. This can change, but it requires community outreach and party rebranding, not filing redistricting lawsuits.

Mainly, it requires better candidates. 

To understand why Conservative Hispanics aren’t handing legislative seats to the GOP, look no further than the demographics of the party. 

More than 70% of state house Republicans and 80% of the senate are White.

While principled Conservatives do and should loathe “identity politics,” winning in a majority-minority state requires playing the game. Merit should determine who is nominated to represent a district, but if the only people of merit you can find are White, your party either has a racism problem or you’re not looking hard enough. 

White Republicans who represent districts in New Mexico should not be offended. Some districts are majority White and vote for people who hold their values, share their culture, and look like them.

But Hispanics vote the same way, and if the GOP continues to lose elections by only offering candidates with two of the three traits that matter, it should consider a different approach.

New Mexico Legislators

A Case In Point

By any objective measure, Mark Ronchetti should not have lost to Ben Ray Lujan in last November’s race for U.S. Senate. Ben Ray is short, fat, and a career politician who stumbled over the issues whenever he spoke. Ronchetti is tall, fit, attractive, and quick. His debate performances were perfect, his message on point, and his energy and charisma were unmatched. And yet he lost, in part because of name recognition (Lujan goes back a long time in New Mexico; he is the cousin of and shares the same name with the sitting governor), but in part because Lujan is a true-blood Hispanic in a state that is half Hispanic.

That is the bottom line. People vote for people like them, and a smart-mouthed rosy-cheeked White guy simply doesn’t represent the majority of New Mexicans.

Why Do White Democrats Win?

Democrats don’t sink from the same demographic anchor as Republicans because of legacy voting and party stereotypes. People vote how their parents voted, and in New Mexico, Democrats have historically been the party of the working family.

There are myriad reasons Republicans could use to argue, rightly, that this is no longer true. Democrats claim to represent the working class but continually vote for corporate welfare. They throw money at education systems but let union power run unchecked. On the national level they pay lip service to the evils of the military industrial complex yet vote overwhelmingly to fund multi-national military enterprises via record-breaking defense spending bills. And they makes promises of caring for workers who have dedicated their lives to a career in public service but advocate not only defunding those services but belittling them with the partisan propaganda of career race-peddlers. 

Which is why the stereotype that Democrats represent the middle class has unraveled on the national level in recent elections. But it’s not enough.

The Browning of The GOP

Even CNN acknowledged after the November 2020 presidential election that “One of the most notable early results on Election Night came from Florida’s heavily (70%) Hispanic Miami-Dade county,” where President Donald Trump lost by 7 points in 2020 compared to 29 points in 2016. 

“A big question was whether Trump’s improvement in Miami-Dade would be replicated in other majority Hispanic areas on the electoral map,” CNN opined. “The answer from coast to coast is a definitive yes. Trump did considerably better than he did in 2016 across an array of Hispanic areas.”

The tide is turning, but it’s arguable whether Hispanics are warming to the Republican agenda or simply being turned off by the Democrat Party’s drastic move to the fringes of the Liberal Left.

To secure legislative seats locally, the New Mexico GOP needs to offer candidates who represent not only the values of the majority Conservative voters, but candidates who look like the majority of New Mexico voters.

Until it does, no congressional redistricting lawsuit is going to boost the election odds of the Grand Old Party. The electoral map hasn’t just changed in the state legislature. It has changed demographically, and unless Republican Party leaders understand the importance of the face behind the message, the message will continue to miss the target.

4 replies »

  1. Nick, 100% accurate and “spot on.” Until the New Mexico GOP rebrands, and quits running re-treads, and seriously outreaches to conservative Hispanics, it will lose more and more often at the polls.

  2. The issue isn’t necessarily the competitiveness of a district, rather divisions of communities of interest. Barelas has little in common with Las Cruces. It is an historic, vibrant community of Albuquerque that is now in CD2. Likewise dividing Roswell and Hobbs into two different congressional districts runs counter to maintaining communities of interest. The map on the Governor’s desk makes it extremely likely that within two years all you Congressional Representatives will be from the Albuquerque area. One could argue, the revised districts will force representatives to learn more about rural New Mexico. Will they? Not likely as the majority of easily accessible votes are clustered in the metropolitan area. Reminds me of when Espanola was divided into two NM House districts with Santa Clara pueblo in the middle. The entire area became an after thought. Making rural New Mexico an “afterthought” will not prosper New Mexico as a whole. Is this worth a lawsuit? Only if the focus is on fair treatment of communities of interest. One last thought, in some states, minority communities have argued that the “communities of interest” standard have denied them fair representation. Personally, I thought Justice Chavez’s Congressional map was the best of all proposals. It never got a hearing in the Legislature.

    • Great points. Politicians won’t venture into rural New Mexico if they don’t have to. But the problem is unlikely to be fixed by a district court. Dems can argue the majority of CD2 remains rural.

      The way around this isn’t to lose a lawsuit. It’s to win more seats in the state legislature. The GOP can’t do that re-running the same White candidates.

  3. I must agree with this editorial. I’n not sure why the party can’t find suitable candidates. The party has a message that can appeal to voters who share family values. The maps obviously are to eliminate competition in S. NM. But it offers an opportunity to end forever Democrat control with better candidates. Rather than fight this in court where the probability of a reversal is small, rebuild the party to compete.

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