BERNALILLO — After several tense, grueling hours discussing multiple redistricting plans that included two new alternative plans, the Sandoval County Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to OK Plan D as the next commission district map.
Under Plan D, put forth by former Republican legislator Rod Adair through his business New Mexico Demographic Research on Nov. 18, District 3 covers the northern part of Rio Rancho, rather than running along the eastern border as before. Additionally, Algodones moves from District 1 to District 5.
Under Plan D, the District 3 Native American population would be 2.7 percent, a small decrease from the current 2.9 percent, while District 1’s Native population would drop 11.6 percentage points to 4.2 percent.
The District 5 Native American population would increase 10.3 percentage points to 45.6 percent. The District 1 White population would increase 12 percentage points to 51 percent.
See the adopted Plan D map by clicking here.
Republican commissioners Dave Heil, Michael Meek and Jay Block voted for Plan D, while Democrat commissioners Katherine Bruch and Kenneth Eichwald voted against it.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that the commission as a whole did not hear the public comment that was given, both virtually and in the meeting, that the town of Bernalillo remained chopped into more than one district. It was really frustrating,” Bruch told the Observer, adding she thought the tenor of the meeting was problematic. “Pretty hard-hitting here. I just wanted to put it out there.”
Bruch told the commission Thursday’s meeting “was quite contentious in many ways,” adding that she was sorry she didn’t hear the commission “listening with an open heart to what the people were saying.”
During public comments, Democrat state Rep. Derrick Lente, whose district includes Bernalillo and Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Felipe and Zia pueblos, told the commission his constituents are upset about the process in which the initial maps were produced. He said they don’t agree with Adair’s maps and would rather see fair representation he said the Eichwald-sponsored plan featured.
“The tactics of trying to fracture the town of Bernalillo, to consolidate a tribal voice, are wrong. They’re insulting, and it’s a slap in the face to most indigenous populations of this county,” he said.
Heil sponsored an altered version of Adair’s Plan D.
But in the end, Heil told the Observer the deciding factor in voting for the original Plan D revolved around how Rio Rancho represents 69 percent of the county’s population. He also said the area where NM 528 and US 550 intersect, which is Precinct 74, contains parts of both Rio Rancho and Bernalillo.
In the plan Eichwald sponsored, which was a modified version of a map created by Bernalillo resident and Democratic Party of Sandoval County vice chairman Isaac Chavez, District 3 would cover east-central Rio Rancho. District 5 would cover northern Sandoval County, with a leg coming down west of Rio Rancho to the southern county line.
Eichwald told the commission his plan was in response after being informed at last meeting “that the other five maps did not have input from the rural, small and Native communities.” He reached out to the mayors in Bernalillo, Corrales and Cochiti Lake, Native community leaders and constituents from unincorporated areas around I-25, US 550 and NM 528.
He also said his plan aimed to give Sandoval County residents a “clean, understandable district base around the county’s infrastructure and communities of interest.” He added the goal was to produce a commission that’s responsive to the entire county and fairly represents the “diverse and fast-growing population.”
“It was way better than (Chavez’s previous plan) because Chavez’s first one was a serious violation,” Heil said, adding that revised plan better aligned with existing districts.
Block told the Observer he felt the plans Chavez worked on cut the Hispanic, Black, Asian and Native American votes in District 2. He also said he those plans wouldn’t give Rio Rancho three districts.
“I wasn’t going to support that, since we have 70 percent of the (county’s) population,” he said. “I look at Placitas and Corrales very similar (to Rio Rancho) because they’re older communities that are White, and they’re the kind of communities that are close and communities of interest. And they’re not too far away from each other.”
Block also said the Native communities are a strong county voting bloc where they weren’t before, which is why he’s convinced Plan D might lead to a Native commissioner in 2024.
Meek told the Observer he understands the concerns the Native communities brought up regarding the redistricting process, but his constituents in District 3 voiced strong support for Plan D. He also said it’s ultimately about preserving Rio Rancho’s interests.
“I think it’s hard to take a lot of different people’s opinion and make it work for you… But you can’t shove us all together,” he said. “There’s no way to make everybody happy, because it is political in the end, right? People are elected to make the decision, and those people told me what they want.”
Going forward, Meek said he’d like to see more conversations with the Pueblos happen.
“I would help any of them if I knew what the concerns were, but right now I haven’t heard any until (Thursday’s) meeting,” he said.
Eichwald declined to comment to the Observer.