At the last Sandoval County Commission meeting, Rod Adair, president of New Mexico Demographic Research, presented four maps for establishing new commission districts for the next decade. All represent a radical departure from previous districts.
All had one district containing nearly all of Sandoval County’s Native American population.
From Torreon and Jicarilla, to Kewa, Cochiti and San Felipe, all or nearly all of the many distinct pueblos and Native groups were to be placed together, regardless of their consent, geography, or connections to other areas of our county.
Such radical change requires justification, and Adair attempted to offer one.
He asserted the current maps “crack” or disperse Natives to diminish their voting power and claimed his maps give Natives a district they can influence.
Sandoval County does have a long history of ignoring or attacking its Native communities.
But Native Americans are important to this county. Their success is Sandoval’s success, whether through their businesses or their unique and vibrant cultures.
Sandoval’s Native communities unquestionably deserve a say in how this county is run. But none of Adair’s proposals truly give them that say.
If the more than 18,000 Native peoples in the county were concentrated into one district, they would constitute a 61 percent majority. But it’s impossible to create such a district.
Not all Natives live on the pueblos; many live in cities and outlying areas. Adair creates a district encompassing all pueblos and chapter houses, giving Natives a weak plurality.
This approach places Natives in one corner of one district so they can be ignored.
This is called “packing,” for which Adair offered a numerical definition — placing 80 percent or more of a group in one district. He facetiously waved away the concern about packing by saying that the concentrated district only totaled 43 percent Native.
Adair has indeed placed over 80 percent of Sandoval County’s Native population in one district. But under the Voting Rights Act, such a district must have above 50 percent of a given minority group of voting age. None of Adair’s maps come even close.
And what effect will this extreme gerrymandering have on the whole of the commission?
Adair’s district guarantees that the commission remains under the permanent control of one party. Is this listening to Natives?
Native Americans have been a constant presence in my life.
They are so familiar that when I travel out of state, I feel the absence of their culture.
Their children attend school with our children, and Native Americans shop in our town. We work at their businesses. Myriad relationships cross reservation boundaries.
When someone draws a line across these very real human connections, I question what they actually know about the county.
Adair never bothered to talk to anyone from a pueblo or chapter house.
Perhaps if he did, he would appreciate these connections.
Perhaps this could have been an opportunity for Sandoval County to actually listen to its Native communities.
But I suspect he and the Republican commissioners he represents never actually cared.
Democratic Party of Sandoval County vice chairman