Heads up, Corrales! The Sandoval County Commission is about to make a decision that may change the political landscape in the village for the next 10 years or more. A plan to redraw the Sandoval County district maps was presented at the last County Commission meeting on November 18. Private contractor and former Republican State Senator Rod Adair was hired by the commission and Commissioner Chairman David Heil to draw four possible redistricting maps for the county. He presented these maps at the commission meeting in front of a large, animated crowd.
After Adair’s presentation, private citizen Isaac Chavez presented a fifth map he had drawn up “on his laptop” as a volunteer. After making his presentation as a good citizen, the young man was thoroughly questioned by Chairman Heil, and then Adair was invited back to add criticism to Chavez’s district map. Chavez handled the inquisition with grace, and skillfully answered all of the questions posed to him. Chairman Heil, however seemed unable or unwilling to understand Chavez’s responses.
For Corrales, all of Adair’s proposed maps would mean significant disruption. Currently Corrales shares a district with the southern part of Rio Rancho and Cabezon where many Corraleños shop, work and travel daily. All of Adair’s plans place Corrales, in whole or in part, into a district with Placitas and Bernalillo. Only Chavez’s plan keeps the core of Corrales’s district around Corrales, with parts of southern Rio Rancho.
It is difficult to find any reasoning for combining Corrales with Placitas and Bernalillo, unless it is to group Corrales with other principalities that share political leanings. Or, possibly, Adair forgot to account for the Rio Grande in his map, or he thinks Corraleños are using boats to do their daily shopping.
Another broader, and perhaps more serious issue with Adair’s maps is the packing of all indigenous populations into one, enormous, district. This action was loudly lambasted during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Several tribal leaders were present, and each spoke to the fact that the commission had not reached out to their communities for their input on the maps, and their opposition to being grouped together.
Governor Jerome Lucero from the Pueblo of Zia, Mario Atencio, vice-president of the Torreon-Star Lake Navajo Chapter, and Governor Anthony Ortiz from San Felipe Pueblo were among the members of the public to speak up.
All three of these leaders mentioned Sandoval County’s history of violating the Voting Rights Act and spoke to the disrespect they felt at being left out of the process so far.
Chavez argued that the various Native American pueblos and tribes of New Mexico might have more in common with the neighbors that share their streets and bridges than they do with each other. His map reflects this idea, for the indigenous lands as well as for Corrales.
This idea of throwing all the indigenous people into one district, giving them one commissioner to fight for them and their very different geographical concerns, is seen by many as deliberate under-representation. If the November 18 meeting is any indication of how the commission treats those with differing opinions, one commissioner trying to speak for all of the pueblos wouldn’t have a chance.
After the public comments, the commissioners weighed in on the proposed maps. Commissioners Michael Meek and Kenneth Eichwald both expressed concern for the ideas and opinions put forth by the public. Commissioner Meek read out notes he had taken, adding a promise to take all the ideas into consideration.
Commissioner Katherine Bruch spoke out next to clarify her involvement with Chavez’ plan, saying she was surprised and alarmed to have been given credit for making it. On the Sandoval County website, Chavez’s plan is still labeled as the “Chavez/Bruch” plan. Commissioner Bruch clarified that while she was in support of Chavez’s plan, she was due no credit for its making.
Chairman Heil invited Adair to come up to the microphone yet again, presumably to have a chance to respond to the public comments. Adair did so by spending several minutes accusing the public commentators of all having an agenda, “giving cookie cutter arguments,” and “not knowing what they are talking about.”
Perhaps displaying his own agenda, the defensive Adair did not wear a mask and refused to comply with social distancing rules during the meeting. Chairman Heil closed his statements by speaking directly to Chavez to say, “We are in violent disagreement.”
Corrales Commissioner Jay Block called into the meeting on a cell phone, and did not offer words of encouragement for his constituents, saying “This is not a democracy, it is a constitutional republic, and elections have consequences.”
In spite of Block’s discouraging words, Corraleños have until December 9, when the commission meets again, to try to make their voices heard, or risk learning firsthand the consequences of gerrymandering.