Constituents divided over redistricting

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More than 50 people were at the Socorro County Annex building Tuesday night for a public hearing to consider two plans for redistricting the county.

One plan – Plan B – would keep the five districts of the county pretty much as they are now, splitting one precinct in the northern part of the county to divide its population between District II and District IV.

The other plan – Plan A – would shift the boundary lines of Districts II, III, IV and V, moving five precincts into different districts and splitting one precinct between District III and District V.

Commission Chairman Danny Monette began the public hearing by saying, “If you don’t like any of the plans, give us some ideas and we’ll see what we can do with our demographer.”

About half the people present had driven to Socorro from the northern parts of the county to voice support for Plan A. The other half, in favor of Plan B, were from the San Antonio area and the city of Socorro. Only one, Roberta Smith of Socorro, suggested the commissioners try to come up with another plan.

“Maybe we can do a compromise and get everybody kind of what they want,” Smith said.

Smith said she’s actually in favor of Plan B, but thought it might be possible to tweak the plans somehow to make everybody happy.

The problem, Monette said, is that the precincts now are too large, and money needs to be set aside to have them redrawn. He said that would take a few years to accomplish.

In all, of the 20 people who stepped up to the microphone to have their comments entered into the public records, 11 said they were in favor of Plan A. The first was Rick Abeyta, from Abeytas, who asked the commissioners to vote for Plan A because it would bring all the northern communities together into one district. He reminded them of the hard feelings brought about by the last redistricting work done 10 years ago, after the 2000 census.

“Back then, La Joya was cut off from our community,” Abeyta said. “We all know there was a lot of litigation and all that. It was senseless and we can avoid all that.”

Abeyta said that at a town hall meeting held in Las Nutrias on Sunday, people said they wanted the northern communities to be back together in one district, which Plan A would achieve. He also said people felt it made sense for Alamo and Magdalena to be able to vote in one district together as well.

“I respectfully ask you to consider Plan A,” Abeyta said. “It looks like what we all wanted.”

Abeyta’s position was reiterated by Arley Stump Jr. and Arley Stump Sr. of Bosque, Neil Hathaway, Elizabeth Blackburn and Connie Ott of Veguita, Al Sandoval and Esmerlindo Barela of Abeytas, Marcel Abeyta of La Joya, and Ernie Griego of Las Nutrias.

The contents of a letter and an email from northern county constituents in favor of Plan A were also read into the record.

Nine people addressed the commissioners in support of Plan B. The first of these was Dennis Harris of San Antonio.

“Ten years ago, some of the complaints were that Alamo didn’t have enough representation, the northern counties didn’t have enough representation and San Antonio was divided in three,” Harris said. “Now, San Antonio’s all together. I believe Plan B is more equitable to all.”

The issue of representation was also brought up by Rowena Baca, owner of the Owl Bar in San Antonio and a former county commissioner. Baca described changing San Antonio from District V to District II under Plan A as a political move.

“We have nothing in common with the people of the north,” Baca said, adding if Plan A is adopted, “We’ll never get another commissioner from San Antonio.”

Also speaking in favor of Plan B were Janice Argabright, Marty Greenwood, Frances Smith and Dave Wade of San Antonio, and Laura Vogel, Della Vega and Rosie Tripp, also a former county commissioner, of Socorro.

Smith said she voted for Commissioner Juan Gutierrez, and she’d like to keep him. Tripp expressed similar thoughts.

“The constituents that we serve like to see a familiar face,” Tripp said. “Most people don’t like change.”

As the hearing was coming to a close, Lisa Abeyta of Abeytas asked how the matter would be decided.

“Do you make your decision based on a majority?” she asked.

“No,” Monette answered. “It’s a personal decision.”

People in favor of both plans bought up fairness to voters in Alamo and Magdalena. Several of those in favor of Plan A said it would be better for Alamo to be able to vote in the same district as the residents of Magdalena.

No one from Alamo or Magdalena was present at the hearing.

In an interview on Tuesday, County Manager Delilah Walsh said what’s most fair for Alamo could in fact be Plan B, even though it might appear otherwise.

“Redistricting is about population numbers, but just because an area has high population doesn’t mean it has a high voter turnout,” Walsh said.

Based on the number of people who typically turn out to vote in county elections, Walsh said Alamo voters probably stand a better chance of electing a commissioner from their own community if they remain in District II with the northern communities. The chances of that might be less if they are put in District V with Magdalena and the southwestern part of the county, where voter turnout is usually higher, she said.

Public input on the plans will be accepted until Jan. 5, by regular mail or by email. Contact information for the county commission is available at www.co.socorro.nm.us or by calling the county manager’s office at 575-835-0589.

County residents will have one more opportunity to voice their opinions on the plans at a public hearing that will be held during the commissioners’ Jan. 5 meeting at 10 a.m. Any comments received by mail or email before then will be read into the public record at the hearing.

This story was corrected on Dec. 27. Roberta Smith supports Plan B, not Plan A, as was originally written.

 


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