Redistricting plans stir up debate

Current districts

Robin Fornoff

By most accounts, it’s boiled down to two choices.

One changes little. The other changes everything and brings the threat of a lawsuit, according to Curry County Commissioner Robert Sandoval.

At stake is who will represent county voters in the 2012 election and beyond.

Commissioners plan to make their critical decision on redistricting Tuesday, capping a painstakingly long and sometimes confusing process that will change voting districts. Just how much it will change is what commissioners must decide.

Redistricting is mandated every 10 years by state law to reflect population shifts determined by the Census. To comply, commissioners hired consultants Research & Polling, who have offered a variety of redistricting options known as Plans A-F.

Two commissioners, Sandoval and Frank Blackburn, say they favor only one option — Plan A. Two other commissioners, Wendell Bostwick and Chairman Caleb Chandler, say they haven’t decided yet.

Commissioner Dan Stoddard didn’t return several telephone calls seeking his position on redistricting.

Chandler concedes the commission will likely decide between just two options — Plan A and Plan F. Both leave incumbents in their respective districts for the next election. But it is about the only element the two plans share.

Plan A represents a minor variation in the current map of county commission districts, changing the borders slightly of Districts 3 and 5, which adjoin each other. District 5 had a 19.8 percent population gain while District 3 saw population decrease 27 percent.

Plan F completely changes four of the five districts. It was specifically requested by Chandler and Bostwick and is the source of a lot of drama among commissioners.

“I don’t like it at all,” said Blackburn. “I’ll never vote for it.”

Blackburn’s objections to Plan F are that it changes four districts so drastically.

Based on state Supreme Court guidelines, Blackburn said the only two districts that needed adjustment were 3 and 5. Noting the two districts border each other, Blackburn said, “Seems to me the logical thing to do is it take away from District 5 and give to District 3,” which is what Plan A accomplishes.

Sandoval said if Plan F is adopted it will almost certainly cost the county a lawsuit because it “would make it impossible to get another minority elected out of my district (District 1).”

Keeping at least one of the five districts with a majority population of minority voters is a court-ordered mandate.

“I have said very publicly and very loudly, the people of District 1 are prepared to challenge this in court,” said Sandoval. “We certainly don’t want to. But there are a lot of people in my district who have the perception that with Plan F, we’re no longer in charge of our own destiny and we are prepared to get that back, even it means going to court.”

Sandoval, who is term limited and cannot seek re-election, said Plan F would split his district in half while extending its eastern boundaries to include Texico.

On paper, said Sandoval, that means a slight increase in Hispanic population, from about 54 percent to 58 percent. In reality, said Sandoval, many of the Hispanics living in or near Texico are undocumented and “most of the Hispanics I would be getting do not vote.”

“There are a lot of people who work in the dairies who live in Texico who don’t vote,” said Sandoval.

Chandler and Bostwick, each stressing they haven’t decided how to vote, said Plan F is an attempt to get more county residents involved in county government.

As districts are drawn now, and under Plan A, two of the five districts — District 1 and 2 — are primarily located within Clovis city limits.

“Plan F would have districts with larger numbers of county residents in all districts except District 2,” said Chandler. “That would give county residents and opportunity for more input because they would be in four districts not three districts.

“But at the end of the day,” said Chandler, “what you have to do is set up the districts as the people in Curry County want them set up. That’s why I don’t have my mind made up yet.”

Chandler and Bostwick said they would prefer a plan that divides all five districts to include more county voters but it is not logistically possible under a court rule that says all district borders must be contiguous.

“In reality,” said Bostwick, “you have one district that will always have a Clovis representative in it.”

Bostwick said Sandoval’s district “is my dilemma. Do I expand the district or do we stay status quo and leave it all in the city limits? I want to do what’s best in the long term for the benefit of Curry County.”