Could Brian Egolf really be that dumb?
That was my first thought when the headline caught my eye, as I picked up the morning newspaper from my driveway.
The headline implied that New Mexico House Speaker Egolf, a Democrat, was threatening to use the redistricting process to dismember Congressional District 2, where Republican Yvette Herrell had just beat Democrat Xochitl Torres Small.
If he really had such a plan, it would be ridiculous to announce it more than a year in advance.
But that’s not what he said.
This analysis is mostly not about Speaker Egolf. It’s about the language used by a reporter and the chairman of the state opposition party. It’s about creating sensationalism out of nothing. It’s a reminder to readers that the superficial appearance of the news is not necessarily the accurate meaning. It’s the curse of our time.
Egolf’s exact statement as reported was:
“So this is the last election for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District with a map that looks like it looks now. So next time it’ll be a different district and we’ll have to see what that means for Republican chances to hold it.”
It is a fact that redistricting will happen before the next general election and our congressional districts will probably change in size and shape, based on changes in population that will be reported in the 2020 Census.
But here’s the next sentence in the article, which was written by Associated Press reporter Susan Montoya Bryant:
“State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce criticized the plan.”
How did Steve Pearce get into this article? My guess is that the reporter called him for a comment and Pearce obliged with a diatribe (which is not quoted here).
Reader, look at the word “plan.” Plan? What plan? Egolf did not say he had a plan. He was simply making an observation. If there was a plan, the reporter should have clarified that fact.
The framing of the quote made it easy for readers to jump from Egolf’s statement to assuming that a nefarious plan by Democrats is already in place for cutting up Congressional District 2 – even though such a plan is not even possible until we have results from the census.
The word “plan” implies a whole story that does not exist. As used in this article, the word is inflammatory. It appears to have been inserted by the reporter. It has resulted in a loud and entirely unnecessary argument being fought on editorial pages.
In an op-ed he wrote to respond to the controversy, Egolf said:
“This month, I spoke to journalists about a wide range of election topics including the redistricting process that will take place next year. I stated that electoral districts in New Mexico will change and that political parties will have to take that into account moving forward. That is simply true …”
Okay, let’s not be naïve. The original statement by Egolf that started this brouhaha is not exactly neutral. His statement does not reveal a “plan” but it does suggest an intent. Readers can infer that Egolf probably had some thoughts about redistricting and was careless enough to speak his thoughts out loud to reporters.
That carelessness is a luxury that legislative leaders cannot afford these days. We are living in cutthroat times. Twisting a political opponent’s words to expose diabolical intent is what some political leaders think their job is, rather than finding common ground and getting things done together.
Our amateurish volunteer legislature, robust with friendly rivalry and good-old-boy backslapping, is one of the things I came to love about New Mexico when I settled here more than 40 years ago. That’s pretty much over. I’ll have to find something else to be nostalgic about.
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