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Sante Fe New Mexican: A diverse New Mexico with room to grow

by New Mexican Editorial Board

New Mexico isn’t growing as fast as the rest of the country — and given the reality of drought, climate change and impending water shortages, perhaps the 2020 U.S. census numbers offer more good news than bad.

The figures released Thursday had other interesting news for the state, producing numbers that can help guide future policies and practices. Those include everything from the current redistricting of political districts to finding ways to support rural New Mexico and help urban areas deal with growth.

Despite its near-stagnant population numbers, New Mexico is in flux.

Change doesn’t have to be harmful, but it must be managed. Our state grew by 58,343 people between 2010 and 2020, or almost 3 percent, to about 2.1 million. That was the slowest figure in the West except for Wyoming.

New Mexico remained the most Hispanic state in the nation, with some 47.7 percent of residents responding to the 2020 census stating that they had heritage linked to a Spanish-speaking area.

Hispanics, of course, can be any race, which makes reporting figures complicated. The 2020 census had six race categories, with 51 percent of New Mexicans reporting they are white, 2.2 percent Black, 10 percent Native or Native Alaskan, 1.8 percent Asian and 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian. Some 15 percent reported another race and 19.9 percent said they are two or more races.

All told, that adds up to New Mexico as one diverse place.

In that diverse place, as in many places across the nation, rural areas are losing population. Census figures showed 20 of New Mexico’s 33 counties posted population declines during the 10-year period. With few exceptions, the losses came in smaller counties.

That makes the need to invest in broadband internet — so anyone can work from home — more important than ever.

A tired urban dweller, whether from Albuquerque or San Francisco, can’t move to rural areas of San Juan County to work amid its stark beauty without a reliable Wi-Fi connection. But the area needs such residents; it lost 8,383 people. The changing fortunes of the energy industry have battered Farmington and its neighboring towns.

Dollars from the Energy Transition Act — some $40 million — designed to retrain workers and build renewable industries are key to shoring up the area. Solid jobs with decent salaries will help the people already living in San Juan County but also could lure back those who have left.

Across the state, the energy industry is causing upheaval in a different, more welcome manner. Percentage-wise, growth in Eddy and Lea counties was the largest — 15.8 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Those counties are the biggest oil producers in the state, home to towns such as Carlsbad, Artesia, Hobbs and Lovington. That growth needs support in the form of dollars for roads and social services.

Meanwhile back along the Rio Grande corridor, Sandoval, Bernalillo, Doña Ana and, yes, Santa Fe counties all demonstrated growth. Sandoval — Rio Rancho — had the biggest population growth, with 17,273 people, while Santa Fe added 10,653 people.

Those are affecting the make-up of New Mexico’s three congressional districts. To make sure all votes are equal, population in each district needs to be around 706,000. Right now, the 1st Congressional District, centered by Albuquerque, has 694,577 people; the 2nd District in Southern New Mexico has 714,022; and Northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District has 708,923.

That must be brought in balance without diluting the votes of Native and Hispanic voters — and national power players are watching, ready to step in.

Keep your eyes on the 2nd Congressional District, the only one represented by a Republican. Drawing the district differently — without gerrymandering, because it needs to lose about 8,000 people — could make it difficult for U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell to keep her seat.

Digesting these numbers may take some time, but here are the key takeaways for a changing New Mexico: We need to invest in rural areas, embrace diversity and redistrict with the notion of giving those without power, including those who don’t belong to the state’s majority political party, more of a voice. That’s how the state can show growth and strength when the 2030 census numbers come out.

Read the full editorial here.