GovernorBill Richardson (D)
SenatorsJeff Bingaman (D)
Tom Udall (D)
New Mexico has some of the oldest settlements in America and some of its newest technologies, often in surrealistic proximity to one another. The oldest permanently inhabited city in the United States is not Plymouth or Jamestown or St. Augustine; it is probably Acoma, which apparently thrived in what is now New Mexico long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1540 and has been continuously inhabited for the nearly 470 years since. While the settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth were building flimsy wood houses, the Indians in New Mexico were living in extensive dwellings hundreds of years old, made with the adobe that is still the characteristic building material here. They used small pebbles as mulch to retain scarce moisture on the rocky desert land. Nearly five centuries later, much of what makes New Mexico distinctive derives from the people found here by the first European explorers—something true of no other state but Hawaii. The cultures in other states are mostly an outgrowth of what early European settlers brought to the land. The native people have mostly disappeared, either killed off by disease or maltreatment, or driven onto reservations. Not so in New Mexico, the northernmost salient of the great Indian-Spanish civilizations of the Cordillera, which extend along the mountain chain through Mexico and Central and South America to the southern end of Chile. The Spanish settled in Santa Fe in 1609, and though their hold on the town was often tenuous, their imprint remains. There are still 19 Indian pueblos in New Mexico today, plus the reservations of the Navajo and the Jicarilla and the Mescalero Apache. A very substantial minority of today’s New Mexicans are descendants of those Indians, or the Spanish, or both. New Mexico’s population was 44% Hispanic in 2007, the highest percentage of any state, and 9% American Indian. Almost one-third of the people in this state speak Spanish in everyday life, but relatively few are recent immigrants from Latin America. Only 9% of New Mexicans are foreign-born, less than the national average.
Modern New Mexico is also a civilization built on technology. It was to a remote mesa called Los Alamos that Gen. Leslie Groves brought his Manhattan Project scientists during World War II to build a secret town and develop a secret weapon that would, in two explosions, end World War II and change the course of history. Los Alamos is still a government laboratory, and an occasional source of controversy as it was in 1999, when revelations surfaced that Chinese spies had obtained hundreds of computer files from the lab. (The facility is now slated for substantial layoffs by the Obama administration.) New Mexico has other high-tech sites as well: the White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo, where the first atomic bomb was detonated in July 1945; and the Sandia National Laboratories near Albuquerque, run by Lockheed Martin for the government, a non-nuclear weapons research facility with one of the fastest computers in the world, used to simulate nuclear explosions. Near Carlsbad is the federal Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), where the U.S. Energy Department deposits transuranic radioactive waste. And at the western edge of White Sands in Sierra County is the Virgin Galactic spaceport, a project by billionaire Richard Branson to send people on tours of space beginning in late 2010. With the state and federal governments financing the runways, and 275 investors paying $35 million total for rights to early rides, Branson plans to launch his SpaceShipTwo crafts from the bellies of airplanes at 55,000 feet and fly them at 2,500 miles per hour on an arc up to 68 miles into space, where passengers can float in glassed-in cabins for six minutes and then glide back down to Earth. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, a big booster and prospective early passenger, proclaimed, “This sends a message that will be heard around the world, that New Mexico is a state that embraces entrepreneurs, adventurers, and pioneers.”
New and old New Mexico intermingle in varying proportions in this land of majestically vast vistas. The Hispanic and Indian cultures predominate north and west of Albuquerque, with picturesque old towns and active pueblos, backward Indian reservations and lavish casino resorts. ‘‘Little Texas,’’ in the south and east, has small cities, plenty of oil wells, vast cattle ranches, and desolate military bases; the region resembles, economically and culturally, the adjacent West Texas high plains. Here, as everywhere in New Mexico, government is a prime employer, accounting for 23% of jobs, one of the highest figures in the country, and often the moving force in the local economy. While New Mexico had neither the housing boom nor the housing bust of next-door neighbor Arizona, its economy in early 2009 was sagging despite its relatively recession-proof reliance on government jobs.
In the middle of the state is Albuquerque, which, with the arrival of air conditioning, grew from a small desert town of 35,000 in 1940 into a Sun Belt metropolis of 841,000 today. The city’s economy is heavily based on technology, especially nuclear power, but its people have relatively low income and education levels. New Mexico ranks high among states in the percentage of residents living in poverty—the downscale Sun Belt. It also has high rates of drunk driving (and a state law requiring ignition interlocks for DWI offenders), accidental deaths, teenage pregnancies, and drug overdoses. But over the years, its amazing scenery and unique culture have attracted writers such as D.H. Lawrence and painters such as Georgia O’Keefe. Santa Fe today is a magnet for young people with a taste for alternative lifestyles and with the trust funds to comfortably finance them. Other migrants are attracted by the 10 or so destination golf courses built by Indian tribes next to their reservation casinos.
For many years, New Mexico politics was a somnolent business. Local bosses—first Republican, later Democratic—controlled the large Hispanic vote. Elections in many counties featured irregularities that would have made a Chicago ward committeeman blush. New Mexico had for years another feature of boss-controlled politics: the balanced ticket, one Spanish and one Anglo U.S. senator, with the offices of governor and lieutenant governor split as well. But for all its distinctiveness, in national politics New Mexico was a bellwether, voting for every winning presidential candidate from 1912, when it became a state, until 1976, when it backed losing Republican Gerald Ford. In the 1988 and 1996 elections, the state was just 1% off the national mark. In 2000, it voted narrowly for Democrat Al Gore. Four years later, it voted just a bit less narrowly for Republican George W. Bush. In 2008, New Mexico moved sharply toward the Democrats, after Sen. Barack Obama opened offices around the state and boosted voter turnout sharply in Democratic areas. The strong Democratic base in the north, from Hispanics and from liberal newcomers in Santa Fe and Taos, grew even stronger. Albuquerque and its surging suburb of Rio Rancho, long politically marginal, went solidly Democratic, as did Las Cruces, just north of El Paso, Texas. Turnout sagged in Little Texas, which remained Republican but was heavily outvoted by the rest of the state. Obama carried New Mexico; the seat of 36-year veteran GOP Sen. Pete Domenici, who retired, was won by Democrat Tom Udall. All three of New Mexico’s House members ran for the Senate in 2008, and all three open seats went Democratic. With Sen. Jeff Bingaman in his fifth term, New Mexico has an all-Democratic congressional delegation for the first time since 1968.
The dominant figure in New Mexico state politics in this decade has been Gov. Bill Richardson, who came to Santa Fe to run the state Democratic party in 1978, was elected to Congress in 1982, and later had prominent roles in the Clinton administration as the secretary of Energy and ambassador to the United Nations. Richardson returned to the state in 2001 and was easily elected governor in 2002; he dominated the Democratic state Legislature and built a record popular with voters of both parties. He has signed bans on smoking and cockfighting, and he abolished the death penalty—New Mexico is changing. But Richardson has suffered a series of disappointments. He failed to break into the top ranks of presidential contenders in 2008, and after Obama was elected, Richardson’s nomination for secretary of Commerce was derailed. He is barred from seeking a third term as governor in 2010.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
New Mexico has been a battleground state in the last three presidential elections, but the results were very different the third time. In 2000, after some ragged vote counting, the state gave a 365-vote margin to Democrat Al Gore. In 2004, it reported a 5,988-vote margin for Republican George W. Bush. Voter rolls and turnout swelled that year, thanks to Gov. Bill Richardson’s well-publicized efforts to register new Democrats and to the Bush campaign’s less-noticed organizational efforts. Overall turnout rose 26% from 2000 to 2004 even though the state’s population increased just 5% in that period. High Democratic turnout in Santa Fe and Albuquerque was balanced by high Republican turnout in Little Texas. In addition, Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote, up from 32% in 2000.
The 2008 contest was another story, with Democrat Barack Obama beating Republican John McCain 57%-42%. As in other states that were targeted in both 2004 and 2008, turnout inched up just marginally, 10%. The Obama campaign opened 39 offices across the state and vastly out-organized the Republicans. But the turnout numbers show that Obama’s team shrewdly concentrated its efforts where there were new Democrats. In most counties, turnout rose only 1% to 9% and in twelve counties it actually dropped. But it rose 7% or more in metro Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos, in heavily Hispanic Rio Arriba County, and in the two heavily Indian counties to the west, in and around Las Cruces. Obama won 74% of first-time voters, 71% of young voters, and 83% of young Latino voters. McCain won whites 56%-42%, almost identical to Bush’s 56%-43% support from those voters in 2004. But McCain won only 30% of the Latino vote, far below Bush’s level and more in line with historic norms.
New Mexico traditionally held its presidential primary in June, long after every major party nomination since 1984 was settled. For 2008, with Richardson as a candidate, New Mexico scheduled its Democratic primary for February 5, Super Tuesday. By that time, Richardson had withdrawn, but the race between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was so close it took nine days to count all the votes, including 17,000 provisional ballots. Clinton won 49%-48%, carrying heavily Hispanic counties and Little Texas. Obama carried metro Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, and two other rural counties. The Republicans did not stage their primary until June, when no one was paying attention. McCain beat Rep. Ron Paul of Texas 86%-14%.
|111th Congress: 3 D|
The boundaries of New Mexico’s three congressional districts have been substantially the same since 1982. Control of the redistricting process in 2001 was split between the Democratic Legislature and Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. In June 2001, the Legislature passed a plan that would make the 1st District, held by Republican Heather Wilson, more Democratic; Johnson vetoed it. In September 2001, the Legislature passed a plan that would make the 2nd District, held by Republican Joe Skeen, more Democratic; Johnson vetoed it. Republicans took the issue to court. In January 2002, state District Judge Frank Allen, a Democrat, imposed his own plan. He said he was reluctant to make major changes, and his map shifted only 22,000 people into different districts. Democrats were disappointed; Republicans were pleased.
In February 2003 state Senate President Richard Romero, who unsuccessfully challenged Wilson in 2002 and 2004, pressed the Legislature to redraw the lines once again. But national Democrats urged caution and Richardson seemed uninterested, perhaps because a new plan might have jeopardized his good relations with Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, who would have opposed a plan that hurt Wilson. In December 2006, after Wilson was very narrowly re-elected, Democratic state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino called for a redistricting map that would make the 1st District more Democratic; Richardson said he was willing to listen to the proposal but it never went anywhere. Now that Democrats hold all of New Mexico’s House seats and have large majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, redistricting after the 2010 census likely will be an all-Democratic exercise, unless a Republican is elected governor or one of the House members loses re-election in 2010. With Democrats in charge, only minor changes in the boundaries are expected.