Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Member f Congress?

WED, 10-24-07

SANTA FE - Will New Mexico get a fourth member of the U.S. House as a result of the 2010 census? When we received our third member of the House from the 1980 census, demographers projected another would be added in 2010.
The West was growing fast and the Eastern and Midwestern Rust Belt was sinking like a rock. That trend has continued, but New Mexico hasn't kept up with Arizona and Colorado, which have increased their number of U.S. House members with each census. Nevada may soon join that category.
New Mexico has been growing, but a rate of about two percent a year isn't fast enough to get an extra member of Congress every decade. Maybe in 2020. We will climb over two million inhabitants in the 2010 census. There's no prize for that but businesses thinking about relocating here might look at the new number and be more likely to consider us.
Our state's biggest growth is occurring in areas that already are considered metropolitan, such as Albuquerque and Las Cruces. It also is growing in the category of "quality of life" counties. Can you guess which those might be? They are Taos, Santa Fe and Lincoln.
So federal reapportionment isn't going to be a big deal in New Mexico following the 2010 census. But state redistricting may be a very big deal. That's the process of dividing up the congressional seats New Mexico receives through reapportionment each decade.
It might not be a big deal in New Mexico if we still have the same number of U.S. representatives. But, then again, it might. The present three districts could be redrawn. During the last two redistricting opportunities, many Democrat leaders have wanted to make Albuquerque's 1st Congressional District more Democratic.
Both houses had Democratic majorities at the time but Republican Gary Johnson was governor in 2001 and vowed to veto any change. In 1991, Democrat Bruce King was governor, but even though it would help his party, he said he didn't want any messing around.
Actually, Democrats had another opportunity to fiddle with congressional redistricting in 1993, when Democrat Bill Richardson took over from Gov. Gary Johnson. But opponents of the proposal said it was unfair and not in accordance with reapportionment law.
A few months later, Colorado, where Republicans had taken over a second house of the legislature and already had a Republican governor, redistricted to create an additional safe GOP seat.
And shortly after, Texas Republicans who had just gained control of the legislature, converted over a dozen Democratic districts into Republican ones. That's when Texas House Democrats fled to Oklahoma for about a week, followed by Texas Democratic senators fleeing to Albuquerque for over a month in order to forestall losing so many congressional seats.
During the Texas visitation, some of the New Mexico politicians who had said it would be unjust and unlawful for New Mexico to redistrict, told the Texans they should take their medicine like men. Gov. Richardson still decided not to stir the water here, possibly in hopes of winning reelection in additional Republican counties.
All of this lends additional importance to upcoming legislative elections and the big 2010 gubernatorial race for which candidates already are lining up. And the excitement is heightened by the recent retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici and the uncertainty of where Gov. Bill Richardson eventually will land.
Meanwhile New Mexico eagerly awaits the outcome of the 2010 census. No state receives as much federal assistance per dollar from its taxpayers. That means it is more important to us than any other state to get every person counted. This time, the government's newest effort is the use of handheld computers with GPS capability.
That could help, but Congress always is bent on cutting the cost of the census despite the fact that political careers are ended when census results eliminate a congressional seat from a state that isn't growing fast enough.

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