Perhaps you know that New Mexico is one of only five states that don’t have a white majority. Hispanics combined with Native Americans outnumber Anglos here.
But racial and/or cultural diversity isn’t the only thing that provides a spice to life in these parts. Physical resources have added greatly to the mix.
Take southeastern New Mexico as an example. The Permian Basin, one of the larger oil and gas reserves in the world, runs underneath all or parts of Lea, Eddy, Chaves and Roosevelt counties, and that’s turned the area into a cash cow for New Mexico tax collections. About a third of the state’s tax revenues comes from the fossil fuels industry.
Meanwhile, this oil and gas revenue stream also flows from the opposite corner of the state, where the San Juan Basin has enriched the economies—albeit in boom-and-bust cycles—in places like Farmington, Bloomfield and Aztec in northwestern New Mexico.
There’s about 450 miles between Carlsbad in the southeast and Farmington in the northwest, and yet these two fossil-fuel towns have more in common than, say Carlsbad and Las Cruces, about 200 miles apart. Oil-and-gas interests fuel conservative values, which explains why San Juan County is by far the most Republican county in northwestern New Mexico, and why all of southwestern New Mexico is a GOP stronghold.
Agribusiness also adds a conservative tinge to our state. Chaves County, the epicenter of Republicanism in New Mexico, sits atop of an abundant groundwater supply that’s helped to make the county the largest agricultural producer in the state. And like the fossil fuels industry, farming and ranching also raises up conservative values.
Meanwhile, up and down the Rio Grande, people work hard to preserve and protect their water supply because it’s a far more limited resource. Hatch, in southern New Mexico, may be known for its fertile croplands but all that’s the product of an integrally designed system of wells, lakes and acequias to irrigate those famous Hatch chile fields.
Farther up river, where the Rio Grande flows out of the southern Rockies, water rights laws protect the interests of farmers who tend the river’s bottomlands, while the river flows through mountainous terrains for a splash of incredible, and incredibly beautiful, scenery.
In northern New Mexico, the Rio Grande isn’t simply an agricultural resource, it’s a recreational adventure, too—and that liberalizes the political turf. Environmental activists have a much louder voice up there.
The New York Times has an interactive online map at nytimes.com that breaks down, by county, the nation’s 2016 presidential election. With it, you can see that Hillary Clinton supporters were strongest in northern New Mexico, where the mountains meet the foothills, while Donald Trump was stronger in the more arid south.
There are exceptions, of course. Grant County in southern New Mexico—and a gateway into the Gila Mountains—went for Clinton (though just barely, with a plurality rather than a majority). And, not surprisingly, the state’s urban landscapes, including the southernmost Las Cruces metropolitan statistical area, went decidedly for Clinton. Moreover, in the northern reaches of the state, Trump ruled election day in places like San Juan County in the Four Corners area and in Union County, located in the state’s northeastern corner.
But even in the exceptions one can see natural resources influencing popular opinion. I’ve already mentioned the oil-and-gas influence in San Juan County, while over in the grasslands of Union County, where croplands only take a back seat only to cattle, agriculture has made a predictably conservative imprint on the land and its people.
Of course, environmental and natural resources certainly aren’t the only influences over modern-day New Mexico. Cultural identities play a big hand in political persuasions, as Anglos tend to be more conservative and Republican and Hispanics, American Indians and other ethnicities tend to be more progressive and Democratic.
Even the centuries-old Spanish land grants that originally sectioned off this land, as well as the location of Indian reservations in the state, hold considerable sway over New Mexico’s diverse political landscape.
That’s why, while the red-blue breakdowns on the Times’ map shows a clear differentiation between rural (Trump) and urban (Clinton) voters nationwide, our state has some glaring exceptions. Nearly two-thirds of the voters in super-rural and heavily Hispanic Mora County, for example, went for Clinton.
The Land of Enchantment’s landscape is unique unto itself, and it’s helped turn its people into what they are today. Explore it and you’ll find it both culturally and naturally diverse, to which I say, long live New Mexico’s unique identity.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and writes this column for newspapers around the state. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.