Oil patch population could alter political lines - Albuquerque Journal

Oil patch population could alter political lines

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – While New Mexico recorded modest overall population growth over the last decade, the southern New Mexico-based 2nd Congressional District grew at a slightly faster pace than the state’s two other congressional districts.

That growth, fueled largely by population gains in the state’s oil patch, could mean some voters in the traditionally conservative district will have to be moved into a different congressional district during legislative redistricting this fall – though it’s still anyone’s guess how the maps will ultimately be redrawn.

Two southeastern New Mexico counties – Eddy and Lea – posted the two largest population gains by percentage over the last decade statewide, according to census data presented this week to members of the Citizen Redistricting Committee in Las Cruces.

Likely due in large part to an oil production boom in the Permian Basin, Eddy County grew by 15.8% over the last decade – or 8,485 people – and Lea County wasn’t far behind with a 15% population growth that amounted to 9,728 additional residents.

Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, said that the numbers will have to be scrutinized but that they could ultimately amplify conservatives’ voices at the state Capitol.

“They will be heard a little bit more in Santa Fe,” Burt told the Journal.

New Mexico state demographer Robert Rhatigan, who is a member of the redistricting committee, said the higher-than-expected population counts in the state’s oil patch would help ensure adequate federal funding is targeted to the area.

He also said outreach efforts targeting the region’s Hispanic population and often nomadic oil field workers appear to have been key to the census count.

“We know there’s more people down there than have been counted and given credit for,” Rhatigan said.

Overall, the official 2020 census data shows New Mexico with slightly more than 2.1 million people – a 2.8% increase from 2010.

That means the target population for each of New Mexico’s three congressional districts during the coming legislative redistricting will be 705,841 residents.

Based on the new census data, the 2nd Congressional District has 714,022 residents, the northern New Mexico-based 3rd Congressional District has 708,923 and the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District has 694,577.

Brian Sanderoff, the president of Research & Polling Inc., a local company hired by the state to assist in redistricting, told members of the Citizen Redistricting Committee the population changes do not represent large deviations.

That could avoid the need for large-scale overhaul of the state’s current congressional district boundaries, although adjustments will be necessary.

Entering this year’s round of redistricting, Democrats hold two of New Mexico’s three congressional districts – all but the southern district, which has historically leaned Republican and is now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell.

The Citizen Redistricting Committee has begun holding public hearings and will propose at least three sets of maps for New Mexico’s three-member congressional delegation, 70-person state House and 42-member state Senate by Oct. 30.

However, the final redistricting decisions will be made by New Mexico’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, subject to the approval of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

A special session is expected in November or December to adopt maps, and lawmakers will be free to pick one of the redistricting committee’s proposals or develop new ones.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, pointed out Friday the combined population growth in Eddy and Lea counties outpaced the growth of Bernalillo County from 2010 to 2020.

While Bernalillo County’s population increased from 662,564 to 676,444 – or about one-third of the state’s total population – its 2.1% growth rate was smaller than estimated earlier this year by the census and lower than the overall statewide population growth.

Kernan also suggested that any attempts to put the oil patch in the same congressional district as Santa Fe and other parts of northern New Mexico would generate pushback.

“I think that would be in opposition to what the goal of redistricting is,” said Kernan, referring to the redistricting principle of keeping communities of interest intact whenever possible.

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