The recent decision by Democratic leadership in the New Mexico House of Representatives to dissolve the influential House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee highlights the growing disconnect between the entirely urban House Democratic leadership team and the geographically diverse state members are elected to represent.
The decision to dissolve the committee further dilutes the representation of Hispanic land grants, acequias, traditional and rural communities in the legislative process. This action is disappointing but not unexpected. Despite being integral to the prosperity of all New Mexicans, traditional and rural communities and their people are consistently undervalued by the dominant rhetoric and actions. As a result of this decision, traditional Hispanic farming and ranching communities in New Mexico will have one less opportunity to meaningfully engage with a committee that truly understands their issues and desires.
New Mexicans deserve House Democratic leaders who take seriously the value and nuance of traditional and rural people and places. Our leaders must understand the historical intent of Spanish Colonial land grants in New Mexico was to support small-scale practices of both growing crops and raising livestock. As a result, rangeland livestock raising is now intimately intertwined into the acequia economy and deeply ingrained in its cultural traditions.
Our leaders must recognize that acequias are the oldest water management institutions in the United States, and around 800 acequias still continue to feed the fields, while also restoring the aquifers and riparian areas of New Mexico. Traditional and rural communities provide a significant ecosystem of services to the state, including food production and stewardship of biodiversity and habitat resources.
As United States Sen. Ben Ray Luján noted in a public statement expressing his disappointment in the decision by House Democratic leadership to dissolve the Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee — land grands, acequias, traditional and rural communities “are a critical part of the heart, soul, and history of our state.”
Issues that primarily affect traditional and rural communities deserve to be elevated and to remain a focus of a legislative committee, rather than dissolved and obscured by lumping these important and unique items in with dissimilar issues in other existing legislative committees.
Representation of acequias, land grants, traditional and rural communities should be prioritized during the legislative process, not relegated to a subset of issues in an already busy committee.
In fact, if we have learned anything from COVID-19 and its economic disruptions, investments in traditional and rural communities are critical to building our local food systems in New Mexico. In many cases, our traditional and rural communities provide the state important natural resources and a workforce the state as a whole relies upon to power and feed everyday New Mexicans. The actions and rhetoric from our legislative leaders can and should do a better job of properly valuing traditional and rural communities as key assets and economic drivers in New Mexico.
Traditional and rural communities are a vital part of New Mexico’s future, and our elected leaders must value, engage with and invest in them. This requires investing in a legislative structure and process that ensures their voice is listened to and valued throughout the legislative session.
Instead of losing representation during the legislative process, the traditional and rural communities who grow our food, supply our food, raise the cattle and steward our environment deserved to be elevated.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and our members support our traditional and rural communities and support the economy. We ask the House Democratic legislative leadership to do the same by both honoring our past and protecting our future.