As the 2021 legislative session continues, so does the divide: Republicans versus Democrats, rural New Mexico versus urban New Mexico. Our legislators seem to have lost touch with our rural communities. Recent voting maps indicate New Mexico’s rural communities are out of favor with the state capital and lawmakers. In the 2018 election, between Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham received 202,172 of her 398,368 votes, winning only 13 counties in New Mexico. This comes as no surprise to the rural residents of New Mexico. Our needs rarely match those of our urban neighbors.
Rural New Mexicans are taking a back seat to urban politics and ideals. This added strain and hardship to rural communities holds a firm grasp on our way of life as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. The need for transparency and listening has never been more critical in the capital. Many bills being introduced this legislative session will face a limited amount of harsh public criticism due to technical difficulties, time constraints, short-term notice, short sessions, COVID-19 cases and numerous unseen obstacles shielded from the public.
Does rural New Mexico carry the same issues and standings as our urban neighbors, or are our populations so low that our voices are not heard, or do not count, in the capital? Do the committees who first hear these bills listen to the voices of the citizens these bills affect?
It is quite troubling to witness so many businesses shutting their doors and local families forced to move away because our lawmakers have only heard the cries of fellow party members or large urban areas, passing laws for their benefit. Rural New Mexicans suffer blow after blow. The loss of even one small business in a small community has a much greater economic impact than in larger urban settings, though neither is acceptable.
The 2021 legislative session for rural New Mexicans has been a revelation. We see bills passed that discuss physician aid in dying when we see the suicide rate in New Mexico skyrocketing in rural towns, affecting the entire community. We see abortion laws pushed forward that we believe could move doctors out of rural areas. Even now, we are struggling to find enough doctors to keep up with the public demand. Bills introduced to ban trapping will affect farmers and ranchers who struggle to contain losses. The landowner is not compensated, nor does he recoup his loss due to depredation.
Bills come through the legislative “tail pipe” that only remind us that our voices are not heard. Raised taxes damage affected businesses; higher gas prices on fuel we cannot afford hurts New Mexico citizens. Lawmakers take away our jobs and complicate our livelihood. The frustration and divide between rural and urban New Mexicans are becoming stronger. Lawmakers mute our bucolic voices, our jobs are gone or overregulated, and our lawmakers are unattended to force-feed their constituents what they believe is best while barely understanding our needs.
My hope is our lawmakers will see the more important issues surrounding us in rural New Mexico. We need laws to open doors in rural New Mexico while backing away from hefty restrictions. We need positive, creative economic growth. My hope is our officials will see this as an opportunity — to receive input and to hear the reasons why residents placed their votes and trust in them.
The question New Mexico lawmakers need to answer is, will party politics override the constituents who placed their faith in them, our elected officials?