© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES   12/28/21
Tom Udall demonstrates character in action
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            Tom Udall has exited the political stage after 30 years of public service. He would like to be remembered for his work for New Mexicans on a range of issues from the environment to agriculture.
            But he’ll be remembered in the short term for one simple act, and that’s his gracious endorsement of U. S. Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department.
          “President-Elect Biden has chosen an outstanding leader in Congresswoman Haaland, and I am confident that she will be both a historic Interior Secretary and an excellent one,” he said. “Congresswoman Haaland is fully qualified to lead the Department of the Interior — through her service in the Congress, to the state of New Mexico, and to Indian Country, and through her lived experience.”
          Udall hoped to lead the department once helmed by his father, Stewart Udall, but this year it just wasn’t in the cards. That had to be disappointing, but Udall gave his full-throated endorsement to Haaland and stepped back.
          Because that’s who he is.
          In a Democratic administration, and with his experience and connections, Udall, I expect, will fetch up in another position.
          Udall’s office for weeks has issued a flurry of news releases to firm up his legacy. From his many successful bills, it’s difficult to choose a few, but his best known are in environment and conservation. He is his father’s son.  
          This year, the Land and Water Conservation Fund bill emerged from Senate Appropriations, on which Udall sits as ranking member, with $900 million in funding, the largest amount since its creation in 1965. The bill allocates money under the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020, including $405 million for acquisitions at national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands, and $495 million to help states increase and improve outdoor recreation, maintain forests, and protect critical habitat.
          The administration proposed $46 million.
          Udall was the lead author of the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature, which sets a national goal of saving 30% of U. S. lands and waters by 2030. He successfully pushed seven Native American-related bills as vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
          He has also labored in economic development, civil liberties, and support for veterans.
          For example, after meeting veteran Master Sergeant Jessey Baca, who was sick from his exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits used by the military to dispose of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan, Udall introduced the bipartisan Burn Pit Registry Act. It created a registry of service members and veterans like Baca so that the VA can improve programs for them. The bill became law in 2013.
          Udall returned to burn pits in 2019 with another bipartisan bill to strengthen the law.
          Twelve years ago, Udall, then a five-term representative in the 3rd Congressional District, prevailed in a race with Rep. Steve Pearce to replace Sen. Pete Domenici. Pearce said Udall was a tool of environmental leftists, a friend of hippies, an enemy of drilling, and “breathtakingly” liberal. (Pearce might be surprised to learn how many former hippies became responsible adults – and even Republicans.)
          Udall described himself at the time as “a problem-solving Westerner.”
          “I’m pragmatic, and I like to get things done. And I’m willing to work with the other side.” On energy, he said, “We’ve got to do it all. We have got to drill and have a strong domestic industry,” but he also wanted to see investment in renewable energy.
          Udall has left his mark, but equally important is his character. Water resources reporter Laura Paskus described Udall recently as “knowledgeable and passionate on environmental issues and generous and kind as a person.”



Sherry Robinson photo


© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES    12/28/20
Eight counties gain population; rural-urban divide deepens
By Harold Morgan

New Mexico Progress
 Estimates must start somewhere. The trouble is that the further the estimated figure gets from the starting point, the shakier it gets. The U. S. Census Bureau works very hard to deal with this problem so as to produce the best possible quality figures. We will take them at their word and look the 2019 county population numbers.
New Mexico’s estimated population for July 1, 2020, was 2,106,139. That’s an increase of three-tenths of one percent from 2,099,637 in 2019 and up 1.6% or 32,277 from 2010. “Hardly at all” seems the best description of the one-year population growth. The 2020 estimates for states appeared Dec. 22.
The population numbers tell an old story that we as citizens and our policy makers shouldn’t let slip away simply because few people are involved. Our rural-urban division is the story. The new message is the division gets more and more divided.
Eight of our 33 counties added population between 2010 and 2019. The reason, I suggest, is these eight offer people something to do, ways to earn a living and the chance their children might stick around. Four counties—Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia—are home to just over half the state’s population. The 35,351 increase from three of the four more than explains the decade’s total population growth. (Valencia lost about 100 for the period.)
The Lea and Eddy county special case (because of oil) added another 11,000 people. Fortunately they support more than oil—cattle growing in both, Urenco in Lea, potash, WIPP and Carlsbad Caverns in Eddy. Lea County’s population peaked in 2015 at 71,746, dropped for two years and blipped back up in 2019. Eddy County grew steadily all decade. Still, my guess is that the two will show a population drop when the new census numbers appear in a few months.
A parallel change has been shifting political party registrations, New Mexico In Depth, an independent news website, reported recently. Decline-to-state (independent) voters are increasing everywhere but especially in the southeast with increases of 7.4% in Lea County, 7.4% in Curry, and 7.3% in Roosevelt. The percentage of registered Democrats dropped 10 and 11% in these three counties. Santa Fe continues to like the Democrats with only 1.8% growth increase in independents. In Bernalillo County, where Republicans were soundly trashed in November, the Republican registration percentage dropped 4%.
San Juan County continues leading county population loss as gas and coal suffer. For the 2010-2019 decade San Juan lost 6,245 people from its 2010 population of 130,203, a 4.8% drop. Grant, another natural resource-based county, saw a 2,385 population decline for an 8.1% loss.
The leading losers by percentage are the small population very rural counties, especially in the northeast. This has been going on for years and years. A band of decline crosses the state from Union County, population 4,059, loss 10.6%, to Hidalgo, population 4,198, loss 13.7%. De Baca County, population 1,748, led in population loss at 13.9%. Colfax County, down 13%, or 1,784, completed the 13-percent loss group.
These sparsely populated counties are becoming more and more empty. When our so-called leaders discuss the state, the first or second comment touches landscapes and sunsets, the beauty of both. But you can’t eat sunsets.
The Cooperative Extension Service at New Mexico State University has a bit of money ($300,000) from WalMart via the Southern Rural Development Center in Mississippi to begin building economic capacity in retail, tourism, hospitality and entertainment in seven population-losing counties. A business retention and expansion program will be part of the effort. It’s a start.

 

Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.