The Census Comes Home to Roost

By Lance Chilton

Last September I wrote in this newsletter about my brief stint as a Census taker. Traveling around Albuquerque and northern New Mexico to record individuals’ data, I had gained a new appreciation for the diversity of this beautiful state. I’m not sure how many people I “counted,” but they contributed to New Mexico’s numbers.

The past weeks have shown us some of the results of the 2020 Census.  The news is worrisome.  The country as a whole has seen lower population growth than ever before between two decennial Censuses.

New Mexico has grown much more slowly than surrounding states: We have just 58,000 more residents than we did in 2010 — at 2.8%, the smallest increase since statehood 109 years ago.  While we enjoy our wide-open spaces, we must worry that this very slow growth reflects not only a low birth rate and immigration rate but also poor economic opportunity, leading to a departure of young people in search of fulfilling jobs elsewhere.

The US House of Representatives’ 435 members are apportioned on the basis of the Census, through a remarkably complex mathematical system. (See if you really want to dive into the weeds.) 

New Mexico will keep its three representatives in Congress. But other states with slow growth will lose: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will each lose one, while Texas will gain two seats, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one.  And as the House goes, so goes the Electoral College, which may have implications for 2024.

This news is also worrisome in that many of the states gaining seats are controlled by Republicans and Republican-majority legislatures, which are free to gerrymander away Democrats’ chances to take those seven new seats. The House of Representatives is already perilously close to a Republican takeover: The Democrats’ unexpected losses in the 2020 election left us holding only a 218-to-212 majority. There have been five deaths or resignations (4D, 1R) since the beginning of the year, including our NM CD1 rep, Deb Haaland, who resigned to take a vital position in the Cabinet.

What can we do?  We can be sure to replace Secretary Haaland with an excellent Democrat, Melanie Stansbury.  That’s clearly the first order of business for members of Congressional District 1. Ms. Stansbury would join newly elected Democratic representative Troy Carter from Louisiana.  Florida congressman Alcee Hastings died April 6, and will be replaced after an election as early as July. The election to replace the Republican representative who died in office, Texan Ron Wright, will have been held by May 1. Ohio Democrat Marcia Fudge will be replaced in an election to be held November 2.  So the partisan divide could be even closer, especially if we don’t work like $#&! To elect Melanie Stansbury!