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Red and blue don’t tell us everything

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By Sherry Robinson

Red states, blue states, red counties, blue counties.    

A few elections ago, a TV station began using red and blue to indicate voting patterns on a map, a decision driven solely by graphic design. It stuck, and now it’s an emblem of political identity.

On maps the day after Election Day, the colors defined divisions between one county and the next, between rural and urban, and between regions of the state.

Like many other states, the cities here voted blue, but unlike other states, the rural areas were both blue and red. This rural-urban divide was most visible as the state’s second largest city, Las Cruces, flexed its muscles, swinging the vote for Xochitl Torres Small despite solid support for Yvette Harrell in the massive 2nd District’s red counties. The reliably blue north preserves Ben Ray Lujan’s 3rd District seat each cycle. And the blue and very urban 1st District is sending Deb Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo, to Congress.

While the anticipated “Blue Wave” fell short nationally, it was a reality here, sweeping Democrats into all the statewide offices.

If Republicans are crying into their beer as Democrats pop champagne corks, keep in mind that just four years ago the opposite was true. Republicans seized the state House of Representatives for the first time in six decades, and

Democratic Party leaders were hanging their heads.

Political pundit Joe Scarborough observed a year ago that political alignments once lasted decades, but beginning in 2004, the political balance has shifted back and forth from Karl Rove’s “permanent Republican majority” to Barack Obama’s triumph, from the rise of the tea party to the rise of Nancy Pelosi, and finally to Trump. He concluded, “American politics are a disaster.”

In New Mexico during the same period, our governors changed from Gary Johnson to Bill Richardson to Susanna Martinez to Michelle Lujan Grisham. And with each swing of the political pendulum, a new administration likes to begin with a clean slate but throws out some institutional memory.

Lujan Grisham has suggested that political winners aim for more continuity. In that spirit, she’s willing to consider holdovers from the Martinez administration, she says. (Here’s my nominee for holdover: Nick Maniatis, of the New Mexico Film Office, who is energetic, knowledgeable and well connected in the industry.)

Colors don’t tell the whole story, however. If you look at the numbers, no county is simply red or blue. The reddest counties have stubborn populations of Democrats and vice versa.

Sometimes the colors are meaningless. Socorro County, officially blue, has for years sent Republicans to the Legislature. This year blue Guadalupe County divided its vote so closely between the Democratic incumbent George Dodge and Republican challenger Ruben Zamora that it might require a recount.

Some counties – Colfax, Valencia, Sandoval, and Luna – are divided evenly enough between parties to call them purple.
As much as numbers of Ds and Rs, turnout matters, and this election, we heard a lot about voter turnout. The statewide average was 55 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, up from 40 percent in 2014 – better but still pathetic.

Los Alamos County gets a gold star for voter turnout, at 72.3 percent, followed by Harding, 68.6 percent; Santa Fe, 66.97 percent; Catron, 64.51 percent; and Mora, 64.35 percent.

On the other end of the scale, Lea County gets a stale donut for the state’s worst voter turnout, 40.64 percent, followed by McKinley County, 43.5 percent; Curry County, 44.28 percent; Roosevelt County, 46.13 percent; and San Miguel, 49.07 percent.

In the breather before the next campaigns, here’s my modest proposal: Forget about red and blue. Focus instead on what we share.