Roundhouse Roundup: New Mexico goes its own way

December 4, 2016 GMT

As a 48-year resident of Santa Fe, I’ve always cringed when I hear people refer to our fair city as “Fanta Se.” In fact, I used to cringe at that even back when I was a mere 18-year resident. I considered it empty-headed to embrace, even ironically, the idea that this town was some sort of goofball, New Age refuge untethered from reality. That just makes my aura turn red. (On the other hand, I’ve got no problem with Santa Fe’s traditional nickname, “The City Different.” That seems more solid. It implies we’re proudly nonconformist, but not that we’re living in some fantasy.)

But since the election last month, I have to admit that not just Santa Fe but the entire Enchanted Land of New Mexico seems to be in its own world, at least when you compare the election results here with those from much of the rest of the country.

You could almost call it “This Island New Mexico.”

In case you’ve been hibernating the past month (and I won’t judge you if you have), Hillary Clinton carried New Mexico by 8 percentage points. That’s actually a few points more than what the polls said her margin would be.

Across the state, Democrats defeated enough Republican incumbents to retake the state House of Representatives by a fairly healthy margin. And despite losing Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, Democrats increased their lead in the Senate by two seats.

And in the only statewide nonpresidential race, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver won the Secretary of State’s Office with about 56 percent of the vote. And despite the fact that Oliver’s GOP opponent Nora Espinoza campaigned heavily on the idea that voter identification laws should be imposed to prevent the boogie man of voter fraud, acting Secretary of State Brad Winter — a Republican — recently told The Albuquerque Journal that there’s no evidence of any mass voter fraud in the state.

But beyond the state’s borders, in case you haven’t heard, the story was quite different.

Not only did Republican Donald Trump win an amazing upset victory, he beat Clinton in supposedly “safe Democratic” states that voted for Barack Obama, in the Midwest.

Democrats, who started out with a very favorable map for the U.S. Senate, failed to retake it, winning only two seats from incumbent Republicans. And despite Ben Ray Luján’s best efforts, Democrats made only piddly gains in the U.S. House of Representatives — winning a net gain of six seats.

In state legislative races around the country, Democrats fared a little better. Governing Magazine reported, “Amid a strong showing by Latino voters, Democrats flipped both chambers in Nevada and one in New Mexico. They also entered into a power-sharing agreement with Republicans in Alaska. But the Republicans took over one chamber in Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota, and they forced ties in Connecticut and (at least until a special election is held early next year) Delaware. This basically adds up to a wash. …”

Still, things aren’t that bright for Dems in the statehouses. Before the election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republications controlled 30 legislatures, Democrats controlled 12 and seven legislatures were split. This only adds up to 49 because Nebraska’s unicameral legislature theoretically is nonpartisan — nudge nudge, wink wink — though Republicans continue to hold a better than 2-to-1 edge there.

But back on This Island New Mexico, all the Democrats have to worry about is who will be the next Cabinet official to leave Gov. Susana Martinez’s lame-duck administration and how long it will take for the Republicans to start referring to new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth as “Senate Boss Peter Wirth.”

That, and figuring out how to fill a gaping budget deficit that threatens to cripple state services. And how to pull the state out of its continuing unemployment doldrums.

Indeed, these economic realities have real potential to pop a lot of fantasies in good old Fanta Se.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell @sfnewmexican.com.