Thursday, September 28, 2023

A Tale of Two States


New Mexico ranked at the bottom of another national data survey released this month, this time the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count Child Welfare rankings.


There we are, number 50. Again.


One of the most telling numbers is that one of the markers is for early childhood education. New Mexico has made no progress in the last decade for the number of three- and four-year-olds in school, with only 31% of them enrolled. That is despite the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into early childhood education at the state level.


We are great at spending money. We are terrible at accounting for it.


Let’s look at another state that has caught my eye recently, North Dakota. North Dakota is also largely rural, sparsely populated, dependent on oil and gas for state revenues, and faces rising crime and drug use.


North Dakota is ranked eleventh in the nation for child welfare. In nearly every other national ranking, North Dakota is in the top 20. What is North Dakota doing differently?


Their legislature is very different. It meets only in odd-numbered years, for 80 days. The legislators are paid a salary and additionally given per diem. The most striking difference between North Dakota and New Mexico, however, is that no committee can kill a bill. Committees can amend bills, but every bill must be heard and sent to the floor for a vote.


The other notable difference is North Dakota also has had one-party rule for most of its statehood: Republican. As a result, North Dakota is one of the most business-friendly states in the country. Instead of reviling oil and gas producers while raking in their state royalties, state regulatory officials work with industry representatives to develop solutions for responsible land and groundwater management.


Meanwhile, North Dakota gets it when it comes to the shelf life of fossil fuels. Wind, hydroelectric, solar, hydrogen, you name it, they’re trying it. And one of the world’s largest carbon capture facilities is currently under construction there.


In other words, North Dakota is moving forward while New Mexico spins its wheels in regulatory red tape and infighting among special interest groups.


There is an interesting parallel dynamic taking place in the North Dakota legislature. The Republicans, like New Mexico Democrats, enjoy a super majority. My business partner is a former Republican North Dakota state senator. After the 2022 election, he warned that this super majority would not be good for Republicans.


“Without Democrats at the table to offer meaningful debate,” he said, “the GOP will split into factions, and they will start fighting among themselves.”


We’ve seen this with the Democratic caucus in New Mexico, both during the session and in primaries. There’s been a move to purge the pro-business Democrats since there aren’t enough Republicans left to challenge.


My partner’s predictions proved correct as the most extreme far-right faction in the party maneuvered a coup and voted out the entire executive committee of the NDGOP this month by a margin of one vote. He predicts a tepid resurgence for Democrats in North Dakota in the next three elections to restore more balance, as mainstream voters will find the extremists’ platforms unpalatable. Will the Republican Party of New Mexico finally unify to take on a fractured Democratic organization?


So far, what I have seen is more shifting than unification. The power center of the party moved from Albuquerque to the southern part of the state in the 2010s along with voters, and the state GOP has not reclaimed Albuquerque, which it needs for statewide wins. Party leaders seem to be concentrating more on the rural-urban divide and focusing their efforts in smaller communities in the northern part of the state rather than the main population and business center of Albuquerque.


I strongly believe that New Mexico needs conservative, pro-business policy and responsible executive agencies to advance our state. The solutions should lie in a strong slate of Republican statewide candidates. It is not apparent to me that my own party has a vision to execute such advancement yet.


Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at



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