Data from the 2020 Census survey showed substantial growth in the Permian region of the southeast New Mexico with populations climbing in both Eddy and Lea counties.
The two counties lead the state in oil production, which boomed in the last decade since the Census in 2010.
Eddy County saw the highest growth rate in the state at a 15.8 percent increase in population, per Census data, from 53,829 people in 2010 to 62,314 in 2020.
Carlsbad, Eddy County’s biggest city, grew by about 23 percent from 26,138 residents in 2010 to 32,238 in 2020.
Neighboring Lea County was also a state leader in population growth, swelling by 15 percent in population to 74,455 residents in the 2020 Census compared with 2010’s total of 64,727.
Lea County’s biggest city Hobbs grew by about 19 percent from 34,122 residents in the 2010 Census to 40,508 in 2020.
The influx of people to New Mexico’s two major oil and gas counties and cities could mean an increase in representation in the state’s Legislature as the State of New Mexico works on its decadal statutory-required redistricting.
State representatives and senators in the conservative southeast region said they believed the 2020 population numbers could grow their districts and even lead to a New Mexico Senate seat exclusively for Eddy County.
As it stands, State Senate Districts 42, 41, 34 and 32 all represent portions of Eddy County, but the districts are shared with neighboring Lea, Chaves and Otero counties.
New Mexico Sen. Gay Kernan (R-42) of Hobbs who represents parts of Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties said another seat in the southeast region could mean a stronger voice for the Republican Party and industries like oil and gas which Kernan said was a main driver of the population growth.
“I think it’s the oil and gas industry in particular that is creating growth,” she said. “In the last 10 years, we’ve seen such a spike in Carlsbad and Hobbs. We have a real opportunity to create perhaps a really strong Senate district. The overall concern I have is are we able to generate another seat that is conservative.”
To do that, Kernan said her party would need a candidate with strong ties to the local community in Eddy County, and one who would strengthen the presence of the deep-red region in Santa Fe.
Kernan said an additional senator for Eddy County and southeast New Mexico should focus on tax reform and working to ensure counties get more revenue from gross receipts taxes (GRTs) also known as sales tax which often make up large portions of county budgets.
She also hoped any new representative for the region would work to espouse the value its main economic driver, oil and gas, brings to the state as recent records show revenue from the industry accounts for about a third of the state’s budget.
“We need to be able to represent our county better,” she said. “Hopefully you’ll have more local representation. I think it’s helpful to a county to be represented by mor than one person. But you’ve got to put a candidate forward. If you want a seat, you’ve got to run for it.”
Also from Lea County, New Mexico Sen. David Gallegos (R-41) of Eunice whose district encompasses Eddy and Lea counties said the oil of oil and gas’ economic impact would be told at a greater volume should the region get another seat.
He said he and other advocates for the industry opt to focus less on the money and more on myriad products requiring petroleum when justifying support.
“We stopped talking about the money, and now focus on the product lines. People need to see what they’re giving up if they kill oil and gas,” Gallegos said. “I know my wife can’t go without her makeup. We really need to keep showing the value of oil and gas.”
Representing mostly Otero County and parts of Eddy and the southwestern Dona Ana County, New Mexico Sen. Ron Griggs (R-34) said it takes about 50,000 people to justify a new seat in the Senate.
He said that was unlikely to occur based on the recent Census, but there could be enough add a new seat in the House of Representatives or shift a Senate district into the southeast through redistricting.
“There will be realignment of the Senate seats in the southeast,” Griggs said. “The more voices you have arguing on your behalf, the better chance you have of getting something that benefits you.”
Griggs said he hoped Republicans could add to their numbers and win back a House majority in the upcoming 2022 election, or even take the governor’s office.
That would give southeast New Mexico, a traditionally Republication region, a bigger voice at the State Capitol, Griggs said.
“If Republicans could win the House and the Governor’s Office, the southeast would have a bigger voice,” he said. “In the House, the vast majority of what you have are Democrats. Our voice probably is not heard as loudly because we don’t have a similar number of representatives.”
New Mexico House Minority Leader Jim Townsend (R-54) of Artesia, whose district contains Eddy, Chaves and Otero counties said more people means more jobs in the area which deserve better representation.
“The Permian and the Delaware (sub-basin) have been instrumental,” he said. It’s quite a blessing that we’ve been developing. We have a nice area of the state. It’s got great jobs. That’s what attracts people.
“As these population numbers are divvied up, you should see more concentrations of lawmakers. In areas where you see population growth. I’m excited to see representation more fairly distributed in New Mexico.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.