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New Mexico at the end of the 20th century


Governor of New Mexico
Governor of New Mexico

New Mexico’s population almost doubled between 1940 and 1960. Growth continued through the 1970s, accelerated after 1980, and the population exceeded 1.5 million as the end of the century neared. In 1969 New Mexico’s voters narrowly rejected a proposed new constitution that would have reduced the size of the government and redirected power in the state government away from the legislature and toward the governor. A variety of groups opposed the new constitution: some business leaders were against a government-appointed business commission; hunters feared the new constitution might lead to new restrictions on their activities; and Hispanics and Democrats, who were currently successful at the polls, opposed any reduction in the number of elective offices. However, in 1970 voters approved constitutional amendments extending the terms of office of all elected state officials from two to four years and granting cities more local autonomy and the power to impose taxes.

During the 20th century Native Americans in New Mexico used the courts to secure their rights. Native Americans won the right to vote in 1948, when a federal court set aside a provision of the state constitution. In 1970, after more than half a century of attempts to regain rights to the Blue Lake, which has religious significance to many in Taos Pueblo, the U.S. Congress transferred the area to the Pueblo.

In 1963 the state’s Hispanic residents began to seek redress for lands lost by their ancestors while New Mexico was a U.S. territory. The aggressive Alianza Federal de Mercedes (Federal Alliance of Land Grants), led by Reìes López Tijerina, argued that the U.S. government should reopen land-claim cases that had followed the Mexican War.

The movement argued that the United States had failed to protect the land claims of Hispanics as it had been required to do under the terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1967 Tijerina raided a courthouse at Tierra Amarilla, freeing some of his imprisoned followers and taking two hostages. He was captured after an extensive search, and although acquitted of kidnapping, Tijerina was imprisoned on federal charges.

In the 1990s, many Hispanic residents of Santa Fe began protesting the growth of Santa Fe, which had become a fashionable place for wealthy English-speakers to live. The influx of money to develop the town, however, began changing the Hispanic flavor of the city, and many Spanish-speaking residents objected.

In 1981 the U.S. Department of Energy began construction of its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an estimated $700-million facility near Carlsbad for the storage of radioactive waste material—by-products of nuclear weapons production—in salt beds more than 610 m (2,150 ft) below ground. Despite protests from environmentalists and antinuclear activists, the facility was scheduled to open in 1988. The opening was postponed that year, however, after scientists and engineers challenged the facility’s design and construction. In 1989 it was found that intense geologic pressure was causing the facility’s salt walls to close in on each other faster than expected. As a result, the facility’s opening was postponed pending more assurances of safety. The plant eventually opened in March 1999. At the beginning of the 20th century, political power was concentrated in rural New Mexico, which held 86 percent of the population.

By the 1990s, power had shifted to the state’s only metropolitan area, Albuquerque-Rio Rancho. This shift was accompanied by an increase in Republican voters in a state that for many years was dominated by Hispanic Democrats, especially in the north. The 1997 election of Republican Representative Bill Redmond to the Congress of the United States from the Third Congressional District was an example of this change. The new political climate also coincided with a decline in direct federal revenues to New Mexico and an expansion of the microelectronics industry. Intel Corporation led the trend with a multimillion-dollar plant at Rio Rancho.

New Mexico remains one of the poorest states in the country, and funding is particularly weak in areas such as health and education. Agriculture, ranching, mining, and timbering continue to be displaced by high-tech manufacturing and tourism. The rapid fall of oil prices in 1986 hurt the state’s petroleum industry, causing unemployment and a sharp fall in oil and gas tax revenues, to the detriment of state funding for education. In the early 1990s immigrants from California fueled a housing boom in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, while wealthy visitors stimulated the market for second homes in Santa Fe and Taos. Despite the immigration, per capita income in the state continued to decrease, and fewer city residents were able to purchase homes. New Mexico’s Native Americans, facing cuts in funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service, continue to diversify their economies. Native Americans have bought shopping centers, built resorts and gambling casinos, and invested in real estate. "New Mexico" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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