With the beginning of a new decade looming, it is only natural to look to the future and ponder on what the new era may hold.
The moments leading up to a new year naturally lend themselves to reflection and hopeful projection regarding new goals, directions, or mindsets.
In an attempt to get a forecast for the future of the Land of Enchantment, I met with District 54 Representative Jim Townsend. As the representative for District 54, which covers about 100 square miles beginning in the center of Artesia and extending to Alamogordo, half of Carlsbad, Lake Arthur, Mayhill, Weed, Timberon, and down Highway 54 all the way to the Texas state line, Rep. Townsend holds intimate knowledge of the issues on both a local and state-wide level we as a state will face as we enter the 20’s.
When I sat down to discuss Rep. Townsend’s vision for New Mexico in 2020, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect or even fully aware of the direction I wanted the conversation to take. I’ve always regarded myself as one who possesses, at the very least, a cursory awareness and understanding of most political and social issues. As I have grown to be a full-time participant in the “real world,” I’ve developed a much deeper sense of the issues afflicting my home state, as well as the wealth of potential for improvement and forward progress that resides within its unique citizenry. But as a 30-something in New Mexico, I can also admit to feeling a bit of disillusionment with the notion of political activism and engagement considering the current state of politics, the near-constant onslaught of across-the-aisle vitriol that has become so commonplace, and the extreme surge of ‘cancel culture’.
When I expressed as much to Rep. Townsend, he did not hesitate to express his frustration with such an attitude. “You cannot be unaffected. You are either going to participate or be victimized in the process.” With that, the direction of the conversation was clear.
My hope is that we get away from political themes and start being a factually based legislature that makes decisions based off of things like science, technology, engineering – not just hype.
He continued, “When I was asked to consider running, I had just come out of the oil industry and doing something political was the farthest thing from my mind. The more I thought about it and thought about the stuff we went through – not to be cheesy – but I just thought it was selfish for someone who had been blessed with so many good things to just retire at 50 and not be interested in helping anyone. In our state, too many folks that should have helped along the way, didn’t.”
He then drilled down to the heart of what he considers to be the biggest issues facing New Mexicans as we head into the year 2020. He shared with me a presentation he had created titled “ReFresh New Mexico” which highlighted some of New Mexico’s most pressing issues, including (but not limited to) being named the worst state for millennials in a recent study by WalletHub, one of the top states for reliance on federal aid (U.S. Census Bureau: Tax Foundation), and the 5th lowest state for median household income.
However bleak a picture those statistics may paint, Rep. Townsend’s optimist outlook on all of the potential and positivity he has seen throughout the state during his tenure provides an enthusiastic contrast. “In 2020 what I am hopeful for is that we see New Mexicans get the opportunity to flourish based on their own ingenuity and entrepreneurship and not through a regulatory framework. My hope is that we get away from political themes and start being a factually based legislature that makes decisions based off of things like science, technology, engineering – not just hype. If we do that, millennials will start having better jobs.”
While that sounds inspiring, I could not resist the urge to ask, “But how do we accomplish that? Especially those of us in the District 54 area who lack the population needed to secure political wins against other parts of the state? Again, Rep. Townsend was quick on the draw and emphatic in his belief that people understand that it is “absolutely not true” that each vote doesn’t count, citing that 8 or 9 house bases lost by fewer than 500 votes in the last election. “Real traditional New Mexicans are going to have to get in the game. We’ve got to get back to basics: we have to challenge people, provide opportunities, make them stand and be responsible for their decisions. And when one makes a mistake, it should not be fatal. We should be able to pick them up, dust them off, and send them forward,” he said.
With obvious pride for the people of Southeastern New Mexico, he stated that “The unique thing in our area is that most families in our district have seen, or at least sensed, the value of success. Ranchers and oilfield families have seen growth and success based off of the sweat of their own brow. Once you see that, you see the value of it.”
We need to tell everyone, I know you can do better and I’m going to help you get there.
But according to Rep. Townsend, that doesn’t extend to the state in its entirety. “There are so many people in other areas who have not been given the opportunity to see that success. Our state is dirt poor. Generally speaking, we are not a highly educated populous and those emotional drivers do so much more than factual drivers.” It’s clear that Rep. Townsend understands those emotional drivers will play a crucial role for the citizens of New Mexico going forward. When asked what he plans to do about all of this in 2020, his answer was on theme with the entire conversation. “I hope I do it by spending time and going places that I don’t feel really comfortable in, explaining to people factual information so that they can see that they are able to make a difference. We need to start tapping into those people and use them. We have a wealth of tradition – no other state has the diverse cultures that New Mexico does.”
So, what did I learn from my time with Rep. Jim Townsend? Most of all, 2020 needs to be the year of action on a personal level for all New Mexicans. The epidemic of indifference towards the difficult, uncomfortable, or even just those issues different from our own must cease to be an affliction on the citizens of our state. We are all jointly responsible for the health and prosperity of our neighbors, communities, and state and need to live our lives accordingly. Perhaps the best thing New Mexicans can do in the new decade is to spend some time with one another and listen to the things they hold most important in an effort to help them. It is no longer acceptable to be a passive observer on the sidelines – we must all become active contributors. “We need to tell everyone, I know you can do better and I’m going to help you get there. Hopefully, other people will then say well I’m going to help too,” says Rep. Townsend.
None of the obstacles facing New Mexico will ever see resolution if the everyday citizens do not decide to help shoulder the responsibility of establishing a meaningful connection with all to help promote each other’s success and achievement. While there are legitimate political issues for our elected officials to work out, such as budgets, resource allocations, and governmental structures and services, the every-man needs to take a much more active role in supporting and promoting our mutual well-being. “It has never hurt me or my family one bit to help somebody else. But I think that the ultimate goal of that help should be to get you back on your feet so you can do better on your own than I could ever help you to do. I honestly believe that a person who tries can make more money and live a better life than the government can afford to give them.”
My challenge for New Mexicans, and myself, for the year 2020 is to follow Rep. Townsend’s lead to get in the game and venture outside of our homes to commune with those whose lives look different than our own and spend time working, helping, and growing together. Do not let fear, contentious politics, or the scale of problems deter you from the goal of bettering the world in which you live. Whether it be through philanthropy, volunteerism, or political service: do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are. I think that is a 2020 vision we can all see.