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Splitsville

It's time to secede from northern New Mexico and
take our destiny into our own hands! If not today,
then maybe mañana. . .

 

This month's area-code switcheroo, which banishes any doubt that the true axis of New Mexico lies north of I-40, provides the perfect spark for my long-gestating secession plan. That's right, southern New Mexicans — the time has come to throw off your chains! You have nothing to lose but your "Land of Enchantment" license plates!

Why should those of us who've been so rudely stripped of our cherished 505 area code hang around and continue playing lapdog to the bloated bureaucrats and chi-chi jetsetters of Santa Fe? Who needs Albuquerque and its precious airport with actual airlines and real newspaper and TV stations? (We might want to hold off until after next May sweeps and this season of "Heroes," however — let's not get crazy here.) Think of it! No more pitiful scanning of each month's new issue of New Mexico magazine in the vain hope that the editors might remember the state extends all the way to the Mexican border — because it won't!

Speaking of New Mexico magazine, whose "One of Our Fifty Is Missing" column provides guffaws at the stupidity of our fellow Americans who can't get it through their heads that New Mexico is a state, there's another problem we'll solve. Let the northerners (or "505-ers," as we'll sneeringly call them) keep that accident-prone "New Mexico" moniker. We'll christen our newly minted 51st state with a name less likely to cause confusion with our neighbor to the south. (It's tempting, I admit, to force northern New Mexico to change its name to "South Colorado." But we should reject that option, along with any idea of naming our own 51st state "East Arizona.")

We can hold a low-turnout referendum later to settle on a name for our breakaway state, but there is no shortage of good choices. Since part of southern New Mexico owes its American identity to the Gadsden Purchase, which added the land the US forgot to take in the Mexican War, our new state could appropriately be dubbed "Gadsden." Technically, however, the Gadsden Purchase added much more to Arizona than on this side of the line. And James Gadsden, who served his own railroad interests with the purchase and who'd earlier led the removal of the Seminoles to reservations, isn't exactly politically correct these days.

Similar issues might plague the name "Oñate," after Spaniard Don Juan de Oñate, who led the colonization push north from El Paso into what's now New Mexico and celebrated the first Thanksgiving on present-day US soil. Some folks who were already here didn't appreciate being colonized, after all. And "Coronado," although a cool-sounding name for a state, is inappropriate not least because the conquistador actually cut through what's now Arizona before entering the 505 area code. The snob! Plus "Coronado" sounds too much like "Colorado."

So, on the other hand, we could honor the area's Native American heritage. Who'd want to mess with a state called "Geronimo"? NMSU sports teams would get a lot more respect if they represented the University of Geronimo and Pistol Pete got replaced by a fearsome Apache warrior.

Then there's "Gila" as a state name, though folks in what would now be eastern Gila — Roswell, Carlsbad, Hobbs, Artesia — might feel as left out as southern New Mexicans now do. (I can hear the muttering about "west of I-25" dominance even now.) Plus outsiders would pronounce it "ghee-lah."

 

Personally, I think naming our new state "Mañana" would convey just the sort of laid-back attitude that the world so desperately needs nowadays. I envision a state flag with the zia symbol replaced by a tortilla circled by red and green chiles. (We would fight to the death, naturally, to wrest the official state question, "Red or green?," from those hated 505-ers.)

Just imagine the conversations among harried "road warriors" paying a call on our new state: "Where you headed this week, Bob?" "Mañana." "I asked you where, Bob, not when."

As the largest city in Mañana, Las Cruces is a natural choice for the new state capital. State-government jobs would give the people moving into all those new houses in Cruces something to do besides xeriscape their yards. And just think of how a shiny new capitol building would enliven the downtown mall!

(Ruidoso, roughly in the geographic center of the new state, would no doubt make a bid for the capital, but it's just too hard to get to and too full of Texans. And placing the capital in Roswell would just open the door to too many jokes about state officials being aliens. T or C? It already has the Spaceport, which Las Crucens are paying for, so fair's fair.)

Exactly where to draw the new state boundary when we secede will be tricky, I realize. I'm willing to bend a bit on the I-40 line and let Albuquerque keep its southern satellite cities, like Los Lunas and Belen. Who needs the traffic, anyway? So I'd split the state right at the Catron and Socorro county lines, with the northern boundary of Mañana continuing across the top of Lincoln County (Billy the Kid is all ours), De Baca County, Roosevelt County and Curry County to the Texas line, giving us Clovis and Portales so we'd have somebody to make feel inferior. (The new Mañana Magazine, when it's occasionally published, would neglect that northeastern corner of the state.)

This would leave some of our fellow 575 area-code exiles, such as Taos, Raton and Tucumcari, adrift in the old New Mexico of 505. To which I say, "Tough!" They should have spoken up while their fellow northerners were raping and pillaging our area code. Let the 575-ers left stranded up north get stuck with yet another new area code, some really crappy number like 579 that's almost in Oklahoma (580).

Besides the new 575, we'd get to keep all the oil and gas revenue from around Artesia and Hobbs — let's see those 505-ers try to balance the state budget without that windfall! But we're not unreasonable: We'd be willing to pay for the new signs as you head south on I-25, "Welcome to Mañana, Where Tomorrow's Just Another Day."

 

By my calculations — and yes, obviously, I have way too much time on my hands — this eminently fair division would give our new state some 63,917 square miles, or 53.6 percent of the land area of the present-day state of New Mexico. We'd thereby carve out only 611,720 residents, however, or 31.3 percent of current New Mexicans. That relatively sparse population density suggests another possible state slogan: "Mañana, Where There's Plenty of Room to Grow."

We would rank 47th out of 51 in population density, still more "crowded" than North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. I believe science has shown that you're more likely to bump into a caribou in Alaska than another human being, unless there's a convention of government contractors at Sen. Ted Stevens' house.

Based on 2000 census figures, our newly minted state's modest headcount would place us 49th out of the now 51 states in population, beating out Vermont and Wyoming but less-populous than Alaska. (The newly reduced New Mexico would plummet from 36th to, well, 39th, dropping behind West Virginia and Nebraska.) Nonetheless, thanks to the miraculous wisdom of our Founding Fathers as embodied in the Constitution, Mañana would get two US senators, one member of the House of Representatives — rest easy, Rep. Steve Pearce, your job is safe — and three electoral votes.

We would make up a much more significant geographical footprint, however, ranking 23rd in area, ahead of Georgia. The newly shrunken New Mexico would plummet — yes, dammit, plummet — from fifth all the way to 25th, behind Illinois. Heck, you'd hardly be able to see those 505-ers on a map! Is that New Mexico or Rhode Island? Hand me a magnifying glass, honey!

You may say I'm a dreamer — but I'm not the only one. OK, maybe at this point I am the only one, but I hope someday you'll join us — er, me — and the world will be as one — that is, two. Two New Mexicos, just as today there are two area codes.

And what if Congress refuses to recognize southern New Mexico as the 51st state? Heck, maybe Mexico will take us back. I've checked — in Mexico, the 505 area code is still available.

 

David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure, proudly
based in Silver City, Mañana.

 

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