Job Description: The office of Land Commissioner has got to be one of the most important in the state. With no real oversight from any other governing board, whoever holds the title has a large amount of influence over the direction of our state's land, wildlife, townships and, in the end, public education, since much of the revenue from the office goes toward that cause. Whoever holds the office next will also have some important decisions to make in a pivotal time over what New Mexico does when it comes to energy production.
Term: Four years (maximum of two terms)
Office Currently Held By: Pat Lyons (R), who has served one term and will be running for re-election in the November general election
The bad news about the Democratic primary race for land commissioner is that you only get to vote for one candidate. The good news is that, whatever way you decide to go, you’ll make a good choice. Out of all the primary races this year, the land commissioner race was possibly the hardest to decide—because both candidates are experienced, motivated, passionate, have visionary ideas and have done the job before and done it well. We’re lucky.
That said, we enthusiastically endorse Jim Baca for land commissioner. Hands-down the most experienced candidate in the race, Baca has proven himself time and time again in New Mexico to be the kind of leader we could hope to have in nearly any position he chooses to take on.
Baca has become a household name in New Mexico, with positions in public service in the state spanning decades. Some of the most relevant positions he’s held are two previous terms as land commissioner (1983-1986, 1991-1993), one term as the mayor of Albuquerque (1997-2001), as well as a few years as the director of the National Bureau of Land Management, a job he was appointed to during the Clinton Administration in 1993 (the reason he left his second term as land commissioner prematurely). His most recent position was as Gov. Bill Richardson’s natural resource trustee.
One of the most enticing things about Baca is that, as he has proven with past experience, he is his own man. An independent thinker, Baca himself admits he is prone to speaking his mind, which sometimes lands him in hot water.
In terms of Baca’s positions, it is undeniable that he is passionate about protecting public lands and developing what should be developed in an environmentally sensitive and conscientious way. As mayor, Baca pushed the idea of a strong water conservation plan. He’s also worked to designate wilderness areas in the West through many of his held offices. Today, he serves on the boards of the National Wilderness Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the Wyss Foundation.
Yet he also knows how to get things done—it was under Baca’s oversight as land commissioner, for instance, that oil and gas royalties increased in the state, which led to today’s budget windfall.
If elected, Baca has several priorities. The first is finding a way to make it constitutionally viable to permanently protect some state land, New Mexico’s “last great places,” as Baca puts it. He uses the 200,000 acres in Otero Mesa as an example. Baca also wants to restart the Statuary Advisory Board he instituted while previously in the office, which is part of the audit division he also started. Baca also aims to open a whole new alternative energies division if elected. Lastly, he says he would hire an additional 13 field reps and specialists (such as biologists and archaeologists)—to round out the number of them in the office to 25—the minimal amount of employees needed for the office to really do a good job, he says.
In the end, Baca is an outstanding choice for land commissioner.
We wish Ray Powell was our uncle—because he’s such a nice, honest, dependable, progressive and hardworking guy. Powell has served two-plus terms, being appointed as Baca’s replacement in 1993 and then getting re-elected to two of his own terms (through 2002). After that, term limits prevented him from running again successively; but now that another term has cycled through he’s back in the race—eager to restart a job he obviously loves.
Powell knows the office inside and out, and boasts a number of accomplishments from his time in office, including starting the Community Partnership Program, establishing a 3,000-acre nature preserve next to Mesa del Sol and protecting two square miles of the Petroglyph National Monument by trading land with the federal government.
Powell is all about partnering with local communities to boost the economic potential of state trust land while maintaining its health—and knowing when and when not to develop. He has a long history with wildlife and land rehabilitation, is a veterinarian, and comes from a family with an agricultural background—all elements that would help him to manage New Mexico’s land well in the 21st century. Powell also says that concentrating on renewable energy would be a priority for him if elected again.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-