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 V.15 No.44 | November 2 - 8, 2006 

Ortiz y Pino

Lost in Static

The importance of the Land Commissioner race

If you saw the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, you probably came out of the theater wishing there were a simple way to do something meaningful about the frightening scenario the film so indisputably lays out.

The peril of global warming and the narrow window of opportunity we have for turning that environmental disaster around are such critical issues that we can become paralyzed into inaction: “I can’t make much difference in a problem of this magnitude, so what’s the use?”

But the whole point of Gore’s film was to show that each of us can be enormously important in converting the way our society operates; in fact, each of us has to start acting consciously and responsibly or there won’t be enough time.

An immediate step you can take is to make sure you vote for Jim Baca in the Land Commissioner race on Nov. 7.

I’m scared this crucial office might slip off many voters’ radar screens because of the almost constant static surrounding the First Congressional District race’s multimillion-dollar ad battle. That would be a recipe for disaster.

There’s a simple reason why the incumbent Republican land commissioner has an overwhelming advantage over Baca in campaign contributions, and it’s the same issue that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth deals with: Big Oil doesn’t want someone like Baca in office because he’s serious about protecting the environment … and they aren’t.

Ask yourself who could possibly be against ending our reliance on fossil fuels (not just ending our reliance on foreign oil, which is an altogether different issue).

Ask yourself who’s spreading a campaign of misinformation about the reality of global warming (those dismissive little head shakes and smirky chuckles about Chicken Little and the sky falling down).

Ask yourself who’s pouring millions of dollars into the PR campaign to expand drilling for oil and gas on public lands in New Mexico … even as they fight modest changes in the fuel economy standards for American automobiles that could conserve far more gasoline than the expanded drilling will produce.

When you’ve answered those three questions, you’ve answered a fourth: Who is backing the incumbent land commissioner against Baca?

The polls show this to be a very close race. It’s probably the GOP’s best chance for a statewide win in what is beginning to look like a big year for Democrats. Baca is running hard and was slightly ahead in the polling in mid-October. But this race shouldn’t be this tight.

There are few better-qualified public servants than Baca. I worked for his administration during his four years as mayor and saw firsthand how he converts his principles into action and policy. I was very impressed.

What some say is a weakness on his part, I experienced as a refreshing strength: He is outspoken about things he disagrees with and he doesn’t make decisions based on how popular (or unpopular) they’ll make him with the public.

He got more done in his four years as mayor than he gets credit for, especially from the editors of the Albuquerque Journal, with whom he carried on an almost permanent tug-of-war.

I have to laugh when I hear his current opponent paint him as a “failed” mayor. If his record exemplifies failure, I must not understand the meaning of the word:

Baca galvanized Downtown revitalization, an effort that continues to pay dividends. He brought Triple A baseball back to Albuquerque and rebuilt the stadium into a gem we can all be proud of. He secured the passage of a quarter-cent gross receipts tax for streets, trails and transit—and that, too, has had a huge payoff. He put into operation a citizen oversight commission for the police department and hired a chief who cooperated fully with the review officer.

He saw the long-delayed renovation of Old Albuquerque High School through to completion; revitalized the public transit system; produced economic growth and lowered crime—all the while battling constantly with a City Council that often seemed more interested in causing him heartburn than in uniting for community betterment.

Yes, he did not win re-election. He lost big time, opposed by a development community that resisted his efforts at slowing growth, a police force angry at his choosing an out-of-town professional to be chief rather than someone from within the ranks. Most of all, he was hurt by his decision to slash spending drastically in the face of shortfalls in tax revenues.

That final step alienated even many of his supporters. He knew it would, but he never backed down just because it would reduce his chances of winning re-election. He thought it was the proper step to take and he took it.

That’s exactly the mindset we desperately need in our land commissioner. It’s important that the office run on principle, not expedience. There will be enormous gas and oil lease royalty revenues produced by the office no matter who is running it. The key is that we need someone in that office who will stand up to Big Oil.

We need to make sure the environment is cared for. Sometimes that’s inconvenient. But it’s always true.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail


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