Land Commissioner

The Alibi Endorses: Jim Baca

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Job Description: One of the more powerful offices in the state. Governs the management of state lands, which affects wildlife, townships and public education, as most of the revenue from the office goes toward New Mexico schools. Whoever holds the office next will have imperative decisions to make on what our state does about energy production.

Term: Four years (maximum of two terms)

Salary: $90,000

The Land Commissioner seat may not be the most high-profile race this election, but it’s certainly one of the most important. The land commissioner holds great sway over how New Mexico’s lands are used, whether for development, energy production or conservation. It’s hard to fix a bad land commissioner’s mistakes, which is why it’s crucial to elect someone savvy, trustworthy and ethical into office.

The candidates squaring off for the seat this year couldn’t be more polarized. Incumbent Republican Pat Lyons is a conservative fellow who believes in good customer service, hard work and practical management. Democratic challenger Jim Baca is a through-and-through environmentalist who wants to clean up the office, focus more on renewable energy and conserve state land. He believes in wise land management, good customer service and hard work as well, but he’s also progressive and opinionated. Baca is independent and stands by his beliefs. We believe he would make an excellent land commissioner.

Baca has already proven himself in the role twice (1983-1986, 1991-1993) before being appointed as the director of the National Bureau of Land Management by the Clinton administration (1993-1997). He then went on to gain even more name recognition as the mayor of Albuquerque (1997-2001). Most recently, he was Gov. Bill Richardson’s natural resource trustee.

In meeting with Baca, it’s undeniable that he’s passionate about protecting and wisely using public lands. Even as mayor, Baca pushed the idea of a strong water conservation plan. Over his years in government service, he successfully worked to designate numerous wilderness areas in the West. Currently, he serves on the boards of the National Wilderness Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the Wyss Foundation.

But perhaps Baca’s best quality is that he’s able to balance his interests to best serve New Mexico. It was under Baca’s oversight as land commissioner that oil and gas royalties increased in the state, creating the budget windfall we have today. While one of his priorities if elected is to focus on renewable energies, he respects and appreciates the oil and gas industries for what they do for New Mexico. He just understands that we have to plan for the future by promoting renewables.

Some of Baca’s other goals include making it constitutionally viable to permanently protect key areas of state land, what he refers to as New Mexico’s “last great places” (he uses Otero Mesa as an example). He wants to open an alternative energies division. He wants to hire an additional 13 field representatives and specialists (i.e. biologists and archaeologists)—the amount he says is needed to do an exceptional job.

Lyons was born in Clovis and raised on a ranch. He entered politics in 1992 as a state senator, where he stayed for 10 years before getting elected to his current seat in 2002. He disagrees with Baca on many points. He’s against the constitutional amendments to permanently protect land that Baca’s pushing and has different ideas about what land should be conserved. Lyons, for instance, believes Otero Mesa should be used for oil and gas development.

Lyons has done some good things for the state, including recent efforts to promote renewable energy. But we suspect most of his renewable energy policies are for the sake of election-year appearances, and we’re doubtful as to whether they’d continue if he were re-elected.

Lyons isn’t a bad land commissioner, but Baca would be (and has been) a much better one. We enthusiastically endorse Baca for this seat and hope you will, too.

For further analysis of this race, read Ortiz y Pino’s column in this week’s issue, “Lost in Static.”
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