Race For Land Commissioner Compelling

Joshua Lee
3 min read
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Voters are paying even more attention to the race for state land commissioner here in New Mexico as the Trump administration continues its attacks on public land and environmental policies.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, regulations protecting public lands have been rolled back in an effort to allow access to these sites for mining and drilling. Consequently, these actions have given the office of land commissioner—arguably as powerful as the governor—even more public attention, as it oversees 9 million acres of surface land and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights, according to the
Las Cruces Sun. The commissioner has the power to sell, lease or trade these public lands as they see fit. The State Land Office takes in revenue by leasing the land, and the state invests the funds through the Land Grand Permanent Fund into public schools, universities, hospitals and other state institutions.

The current commissioner is Aubrey Dunn, who switched parties this year from Republican to Libertarian and is now running for the US Senate. Currently vying for his seat is lone Republican
Patrick Lyons, who previously held the office from 2003 to 2010; Libertarian Michael Lucero; Democrat George Muñoz, who has served in the state Senate since 2009; Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, a state representative with experience in the Legislature; and Democrat Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

Patrick Lyons served as a state senator from 1992 to 2002 and as land commissioner between 2003 and 2010. He was criticized during his time as commissioner because of property deals made at the time that reportedly
reduced recreational access to state lands. He is the only Republican running for the seat.

Libertarian Michael Lucero’s campaign has little online presence and appears to mostly be from his 2016 campaign for Congress, when he ran as a Republican and lost. He is a rancher who reportedly
fought with federal land-use agencies for more than a year over the fencing off of a creek where his cattle graze.

Stephanie Garcia Richard took a long-held Republican seat for the Democrats in the state House in 2012. She served as chairwoman of the House Education Committee for the past two years. Recently, former Land Commissioner Ray Powell endorsed her candidacy. Garcia Richard says she wants to advocate to raise the royalty rates paid by gas and oil companies that drill within the state. She would also champion giving more funds to early childhood education from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.

Garrett VeneKlasen spent many years as a fishing and hunting guide in New Mexico, Colorado and abroad—which he says helped him to develop a relationship with the outdoors. He has worked with the nonprofit groups Trout Unlimited and New Mexico Wildlife Federation. He is known as a public lands activist and says he supports increasing renewable energy development.
VeneKlasen says he will advocate for allocating more of the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education.

He has also said he wants to expand recreation opportunities and ban hunting contests on state trust property. He is in favor of raising the oil and gas royalty rates and has been endorsed by US Senator Martin Heinrich.

George Muñoz has stated that he would use an “
all of the above” strategy when it came to supporting more funds for schools from the Land Grant fund. He also supports increasing the state’s use of solar and wind energy. He has said he will attempt to balance public access to state trust lands for recreation with other revenue-generating activities.
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