A campaign fundraising letter that public land commissioner candidate Patrick Lyons sent ranchers who lease land from the State Land Office is raising legal and ethical questions a month before voters decide whether to return him to the job he held for eight years. Should Lyons win the seat this November, he will be in charge of renegotiating leases with companies seeking to renew those agreements. About 30 percent of the money Lyons has raised so far in his run has come from lessees, according to a review of campaign finance records. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A copy of the letter was shared with New Mexico In Depth and is addressed “dear agricultural lessee.” It goes on to describe Lyons’ record as a rancher and farmer, and as previous land commissioner.
Inside the New Mexico State Land Office, current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sits at a dark wood desk ringed with a painting of the Rio Grande Gorge, a saddle, and a pair of leather chaps pinned on the wall, homages to a lifetime spent on cattle ranches. But it’s the decor outside that tends to draw more attention: Dunn installed a model pump jack in front of the State Land Office building on Old Santa Fe Trail. Its bobbing head —powered by a solar panel — is a familiar sight in oil country. From that desk, he manages the state’s land trust: 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate. It’s his job to maximize revenue from those acres through leases for businesses, grazing and rights-of-way, royalties from mining potash, coal, salt and caliche, and above all, fossil fuels, which accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office.
Campaign finance reports filed Monday showed positives for both gubernatorial candidates, with the Republican showing a lead with money left, but the Democrat raised, and spent, more money. Republican nominee Steve Pearce finished the campaign finance period—which lasted from July 1 to Sept. 3—with nearly $1.9 million cash-on-hand for the final two months of the race. This was well ahead of the $1.2 million cash-on-hand for his opponent, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lujan Grisham, however, raised $1.9 million in the period and spent almost $1.5 million.
Three incumbent Democratic state House members lost in their primaries Tuesday according to unofficial numbers. In a Santa Fe area district, Carl Trujillo was perhaps the most embattled incumbent. A lobbyist accused him of sexual harassment last month, though Trujillo denied the allegations. He now faces an investigation by the state Legislature in accordance with the state’s new sexual harassment rules. Trujillo was beat out by former Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Executive Director Andrea Romero.
Two of the three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor have over $1.5 million cash on hand for the final stretch before the primary election on June 5. Early voting has already started. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes has now loaned his own campaign over $2 million and raised only about $15,000 from others. He now has $1.65 million cash on hand. U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised over $410,000 and spent nearly $640,000 between April 3 and May 7.
The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.
Gov. Susana Martinez will have to decide whether to sign a bill designed to prevent the state government, as well as local governments in Northern New Mexico, from losing tax revenue if a nonprofit university takes over management of Los Alamos National Laboratory later this year. That possibility is real, as two Texas universities have submitted bids for the contract. “We stand to lose about $30 million in gross receipts revenue to the state should a nonprofit contractor receive the [operations contract] at the national laboratory in Los Alamos,” Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, told the House of Representatives late Tuesday night before it voted 48-19 in favor of the measure, Senate Bill 17. Garcia Richard’s number is consistent with a fiscal impact report by the Legislative Finance Committee, which estimates the state’s gross receipts tax losses at $25 million to $30 million if a nonprofit is chosen to run the lab. Both the University of Texas System Board of Regents and Texas A&M submitted formal bids on the lab management contract in December.
Dr. Lisa Shin, a Los Alamos optometrist and daughter of Korean immigrants, is running as a Republican for the seat in the state House of Representatives currently held by Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard. “As a successful small business owner and health care provider, I bring a pragmatic, common sense approach to the issues facing us. I believe that free market principles based on individual choice and personal responsibility can strengthen our schools, our health care system and our economy,” Shin, 49, said in a statement. Two Democrats, lawyer Christine Chandler and retired scientist Pete Sheehey, also are running for the seat. Both are members of the Los Alamos County Council.
The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.
For eight years now, the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed legislation to hold back more students who score below par on standardized reading tests. And just like every other year since Martinez took office, that legislation faltered at the Roundhouse on Friday, with Democrats questioning how the state could implement a sweeping overhaul of reading education without additional funds and whether schools should base decisions about holding back students on one set of test scores. Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque and the sponsor of House Bill 210, told the House Education Committee this year’s reading bill was not like previous iterations. It would have given parents the option to let their child proceed to the next grade level even if the school recommended holding the child back. And it would have called for more intensive after-hour classes to bring students up to par.