On a late March weekend, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard headed out to the Permian Basin, to visit oil wells on state trust lands. These are wells that churn out profits for corporations, build up the state’s general fund from taxes and royalties and send money to schools and hospitals. Looking through a special camera that detects emissions of volatile organic compounds, Garcia Richard also saw that the wells are sending methane and other pollutants into the air. “There are seemingly innocuous pieces of equipment, tanks, pipes, and then you look at it with the FLIR camera and you can see these clouds of emissions,” the commissioner said. “We went to some older operations, some newer operations, some [wells operated] by some smaller companies, some by larger companies.”
Democrats swept statewide races on Election Day, and will control not just the governor’s office and all of the executive agencies, but also independent state agencies that oversee everything from state funds to state lands. Democratic incumbent Tim Eichenberg easily won the race for State Treasurer over Republican Arthur Castillo and Democrat Brian Colón defeated Republican Wayne Johnson for State Auditor. In the three-way race for Attorney General, Democratic incumbent Hector Balderas beat Republican Michael Hendricks and Libertarian Blair Dunn. And another Democratic incumbent, Maggie Toulouse Oliver defeated Republican Gavin Clarkson and Libertarian Ginger Grider to hold on to the Secretary of State seat. The closest statewide race on Election Day was for State Land Commissioner.
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.
As promised, State Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn filed a defamation lawsuit against land commissioner candidate Garrett VeneKlasen Monday evening. Dunn also filed a request for a temporary restraining order to stop VeneKlasen from running a campaign radio ad. The campaign ad features VeneKlasen raising questions about a ranch owned by Dunn and the commissioner’s involvement in allowing a major electrical transmission line to run through his property. Related story: Land commissioner files ‘cease and desist’ order against contender
Dunn maintains he only learned the line was set to run through his land after he purchased the ranch. Blair Dunn, who is acting as attorney for his father, said his father has not allowed access to his property and may get paid easement royalties.
Garrett VeneKlasen announced plans to run for New Mexico Commissioner for State Lands on Friday morning. “We are in a state of crisis in New Mexico, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that,” said VeneKlasen. He is currently executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents sportsmen and women across the state and is focused on the conservation of water, lands and wildlife. “I was tired of wringing my hands and complaining about how things are run in that office, and I have some really good and visionary new ideas.”
The State Land Office administers 9 million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. Those lands are managed for beneficiaries of the state land trust, which include schools, universities and hospitals. Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, is the incumbent and can run for a second term next year.
A political consultant who previously ran for statewide office in New Mexico is now mulling a run for Congress in Texas. Bob Cornelius, CEO of 90 Degrees Agency, said he’s seriously considering a run against Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, in next year’s Republican Party primary. In an interview, Cornelius said Carter’s voting record isn’t conservative enough, citing votes to fund the health care overhaul, which he calls Obamacare, and military cuts in continuing budget resolutions. “I’ve traveled the district and spoken to leaders in the party,” he said. “I’ll make a final decision in the next couple of weeks.”
Cornelius describes himself as a “constitutionalist” who’s both socially and fiscally conservative.
A fee paid to the New Mexico Land Office by the Game and Fish Department that allows hunters to access public land may increase by $800,000. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has contended that the previous amount of $200,000 was too low. A press release from Dunn’s office stated that Dunn and Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Alexa Sandoval agreed on a $1 million easement fee. The agreement still needs to be approved by the Department of Game and Fish Commission. In a written statement, Dunn said the increased fee will help pay for other programs around the state.
An assistant land commissioner resigned after the publication of text messages that showed apparent sexual harassment. Jim Lane was previously the director of the state Game and Fish Department when he resigned without warning in the fall of 2013. The Albuquerque Journal first published the texts, from when Lane was in charge of the Game and Fish Department. The Journal report outlines how these text messages to a subordinate led to his resignation. The Journal also published some of the texts in question.