Commissioner of Public Lands
SFR Pick: Ray Powell, Democrat
The trust: New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands (nmstatelands.org) oversees 9 million acres of state trust land and 13 million acres of mineral rights. These state trust lands generate money that then helps nearly two dozen public institutions, mostly public schools. Most of that money--approximately 95 percent--is from oil and gas production. In 2009, revenues from these state resources generated approximately $536 million.
The politics: The outgoing Land Commissioner, Republican Patrick Lyons (who is term-limited from running again), raised the ire of some constituents during his tenure, in large part due to a complicated (and ongoing) battle over a proposed land exchange in White Peak. Questions regarding transparency, public use and environmental stewardship--and how those issues play out when framed by political ideologies--are the backdrop for this race.
Two picks: SFR endorsed Powell in the Democratic primary, and endorsed Powell’s opponent, Republican Matthew Rush, in the Republican primary. Both candidates were clearly their parties’ best choices, and each brings experience and knowledge to the race.
Conservation minded: Powell, a veterinarian, also is the director of the Four Corners States Region of the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation. Powell served two-plus terms as the land commissioner, starting in 1993. He has strong environmental credentials, and would bring that sensibility to an office many fear is vulnerable to takeover by the oil and gas industry.
The future: Like it or not, New Mexico’s economy and the oil and gas industry remain inextricably linked. But that doesn’t mean the State Land Office should do as industry wants and find ways to open up more land for more drilling. Furthermore, the Land Office needs to be accessible to all interests, not special interests. SFR believes, based on his past performance, Powell understands this balance. He also has demonstrated he will remain committed to transparency in government.