On a night when so many others in her party won election to offices that will reshape New Mexico politics, at least temporarily, Stephanie Garcia Richard accomplished something else on Tuesday: She handed Pat Lyons his first-ever Election Night defeat.
She also became the first woman in state history to earn the job of land commissioner.
Lyons, a member of the Public Regulation Commission, was seeking a third non-consecutive term as commissioner of public lands. But early, unofficial results from the Secretary of State's Office showed Garcia Richard, a three-term state representative and current chair of the Legislature's powerful Education Committee, with a slim but safe lead as of press time. She had to choose between running for her seat again and trying for land commissioner.
Lyons faced scrutiny on the campaign trail for soliciting donations from ranchers who lease land from the office we now know he will not hold. News stories also revealed massive contributions to Lyons' campaign from the lessees—many of them oil and gas companies.
An often overlooked position, the state land commissioner oversees 13 million acres of mineral estate and 9 million acres of surface land held in the state's trust. The commissioner is meant to pull maximum revenues in for the state through leases for businesses, rights of way, grazing and extraction. More than 90 percent of the money comes from the oil and gas industry.
In addition to the huge sums of outside money and ethical questions about Lyons' fundraising tactics, the race was dominated by a stark contrast in how the two candidates planned to run the land office. Lyons touted his experience in helming the office before, while Garcia Richard talked on the trail about diversifying the state's energy portfolio with wind, solar and other means that don't require sucking fossil fuels out of the ground.
Garcia Richard also bested Libertarian Michael Lucero, who was largely missing in action from the race after being recruited to run by New Mexico Libertarian windmill- tilter Blair Dunn.