When Searchlight New Mexico sent a questionnaire to the state’s gubernatorial candidates, we received lengthy and thoughtful responses from all four.
When we sent a similar questionnaire to the five land commissioner candidates, we heard back from just two.
We found this disconcerting given the fact that the office of land commissioner is one of the two most powerful positions in New Mexico – to many minds, on almost equal footing with that of governor. The office oversees 21 million acres of trust, all of which the commissioner is empowered to sell, lease or trade on his or her own authority.
As with the questions we posed to the gubernatorial candidates, we wanted to give the land commissioner hopefuls a chance to explain to our readers how changes they would bring to the office might impact New Mexico’s children. The state land office generates more than a half-billion dollars of income annually that directly supports our state’s schools, hospitals and numerous other beneficiaries.
Calls to increase the amount of revenue drawn from the Land Grant Permanent Fund, which supports early childhood and education programs, have increased as New Mexico’s rankings in those measures continue to lag near the bottom nationwide. Legislation that would have added about $140 million died in committee this past session.
So who are the candidates who failed to respond? The first is Michael Lucero, a rancher and Libertarian candidate, who, as far as we can tell, doesn’t have a website. We at Searchlight reached out to Lucero’s campaign at least 10 times over a period of two and a half months, without receiving a response.
We made the same effort with George Muñoz, a Democratic state senator who represents parts of Cibola, McKinley and San Juan Counties. It appears that Muñoz hasn’t updated his campaign website since March 6.
And then there’s Patrick Lyons, the Republican candidate who for seven years (2003-2010) held the position and is now seeking to regain it. In a 16-word statement, a spokesman responded that Lyons “has decided that he will wait until the General Election to respond to questionnaires.”
Meanwhile, the two Democratic candidates who did respond did so in great detail. If you have any interest in environmental matters – or the role the Land Grant Permanent Fund plays in New Mexico’s education – then the responses from Garrett VeneKlasen and Stephanie Garcia Richard will offer solid reading material.
VeneKlasen, for many years the owner of a small travel company, is executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. An outspoken advocate against the transfer of national public lands to individual states, he argues that New Mexico needs a 21st century land and natural resources management vision that includes social justice, environmental justice and cultural frameworks. He also supports tapping an additional 1 percent from the fund to pay for early childhood education.
“[T]he investment we make in early childhood education [will] pay for itself dozens of times over within that time period,” he writes, promising to hedge against future oil and gas downturns “with clean energy investments and methane capture that will create jobs and generate millions in sustainable revenue for our state.”
Garcia Richard, a lifelong educator and state representative whose district includes parts of Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Santa Fe Counties, is also on record as supporting an additional 1 percent tap from the Land Grant Permanent Fund.
“Using 1 percent of the fund to pay for early childhood education is the smartest investment we can make,” she writes. “With that said, I do not support tapping the fund for other reasons and even voted against measures to raid the fund while serving as a legislator.”
We believe these answers – which, granted, represent only a fraction of the candidates’ views – go a long way in helping voters decide how to cast their ballots. You can explore their complete responses using our interactive web app.