The Elections and CNM: Commissioner of Public Lands Race
Fifth in an occasional series
The Chronicle has been interviewing candidates on their thinking about community colleges, specifically CNM, and how their ideas would translate into their jobs following the Nov. 6 general elections. This package offered candidates for New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands an opportunity to respond. We are publishing their responses in the order of their positions on the ballot: Stephanie Garcia Richard, Democrat; Patrick Lyons, Republican. Michael Lucero, the Libertarian candidate, did not respond.
By Audrey Callaway Scherer
Garcia Richard: Renewable Energy, Environment
Stephanie Garcia Richard
Courtesy of Garcia Richard
Higher education for CNM students who plan to transfer is the most important issue for them directly concerning the State Land Office, but students should note that the office also covers protecting the environment, access to public lands and determining the pursuit of energy sources, said Stephanie Garcia Richard.
She and her opponent have significant differences on how they would run the office; she would like to use the land for renewable energy, she said.
“It is a race that has become a referendum on New Mexico’s past and future. We can either continue on as we have, or we can pursue new, sustainable energy sources,” she said.
There are 9 million surface acres under the office’s authority and 13 million subsurface acres. Part of the surface land has been sold, but New Mexico still has the rights to the minerals underneath, she said. The office can use the land in any way it sees fit, and the revenue from the use of the land goes to the beneficiaries, she said.
The land can be used for lease agreements to develop it, or to drill for oil and gas as it has been used in the past, she said.
The office has also become known to make deals in the dark, behind closed doors, she said.
“I would like to open that up to public input … and provide different uses of the land – renewable as compared to oil and gas,” she said.
The land office funds higher education around New Mexico, but not CNM directly. Because of this, CNM students who transfer to other colleges around the state are affected most by the land office, she said.
In addition to funding for schools and moving toward renewable energy, it is crucial to protect the quality of our fresh water, air, and environment, and access to public land, she said.
Lyons: Support, Land for Schools
Courtesy of Lyons
Even though community colleges are not funded from the State Land Office, more money raised for K-12 leaves more money for them from the general fund, said Patrick Lyons.
The Commissioner of Public Lands raises money for education, and the Legislature figures out how to spend it, he said. Community colleges are not directly one of the office’s 22 beneficiaries.
School expansion is a priority, he said, and in 2008 he helped get the land for CNM’s Rio Rancho campus. The office tries to get land for schools at a minimal cost.
“When they needed it, we made it happen,” he said. “Community colleges are very important.”
He noted that many community college students don’t want a four-year degree but want a trade. He fully supports community colleges and wants to make sure they are funded well, he said.