The state land commissioner manages 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate, with a mandate to maximize revenue from those acres through leases to pay for public schools and universities. Fossil fuels accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office. Commissioner candidates talk about where renewable energy fits into the picture.
This story has been updated. It’s a pivotal year for New Mexico, with a high-interest midterm election ahead in November. New Mexico is likely to see big changes in state government after eight years of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, and the national debate has been supercharged with both support and opposition to the Trump administration. With the stakes this high, the New Mexico Pediatric Society and New Mexico Voices for Children last week launched the voter-education website You Decide NM to share responses from candidates for governor, Congress and the State Land Office on a wide range of issues such as education, access to health insurance, energy policy and the environment that they believe will affect child wellbeing in the state. The groups also plan to run an internet advertising campaign to drive New Mexicans to the site.
The plane had wheeled back north toward the airport when the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center came into view, perched on the tan heaps of a sloping escarpment that offers no clue to the dramatically sculpted caverns beneath. From the air, however, signs of another underground natural resource were plainly visible: well pads pock the horizon. The park overlooks a stretch of desert atop the Permian Basin, and I’m in a tiny, six-seat plane—including the pilot’s—to get a look at how the push for one resource could affect the other. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has proposed to auction mineral leases on 197 parcels in the area in September. Some of those 89,000 acres sit within a mile of the national park boundary, or encroach on Guadalupe Mountains National Park across the Texas state line.
Take a look at most oil and gas infrastructure — wellheads, pipes and cylindrical storage tanks — dotting New Mexico oil and gas fields, and little seems to be happening. But use the right equipment and you can see gases, including methane, wafting into the air. Heading skyward with methane, the main component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, are royalties some say the oil and gas industry could be paying New Mexico. An April report from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a national budget and taxpayer advocate, analyzed federal leases through the Office of Natural Resource Revenue and estimated that the gas lost nationwide on federal lands in 2016 was worth $75.5 million. Half of the gas lost between 2012 and 2016 came from New Mexico.
On Tuesday, a powerful incumbent who raised more money than any other legislator in a contested election, Rep. Carl Trujillo, was defeated by a young Norteña, Andrea Romero, amid sexual harassment charges. An investigation by a House sub-committee of those charges by Animal Protection Voters lobbyist Laura Bonar is currently underway. While Trujillo amassed a war chest of special interest money, he also raised from individuals about as much money as Romero raised in total. In other words, a lot of people in his district supported him. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the #MeToo movement, which in New Mexico led to changes early in the year of the state Legislature’s sexual harassment policy, including the creation of an explicit process for investigation of charges.
Three Democratic state House incumbents were given the boot Tuesday night: Bealquin “Bill” Gomez in southern New Mexico, and two northern New Mexico lawmakers who found themselves in heated races, Debbie Rodella and Carl Trujillo.
By now, you’ve seen Politico’s story on Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Michelle Lujan Grisham and her affiliation with Delta Consulting, an entity that administers a little-known state health insurance program. If you haven’t, it’s a worthwhile read. Published this week, the story repeatedly mentions legislation — House Bill 316 — that New Mexico In Depth analyzed during the 2017 legislative session. The Politico story frames the legislation, which stalled late during last year’s session, around Lujan Grisham’s past business association with Democratic state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, who heads up the Legislature’s House Health and Human Services Committee. Lujan Grisham and Armstrong were principals in Delta Consulting, which is contracted by the state to run the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool.
Incumbents in four state House races that will likely be decided in next week’s primary show significant special interest support in Thursday’s final campaign reports, which reflect their contributions for most of May. If money tells anything about a political race, the reports also show two of the incumbents are being given a solid run for their seats. And while a third has an outsized bank account, her challenger has scooped up a lot more cash from individuals. New Mexico In Depth previously looked at the financial advantage incumbents have due to special interest support in the four Democratic state house races:
District 41: State Rep. Debbie Rodella versus Susan Herrera
District 46: State Rep. Carl Trujillo versus Andrea Romero
District 13: State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero versus Robert Atencio
District 34: State Rep. Bealquin Gomez versus Raymundo Lara
The reports filed Thursday capture most contributions in May, in the wake of explosive sexual harassment allegations against Trujillo and an increasingly negative campaign waged by Rodella. Meanwhile, oil and gas interests on one side and progressive groups on the other stirred themselves in what had been a relatively quiet Albuquerque race in Roybal Caballero’s district.
When Gov. Susana Martinez was sworn into office nearly eight years ago, she had this to say about educating children in New Mexico: “Nothing we do is more indispensable to our future well-being or will receive more attention from my administration than guaranteeing our children a quality education.” New Mexico had received an “F” for K-12 achievement on a national education grading report. Fast forward eight years. As she winds down the final year of her second term, New Mexico earned a “D-” for K-12 achievement from Education Week’s Quality Counts report — and our overall grade actually sunk from a C to a D, dropping from 32nd to 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. There’s more to learn about that progress — or lack thereof — in trying to improve education in New Mexico, other than “it’s hard.” Turning around a system as large as public education is like turning an aircraft carrier.