Candidates for state land commissioner -- former Republican Commissioner Patrick Lyons and state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos -- …
Candidates for state land commissioner -- former Republican Commissioner Patrick Lyons and state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos -- disagreed on tapping more money from a state trust fund but found some areas of agreement during a candidate forum Oct. 3.
Lyons, commissioner between 2003 and 2010, even complimented Garcia Richards for her role in chairing a legislative committee. "My opponent is very knowledgeable," he said. "She did a great job of chairing the House Education Committee. I hated seeing her give up that position."
During the public exchange at Santa Fe Community College, the two agreed on the need to establish a "buffer zone" to prevent oil and gas fracking on state lands close to nuclear waste facilities, such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Project near Carlsbad, though Garcia Richard said she would expand the idea to create buffer zones to prevent fracking on state land near other sensitive areas, such as the archaeologically rich Chaco Canyon.
And they agreed on the need for oil and gas producers to capture methane emissions, though Garcia Richard asked Lyons why he, if he supports the idea, didn't act on it when he was commissioner.
While the discussion was far less contentious than the one between secretary of state candidates at the Wednesday event sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Lyons and Garcia Richards were in opposite corners on plenty of issues.
A perennial issue in recent land commission campaigns has been a proposal to temporarily increase the percentage of interest taken out of earnings in the state's $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and spend the money on early childhood education.
Garcia Richard enthusiastically supports the idea. "It's only 1 percent, " she said. "And there's a sunset clause."
Lyons, a longtime opponent of such proposals, said, "Everybody wants to raid the permanent fund. When I was in the state Senate in the '90s, people wanted to raid the fund for full-day kindergarten. They said it couldn't be done without raiding the fund. But now we have full-day kindergarten and we didn't raid the fund."
He said the state expects a $1.5 billion budget surplus in the next fiscal year, which he credited to the oil and gas industry. "We could pay for early childhood education out of that," he said.
A question from the audience asked whether the candidates accepted money from the oil industry. Garcia Richard said, "Absolutely not. Zero." She said the land commissioner has to negotiate leases with oil companies, and she believes it's inappropriate for a commissioner to negotiate such deals with people "who have paid me ahead of time."
Lyons, who has taken in tens of thousands of dollars from the oil sector, didn't deny it. But he said he's never been influenced by campaign contributors.
A third land commissioner candidate, Libertarian Michael Lucero, did not attend the forum.
The only independent polling in the race, performed last month by Research & Polling Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal, showed Garcia Richard leading by 2 percentage points -- 39 percent to Lyons' 37 percent -- with 15 percent undecided. That's well within the poll's 4.8 percent margin of error.
This story first appeared in The New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.
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