Garcia Richards declares candidacy for state land commissioner

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By Wren Propp

State lawmaker Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat from Los Alamos, confirmed Wednesday she would be running for state land commissioner following an announcement by Democrat Ray Powell that he would be withdrawing from the race.

Garcia Richard, who represents District 43 in the state House of Representatives, said Powell called her to ask that she get back in the race. Powell had been state land commissioner for several terms. He announced that he would be stepping away due to health problems from an auto-immune disease.

Garcia Richard said she had contemplated running for the statewide post that oversees state trust lands for educational institutions earlier this year, but had decided to not pursue it when Powell announced he would run.

His announcement Wednesday changed that.

“He called me up and asked me to reconsider. This seat gives me a good opportunity to advocate for education funding, renewal energy resources and conservation,” Garcia Richard said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

An educator with three terms in the Legislature under her belt, Garcia Richard said she would have a unique opportunity to challenge the public’s perspective of “what the land commissioner is.”

The state land commissioner oversees the State Land Office, which manages 9 million acres of surface land and 13 million acres of mineral rights, including oil and gas.

Revenue coming from the management of the land and mineral rights goes to support 22 trust beneficiaries, including schools, universities and hospitals. All New Mexico counties include state trust land, except Los Alamos.

A percentage of a fund created to receive the revenue from the trust lands, called the Land Grant Permanent Fund, goes to public schools. The rest is kept “for a rainy day,” unspent.

Garcia Richard said her votes in favor of constitutional changes – which would have supported educational reforms such as pre-kindergarten programs, home visits and others measures – show that she’s prepared to take care of education.

“That’s what our trust really is. Do we have the foresight, now, to use the money wisely?” Garcia Richard said.

Advocating sweeping changes for the way the Land Grant Permanent Fund is spent isn’t on her agenda, she said.

She’ll be out of the House seat, whether she wins or loses, and she isn’t concerned that a Republican may have a shot at her House seat.

“The demographics have changed, there are more Democrats in Los Alamos. We’ve built a bench and we’ve got a number of great candidates,” she said.