© 2018 New Mexico News Services 11-12-18
New State Land Commissioner can compensate for personal deficiencies with hires
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            Campaigns for State Land Commissioner became a tug-of-war between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry, but it’s about so much more.
            At this writing, we don’t know the outcome of this close race, but voters lacked a good choice. What can salvage the office now is outside scrutiny and strong staffing.
            The State Land Office manages 9 million acres of surface land and 13 million acres of mineral rights. Land use – leases, grazing and royalties – funds such beneficiaries as the public schools and universities.
            The two major party candidates: Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, an educator who’s been a smart, hard working legislator for three terms but doesn’t know the commissioner’s job, and Republican Pat Lyons, a former commissioner who does know the job but is ethically challenged.
          Outgoing Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a Republican turned Libertarian, told the news website New Mexico In Depth that he wasn’t happy with either candidate.
            Campaign rhetoric focused on who would be friendlier to renewable energy projects or oil and gas. Scare ads made Garcia Richard look like somebody who would undermine our latest oil boom, but as chair of the House Education Committee, she understands better than most what happens to schools when oil revenues wane.
            In the same way, Lyons was painted as somebody who will just roll over for “Big Oil” and turn his back on renewables. Lyons has said he would support renewable and reminds us that he issued the first wind lease. But campaign watchdogs reported money pouring into Lyons’ campaign from the oil and gas industry.
          Dunn said: “I held [oil and gas] accountable, and I’m not sure Pat will, and I’m not sure Stephanie knows how.”
          In just the past month alone, Lyons raised $137,705, largely from oil and gas. He raised upwards of $300,000 during his campaign, and a political action committee spent a half million dollars to help him. After Chevron gave $2 million to the PAC, environmentalists called for a boycott of Chevron.
          In 2006, when the Lyons campaign was also flush, I wrote, “Lyons gets along with oil and gas, ranchers and developers, but $488,000 in campaign contributions is a lot of getting along.”        
          I’m not saying industry is wrong to support a candidate (I’m really sick of the ads portraying Big Oil as evil), but when you have so much money flowing towards a candidate from ANY source, voters should wonder about the candidate’s loyalties.
          Lyons has been dogged by the White Peak land swap, halted in 2010 by the state Supreme Court for violating state bidding process. It started with hunters raising the roof over loss of prime hunting lands to two land owners who were sole bidders in separate deals. Lyons defended the swaps as good land management.
          And there was a developer’s $20,000 contribution to Lyons’ 2006 campaign just months before Lyons signed a lease with the developer.
          Recently Lyons sent a fundraising letter to ranchers who lease land from the state. “”Let’s make sure agriculture has a voice in the Land Office,” he wrote. This was cause for a debate about ethics and optics. The consensus was that the ask might not be illegal, but it looks bad. Lyons said the letter didn’t work anyway, as if that’s justification.
          No wonder the state’s largest newspapers have strained to come up with endorsements. The Las Cruces Sun-News endorsed Garcia Richard, primarily for her stand on animal and wildlife protections and environmental stewardship. The Santa Fe New Mexican surprised its readers by endorsing Lyons for his land management experience.
          If Garcia Richard wins, I hope she surrounds herself with experienced people. If Lyons wins, I hope at least one seasoned employee has a working ethical compass.    Either one needs watching.


Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.

Sherry Robinson photo

© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     11-5-18
State population growth dismal, but seven counties gain
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
In a previous column, I discussed those leaving New Mexico, namely the 25- to- 44-year olds who should provide the core of a productive society. This time the topic is the number staying. The numbers, for July 1, 2017, come from the Census Bureau. New numbers are due next month.
The state’s overall population situation remains dismal; we added only 28,891 people from the April 2010 census to 2017. That’s a 1.4 percent increase. Contrast that with Arizona, up by 624,253 (yes, from a larger base), a 9.8 percent increase.  Booming Colorado’s population grew 11.5 percent during the period. Those two neighbors can’t match New Mexico’s “accomplishment” of declining population in 2014 and 2015. It has been a lost decade.
Ten New Mexico counties gained population during the period. Only Sandoval and Santa Fe counties gained every year. Bernalillo and Los Alamos counties lost population during one year by amounts so tiny as to not really count. These four are the north central urban area. Doña Ana is also urban with the second largest county population in 2017 (215,579), with Las Cruces and part of the larger Júarez-El Paso combo.
Urban wins. The message isn’t good for the rest of the state.
Amid the gloom a few glimmers appear.
While just five counties showed positive domestic migration for the seven-year period, for the 2016-2017 year it was a dozen. (Domestic migration refers to people moving into or out of an area.) The seven with the migration turnaround are Catron, Lincoln, Los Alamos, Guadalupe, Torrance, Union, and Valencia.
Additionally, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties attracted substantially more migrants than the seven-year average. For the year, Bernalillo County lost 1,860 domestic migrants, equal to its seven year average.
For other counties, different things are happening.
The Chaves County population grew by 148 between 2012 and 2013 and has drifted down since. Chaves’ 2017 population is 64,866. It was 65,645 for the 2010 Census.
Lea and McKinley counties are close in the alphabet and in population with Lea showing 68,759 in 2017 and McKinley at 72,564. Both gained population during the 2010 to 2017 period. They peaked in 2015 and dropped the next two years.
The performance was quite different. Lea County added 4,032 people, or 6.2 percent, during the seven years. McKinley added 1,076 for a 1.5 percent increase. With one exception, the population factors were about the same. The exception was domestic migration. While Lea County lost 990 people to other parts of the U.S., 3,581 people left McKinley County. That’s three and a half times more than the Lea departures.
Incomes add to the story. For 2016 (the latest income figures available) the per capita income in Lea County was $33,371 (22nd in the state) and $25,688 in McKinley (33rd in the state).
To state the obvious, the economies of the two counties are quite different and people respond accordingly, seeking betterment, just as people respond to the economies of Arizona, Colorado and Texas being quite different from New Mexico.
Our vast spaces show in the population numbers. We have seven counties with fewer than 5,000 people—Catron, De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Hidalgo, Mora, and Union. Five counties are in the northeast with two in the southwest. Their total 2017 population was 23,580. Together they lost 7.8 percent of their population in seven years.
The group spreads across 15.1 million acres, 19 percent of the state’s 77.9 million acres. The spread is thin; the seven-county population is 1.2 percent of the state’s 2.09 million.
All in all, we go back to the economic truism: incentives matter, incentives such as higher income and decent education for the kids..