Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard shattered the glass ceiling Tuesday (Nov. 6) by becoming the first woman in New Mexico elected to serve as state land …
Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard shattered the glass ceiling Tuesday (Nov. 6) by becoming the first woman in New Mexico elected to serve as state land commissioner.
Buoyed by high turnout among Democrats, the longtime teacher and three-term state representative from Los Alamos defeated Republican Patrick Lyons and long-shot Libertarian candidate Michael Lucero in the tight and closely watched race.
"We will put New Mexico's children at the front of the line for the first time," Garcia Richard said at the Democrats' election night party in Albuquerque. "We will make protecting our environment the priority for the first time."
Though the State Land Office was not her area of expertise, Garcia Richard said her experience as an educator made her the perfect person for the job because the commissioner of public lands is largely responsible for generating revenue for education.
The state land commissioner, a job that pays $90,000 a year, is considered one of the most powerful elected positions in New Mexico with the least independent oversight.
The State Land Office is responsible for managing about 13 million mineral acres and 9 million surface acres that are leased for an array of uses, such as grazing and oil and gas drilling. The leases generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the state. The money is invested through the multibillion-dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund, with proceeds benefiting public schools, universities, hospitals and other state institutions.
Before the polls closed Tuesday, Garcia Richard said on Twitter that she was often asked why she was running for the post.
"It's simple, ensure enough funding for quality education," she wrote in a tweet that included a picture of her with her husband and two daughters.
"But it's also for these top two reasons," she wrote, referring to her daughters. "Their future, and their children's futures by protecting the land, air and water that belongs to them and all current and future New Mexicans."
Garcia Richard succeeds Aubrey Dunn, who was elected as a Republican and then switched to the Libertarian Party. Dunn, a single-term commissioner, decided not to run for re-election.
Unlike Lyons, a rancher and farmer who served two terms as land commissioner from 2003-2010, the 44-year-old Garcia Richard had never run for statewide before. Lyons also maintained a fundraising advantage over Garcia Richard throughout the campaign, thanks in part to sizable contributions from the oil and gas industry. In addition, Lyons had the support of a political action committee that received $2 million from Chevron Corp.
Garcia Richard, who works as a curriculum coordinator at the Pojoaque Valley school district, announced her candidacy in November 2017 after Democrat Ray Powell, a former state land commissioner, dropped out of the race for health reasons. Powell, a veterinarian who served in the office from 1994-2002 and again from 2011-14, endorsed Garcia Richard on the spot, saying he had recruited her to run.
"She really fights for our working families," Powell said in a statement at the time. "She has qualities that I believe in, and she will do things in a way that are really transparent and accountable."
In the Democratic primary election in June, Garcia Richard narrowly beat Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. State Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup came in a distant third in the primary.
Born in Tucumcari and raised in Silver City, Garcia Richard graduated from Silver High School in the early 1990s. She entered the world of politics in 2010 when she ran against - and nearly defeated - longtime Rep. Jeannette Wallace, a Republican who had represented a Los Alamos-based district for two decades. Wallace died the next year, and Garcia won the first of her three terms in House District 43 in 2012.
The district had been a reliable Republican stronghold for years, though Democrats now hold a slight edge in voter registration. Democrat Christine Chandler won Richard's old seat in the Nov. 6 election.
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