Published in the Santa Fe New Mexican

We are shocked that The New Mexican endorsed Pat Lyons for commissioner of public lands, given that he is clearly the weaker candidate on the issues of environmental protection and the expansion and protection of public lands.

The endorsement also is completely inconsistent with the values and qualities prioritized for every other statewide seat. Until now, the newspaper’s endorsements have created a clear standard for elected officials around transparency, accountability and ethical conduct. The endorsement of Lyons falls so short of that standard that it is not only inconsistent and disingenuous, but virtually incoherent.

Why the sudden blindness to the priorities that the editorial board articulated in its endorsement for land commissioner in the primary election? On May 27, the newspaper wrote that in addition to simply continuing to manage state trust lands for the beneficiaries, the next land commissioner must “find ways to prepare for life after oil — and begin transitioning the office … so that the beneficiaries don’t suffer.” The editorial noted the importance of endorsing a candidate who can “embrace the basic duties of the job but who also sees a way to expand its possibilities.”

Lyons’ previous term as land commissioner was an unqualified disaster. In addition to his illegal attempt to dispose of White Peak (which the board puzzlingly accepts as Lyons having “learned his lesson,” again curiously inconsistent in the context of the rigor with which the editorial board has pursued allegations of financial misdeeds by candidates for public office recently), Lyons was also found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to have allowed significant illegal dumping on state trust lands, used state trust resources for his personal legal expenses and regularly undervalued land to the benefit of campaign donors. Is this the experience that the newspaper apparently found convincing? We would argue that this type of experience is a convincing reason to withhold endorsement.

By the standards that the newspaper has articulated in every other endorsement, Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard is a much better fit. In addition to clearly formulating plans to diversify and bolster the revenue coming from state trust lands, which, again, the paper has stated is a priority in previous land commissioner endorsements, Garcia Richard also has spoken at length about the need to reduce methane waste, a tactic that surely meets the definition of “managing land to maximize investments” that the paper cited in its endorsement. Garcia Richard has a proven voting record on the issues that the newspaper prioritizes in state government. As a legislator, she has cast votes to increase transparency, protect oversight of tax dollars and ensure that ethical review plays a larger role in state government.

We urge the newspaper to reconsider this endorsement and apply the same standards to candidates for land commissioner that it has consistently applied to other statewide races. To readers, please vote for Stephanie Garcia Richard. Her record of ethical public service stands in stark contrast to Lyons’ scandal-plagued tenure. Don’t give him back our public lands to pillage.

The authors are Ben Shelton of Conservation Voters New Mexico and Camilla Feibelman of the Sierra Club: Rio Grande Chapter. Eleanor Bravo of Food & Water Action also contributed.