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State land boss Dunn to run for Pearce’s seat

SANTA FE – State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced Tuesday that he will forgo a re-election bid next year and instead run for an open southern New Mexico congressional seat, setting the stage for more upheaval on the state’s political stage.

Dunn, a Republican, cited U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s recent decision to run for governor – instead of re-election to the 2nd Congressional District seat – as part of his thought process.

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn

“With Steve Pearce running for governor, the stakes are simply too high for southern New Mexicans to lose an experienced, pro-jobs representative in Congress,” Dunn said.

He also acknowledged the allure of an open congressional seat, saying he hoped his early announcement might dissuade some fellow Republicans from running.

However, Dunn is expected to face at least some intraparty competition for the 2018 nomination, as state Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, has already announced her candidacy and others could also jump into the race.

Four Democrats have also launched campaigns for the congressional seat, which stretches from New Mexico’s border with Mexico north into Bernalillo County and has been held by a Republican for all but two of the past 37 years.

The state Democratic Party was quick to criticize Dunn after his Tuesday announcement, with party Chairman Richard Ellenberg calling Dunn “another Republican with an extreme record” and citing a proposed land swap pitched by Dunn to facilitate President Donald Trump’s border wall idea.

In a Journal interview, Dunn said his tenure as land commissioner and background in banking gives him important connections with residents of the largely rural 2nd Congressional District.

“I think I could be effective,” Dunn said, listing jobs, health care, the economy and border security as among his top priorities. “After running a public institution, I have a lot more information than I did in 2008.”

Dunn was referring to a failed bid for Congress in 2008 – he also ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2012 – that preceded his defeat of then-Land Commissioner Ray Powell, a Democrat, in 2014.

Meanwhile, Dunn’s decision also means there will be no incumbent in next year’s race to lead the State Land Office, which administers 9 million acres of state trust land and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.

Two Democrats – Garrett VeneKlasen and Powell – have already entered that race, and former Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, a Republican who’s currently a member of the Public Regulation Commission, said Tuesday that he was leaning toward running for his old office.

Dunn, who lives in Torrance County near Mountainair, comes from a politically prominent New Mexico family, as his father served as chairman of the state Senate Finance Committee.

As land commissioner, Dunn joined with prominent Democratic lawmakers last year in voicing concern about New Mexico’s budget situation. He also upset some oil and natural gas drillers earlier this year with a proposed rule change aimed at slowing the depletion of the massive Ogallala Aquifer beneath the state’s eastern plains.