SANTA FE – Pat Lyons wants his old job back.
The two-term Public Regulation Commission member, a Republican, confirmed Wednesday that he will run next year for state land commissioner, a position he previously held from 2003 through 2010.
He said current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn’s recent decision to forgo a 2018 re-election bid – and instead run for Congress – prompted his decision to seek a return to the State Land Office.
“We feel we’ve got the experience to lead the Land Office and help it do what it’s supposed to do,” Lyons told the Journal.
If elected, Lyons said, he would push to diversify uses of state trust land in the aftermath of falling oil and natural gas prices.
He also said he’d push the federal government to pay back New Mexico – either in other federal lands or dollars – for any state trust land included in the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
The monument, among those President Donald Trump’s administration has targeted for possible downsizing, includes 60,000 acres of state trust land.
“We need to be compensated on that somehow,” Lyons said.
Lyons engineered several controversial land swaps during his previous tenure as land commissioner, including a 2006 exchange that transferred Dixon’s Apple Orchard from the University of New Mexico to the State Land Office.
He has also faced questions, both as a PRC member and as land commissioner, about his use of government vehicles, but has staunchly defended his actions.
Lyons, a Cuervo rancher, is the first GOP candidate to enter the 2018 land commissioner race. Two Democrats – Garrett VeneKlasen and Ray Powell, who is also a former land commissioner – have also launched campaigns.
The State Land Office oversees more than 9 million acres of state trust land and an even larger area of mineral rights that are intended to help public schools, higher education and other beneficiaries.
Revenue from state trust land comes from oil and natural gas royalties, grazing rights and energy leases, and the land commissioner has broad authority to allow activities and authorize land swaps.
The office has been held by just three individuals in the past 24 years – Dunn, Powell and Lyons.