By Dan Boyd
SANTA FE – Former longtime New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell won't be returning to his old office in 2019.
The Democrat confirmed Wednesday that he is withdrawing from next year's land commissioner race due to the recent diagnosis of myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disorder that can cause muscle weakness and speech difficulties.
Powell said he's optimistic he can get his health problems under control but said the grind of a political campaign could exacerbate the disease.
“It was extremely difficult (deciding not to run), because I love the land office,” said Powell, who previously served as land commissioner from 1993 through 2002, and again from 2011 through 2014.
“You just can't be moderate in a statewide political campaign – you've got to go for it,” he added.
But in announcing he's ending his own bid, Powell also threw his support behind a new candidate in the race – state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos.
Garcia Richard, a three-term lawmaker who is chairwoman of the House Education Committee, would have to give up her House seat to run for land commissioner next year. That's because all 70 state House seats are also up for election in 2018.
In an interview, Garcia Richard said she'd previously considered entering the race but decided to jump in only after being approached by Powell.
“I do feel the time is right,” she told the Journal. “I am the only woman in the race, and I bring strong progressive credentials and conservation credentials.”
If elected, Garcia Richard said, she would focus on supporting renewable energy and securing more funding for New Mexico public schools.
Two other Democrats have already announced bids for land commissioner – state Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup and New Mexico Wildlife Federation Executive Director Garrett VeneKlasen.
There's just one Republican running: former Land Commissioner Pat Lyons of Cuervo, as incumbent Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn does not plan to seek re-election.
The State Land Office oversees more than 9 million acres of state trust land – along with an even larger swath of mineral rights – that is intended to help fund public schools 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 – Powell, Dunn and Lyons.