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Editorial: Dunn acting more like a candidate than land boss

If there are any doubts campaign season is gearing up, one blast of the hot air coming from state Land Commissioner/Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate Aubrey Dunn should put them to rest. First, Dunn took on the U.S. Air Force, demanding $25 million he says the state will lose because military flight training plans interfere with part of a second phase of Oregon-based Avangrid Renewables’ El Cabo wind farm in Torrance County.

The project would add 114 wind turbines on state trust lands, but the Department of Defense has voiced objections to some of the project because of height issues – 61 of the turbines could affect a military training route called IR-33.

Instead of taking the diplomatic route and seeking a compromise on turbine height and placement, Dunn fired the first shot, telling reporters “this federal power grab not only impacts revenue to the trust, but completely disregards state’s rights and individual liberties. This is military tyranny.”

And he wrote this to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson: “I believe that the military should not be uniquely and unduly burdening state trust lands by effectively prohibiting the investment-backed activities of state trust land leases unless it is willing to pay appropriate compensation.”

So let’s talk about that so-called burden the U.S. military places on the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico was the recipient of $3.1 billion in defense spending in fiscal 2015 alone. The Department of Defense employs 23,539 people in New Mexico at places like Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon Air Force bases and the Army’s White Sands Missile Range. That military spending is a vital part of the state’s economy, and it makes no sense for one of our elected officials, much less someone running for Senate, to play hardball with DoD.

If it’s such a hardship to have military installations in the state, they could move somewhere they are welcome, taking their billion-dollar budgets and 23K-plus employees.

Rather than quit while he was behind, on Tuesday Dunn staged another media event, posting a “no trespassing” sign on a dirt road near a border fence in an effort to keep the Border Patrol off state lands. He accused the federal government of installing “a border wall, infrastructure, and roads on state lands without the state authorization and without compensation to the state trust.” He told the Journal “we’d like to bring attention to the border wall and the federal government taking away property rights without paying for it.”

Yet while Dunn maintains he is taking a principled stance for property rights, his issue is getting $19,200 from the feds for a 35-year permit to use the 60-foot easement on the borderland held in trust for public schools – about $549 a year.

As with the wind turbines, it sure seems like Dunn could have been able to work this matter out with the federal government without the media blitz he is trying to generate.

Yes, Dunn was elected to advocate for state lands and the beneficiaries they serve. He notes money generated from leased state Land Office lands supports New Mexico’s schools and hospitals. In fiscal 2017, his office collected $664 million.

And there’s no question projects like the one proposed in Torrance County are important to New Mexicans and the state’s path toward more renewable energy sources, or that the state Land Office is entrusted with ensuring any and all activities on state public lands provide a return for New Mexicans. But it’s hard to see how picking a fight with the military or preventing the Border Patrol from doing its job to keep southern New Mexico safe chalk up wins for New Mexicans and the state economy. It’s unbecoming of our land commissioner, even more so of someone seeking to represent the state in the U.S. Senate. If Dunn hopes to wind up in D.C., he should dial down his over-the-top rhetoric, do a risk/reward analysis before his next news release or press conference, and consider the big picture for his state and his nation.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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