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NM Land commissioner explains reasons for U.S. Senate race exit

SANTA FE — New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn cited unfinished business in his current job as the reason for his decision to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race.

In making his withdrawal from the race official, Dunn expressed a need to focus on the final months of his four-year term as land commissioner. In particular, he said resolving a water rights dispute in southeastern New Mexico requires his full attention.

“It is simply not possible to do that job like it needs to be done while campaigning for another office,” he said today in a statement.

Former New Mexico governor and two-time presidential candidate Gary Johnson has acknowledged interest in a U.S. Senate run, given Dunn’s decision to drop out of the race.

Johnson, a Republican-turned-Libertarian, told the Journal on Friday he was considering the race, but added: “To be clear, though, I will not run unless I believe I can win.”

If he decides to launch a campaign, Johnson would essentially replace Dunn on the ballot as the Libertarian Party’s nominee.

In his statement today, Dunn encouraged Johnson to run and called upon state Libertarian Party insiders to nominate Johnson as his replacement.

“New Mexicans deserve a choice in 2018 of a candidate who can not only win this race, but put New Mexico and America first before party politics as an independent voice in the United States Senate,” Dunn said. “It is time for Governor Johnson to again step up to lead this state and this nation to restore liberty.”

The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Martin Heinrich, a Democrat who is seeking re-election to a second six-year term.

The other candidate in the race is Republican Mick Rich, an Albuquerque contractor who is making his first run for elected office.

Dunn, who changed his party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian earlier this year, has clashed with the energy industry over a policy he implemented last year that aimed to curb how much water oil and gas producers take from a massive aquifer that lies beneath New Mexico’s eastern plains.

The land commissioner also filed a lawsuit last month against State Engineer Tom Blaine, claiming the state’s top water official has violated the law by allowing too much underground water to be pumped — to be used primarily in oil and natural gas drilling operations — under temporary permits.

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