Friday, February 20, 2009


Here is a little OP-ED I wrote that was published in the Albuquerque Journal today.

At the high water mark, the New Mexico State Land Office owned more than 13 million acres of surface and mineral rights in our Land of Enchantment. Over the years 4 million acres of the surface land was sold off for a pittance by corrupt State Land Commissioners and other special interests. This happened in the 1950’s and 1960’s with little public knowledge of the biggest heist in State History. The reason for that is while the New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Office is the most powerful constitutional office in the state, there is virtually no oversight on the actions of the commissioner. I know because I served in that office for two terms. I was astonished that no one was looking over my shoulder. Not the legislature, not the Attorney General, not the Auditor nor representatives of the beneficiaries of the Land Office which are mostly the educational institutions in the state. Of course the public was clueless.

I asked the Legislature to enact a law that provided for an Advisory board when I was in office. It worked for a while but has fallen by the wayside. That has happened I know because of the incredible sweetheart deals offered to developers by the land office over the last seven years. Welcome back to the 50’s.

Flash forward to the new century. It is nearly 2010 and time to change the way this office operates. This will take a Constitutional Amendment passed by the legislature and voted on by the public. I supported this issue in my race for Land Commissioner in 2006 and was promptly overwhelmed by campaign money pumped into my opponent’s campaign by the oil and gas, real estate, mining and livestock industry. They like things the way they are and my opponent warned them they would lose “their” land office if this amendment passed. I had always thought the land office was there for the educational beneficiaries and the people of the state. Silly me.

Now Representative Nathan Cote has introduced a constitutional amendment (HJR18) to take back the land office by creating an oversight commission to approve the Land Commissioner’s decisions. I feel this board should have veto power over any permanent disposition of State Land under the Commissioner’s control. That would include land sales and trades or any lease longer than five years. There would be no good reason for opposing this amendment except for those who think checks and balances are bad!

I also think the candidates for Land Commissioner in the future should not be allowed to accept campaign donations from any one who does business with the land office. Period. Perhaps this should be a publicly financed office like the Public Regulatory Commission.

This is simply good government and a concept whose time has come.

Jim Baca served as Land Commissioner in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

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