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Our air, land and water won big

December 3, 2018

Our air, land and water won big in the 2018 midterm election, especially here in New Mexico.

New Mexico voters care about public lands and proved it through the recent Election Day results. Whether it’s standing up for our national monuments or pledging to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation, we saw that candidates with a strong commitment to conservation found favor with New Mexico’s voters. Let’s go through the roster.

Steve Pearce, a big proponent of shrinking the popular Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and other national monuments, and also a big recipient of donations from the oil and gas industry, was handily defeated by Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Lujan Grisham’s conservation record stood in stark contrast to Pearce’s. Expanding the role of renewable energy in our state, and the jobs that come with it, is a top priority she talked about consistently on the campaign trail. She also led her House colleagues in introducing the Antiquities Act of 2018, legislation that would protect national monuments from the whims of an anti-conservation president.

The biggest upset in New Mexico came when Xochitl Torres Small defeated Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. Torres Small has been vocal in her support of New Mexico’s public lands, penning a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in 2017 to let him know how important the monument is to the cultural and economic well-being of Southern New Mexico. Herrell, on the other hand, served as chairwoman for the American legislative Exchange Council, a group that has aggressively worked to privatize public lands.

In the 1st Congressional District, Deb Haaland, whose ancestors have been in New Mexico since before written history, defeated Janice Arnold-Jones. Haaland was at Standing Rock, braving the cold to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the adverse environmental and cultural impacts its construction would have on tribal lands. She ran on a commitment to fight climate change and expand renewable energy infrastructure and has no problem holding big oil and gas accountable.

The incumbent in the 3rd Congressional District, Ben Ray Luján, has long been a champion of New Mexico’s public lands, supporting a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, designation of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, and leading efforts to clean up the Gold King Mine spill in the Four Corners area.

Incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who is one of the most ardent protectors of national monuments and vocal champions of the economic benefits of public lands, defeated Mick Rich and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in a three-way race.

Finally, New Mexico voters made a strong statement in the race for state land commissioner, the seat with the most direct impact on the state’s public lands. Stephanie Garcia Richard, a state representative and teacher from Los Alamos, soundly defeated Pat Lyons. Lyons previously had served two terms as public lands commissioner and one term as a public regulation commissioner. During these stints, Lyons worked to fast-track development projects and weaken environmental restrictions. Garcia Richard, on the other hand, has a history of championing renewable energy projects and holding oil and gas companies accountable to higher stewardship standards.

As a mother, trail runner, entrepreneur, and the executive director of the Partnership for Responsible Business, I am especially attuned to how protecting our land, air and water and expanding renewable energy are vitally important to our economy and our health and well-being. I am optimistic that the conservation values demonstrated up and down the ballot by New Mexicans in this past election will bode well for our state’s future and the generations that follow us.

Alexandra Merlino lives in Santa Fe and is the executive director of the Partnership for Responsible Business.

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