With political world ‘turned upside down,’ GOP’s Dunn ponders options

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New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sounded certain last fall that he was running for re-election in 2018.

“I am running for re-election as land commissioner,” the Republican told NMPolitics.net in August.

Aubrey Dunn

Courtesy photo

Aubrey Dunn

At the time, Dunn said the United States’ system of government “was not designed for career politicians, but as a citizen service.” He cited his “unique” skills as “a successful banker, rancher, and real estate investor” in saying the land commissioner job “is a unique position which gives me an opportunity to repay the benefits given to me as a New Mexican.”

Times change. Dunn says he’s now considering running for three offices in 2018 — land commissioner, governor or U.S. Congress — or doing none of that and instead staying home and having fun with his granddaughters.

Why the shift?

“Since August the political world has been turned upside down and I have been carefully weighing my options,” Dunn said. “I turn 62 in 2018, my health is good, and I have enjoyed serving the citizens of New Mexico as land commissioner.”

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president certainly has turned the political world upside down. And in New Mexico, things are in flux as well with Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, leaving office at the end of 2018. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., is among the Republicans considering running for governor. If he does, his congressional seat would be up for grabs, and Dunn lives in that district.

Dunn’s consideration of multiple offices illustrates the political uncertainty as New Mexico moves into the post-Martinez era. And if history is any guide, a decision by Dunn to not seek re-election would give Democrats a better chance of winning back the State Land Office in 2018.

Two Democrats have announced their candidacies for land commissioner — Ray Powell, who Dunn defeated to win the office in 2014, and Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

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It’s sometimes difficult for Republicans to win statewide races. New Mexico didn’t go for Trump in 2016, and Martinez’s popularity has fallen, so there’s a chance 2018 will be a year that leans toward Democrats. If he runs for re-election, Dunn said he believes his chances are good.

“I would be the only candidate with extensive business experience, have true on-the-ground conservation experience, and be much closer to the middle of the political spectrum,” Dunn said. “…Incumbent candidates for statewide races have only lost twice in the history of our state. Gary Johnson beat Bruce King [for governor in 1994], and yours truly beat Ray Powell.”

Meanwhile, Dunn joins lots of Republicans and Democrats taking a look at the governor’s race. In addition to Pearce, the other Republicans mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates are Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, but no Republicans have officially joined the race.

Sanchez appears poised to make a move, though whether it’s a run for governor, U.S. Senate or another office isn’t clear. The lieutenant governor, who will also leave that job at the end of 2018, has been asking people on Twitter to take a survey ranking issues by order of importance.

Dunn said he’s well-positioned to run for governor.

“I believe that I have the best business background for getting our state budget back on track, could work both sides of the isle, and bring back jobs to New Mexico,” Dunn said, adding that he has high name recognition statewide and some support from Democrats in northern New Mexico.

Meanwhile, three Democrats have announced gubernatorial campaigns — U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Jeff Apodaca, and Peter DeBenedittis. Others, including state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, are said to be considering joining that primary race.

Dunn said he plans on making a decision by mid-July.

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