- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell is locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Aubrey Dunn.

The contest has centered on Powell’s management of the state’s public lands and a dispute involving a northern New Mexico apple orchard.

During Powell’s tenure, the state Land Office has generated a record $2.3 billion for state accounts that fund public schools, hospitals and other projects. Powell says he helped transform a “badly compromised and dysfunctional office” and points out that more than a dozen renewable energy projects have been launched under his watch, including New Mexico’s largest solar array in Luna County.

In campaign ads airing on the music app Pandora, Powell says Dunn has a “radical agenda” to privatize state lands for special interests.

Dunn, a businessman and rancher, has accused Powell of practicing “extreme environmentalism.” He says the land commissioner hurt businesses by supporting critical habitat for various endangered species, although Powell supported conservation agreements with the federal government that aimed to help the lesser prairie-chicken and sagebrush lizard while allowing landowners to continue with their operations.

Dunn is promising “balanced land management” that would allow for some logging to reduce the potential of catastrophic wildfires.

In his campaign ads, Dunn has criticized Powell for not helping the family of the Dixon Apple Orchard following a massive wildfire and flooding that followed.

“The current state land commissioner created roadblocks and additional legal fees,” Dunn says on his campaign site. That forced the family to move to Wisconsin, he said.

Powell countered with his own ads, saying the family who owned the orchard didn’t have insurance and he wasn’t going to use state money to bail them out. Instead, Powell said he brought Cochiti Pueblo and the family together for a $1.8 million deal to take over the family’s lease.

Powell served as land commissioner from 1993-2002 and was elected again in 2010.

An Albuquerque Journal poll released Tuesday (https://goo.gl/0beuUy) showed both men were statistically tied. Forty percent of likely voters said they supported Dunn while 39 percent supported Powell. Around 20 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of four percent.

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Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras

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