- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Republican New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced Tuesday he would run for the state’s southern congressional seat instead of seeking a second term in state office.

Dunn hopes to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who is running for governor in 2018. The governor’s race has set off a game of musical chairs in New Mexico politics as Pearce and Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque decline to seek re-election to Congress.

Dunn was elected in 2014 to lead an agency that oversees state trust lands spanning 14,000 square miles (36,000 square kilometers) that help fund schools, universities, hospitals and other public institutions.

Two Democrats already are vying aggressively for Dunn’s current job: former land commissioner Ray Powell and political newcomer Garrett VeneKlasen.

Dunn, a retired banking executive and active rancher at property near Corona, said he wants stimulate more private-sector job opportunities in New Mexico. He denounced continued gridlock on Capitol Hill under Republican leadership and emphasized the need to improve the U.S. health care system and devote more resources to security at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Dunn declined to say how he might have voted on the Republican health care overhaul proposal now stalled in the Senate, but said changes are needed.

“I think gridlock is alive and well,” he said. “If we get some new people in Washington, I’m hoping we can change that.”

Republican state Rep. Yvette Harrell of Alamogordo also is seeking the GOP nomination for the southern congressional district. At least four Democrats have announced intentions to run.

Dunn unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the southern congressional district in 2008, when Pearce ran unsuccessfully for Senate before being re-elected to congress in 2010. Dunn lost a bid in 2012 to unseat Democratic former state Sen. Phil Griego, now awaiting trial on corruption charges.

Dunn highlighted his administrative accomplishments as land commissioner, overseeing 156 employees. He has proposed state-federal land swaps to make way for President Donald Trump’s border wall and salvage state income from parcels isolated within newly proclaimed national monuments.

State Democratic Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg said those proposals represent an “extreme record” on land use issues.

As land commissioner, Dunn proposed starting a new permanent state savings fund to finance early childhood education programs through mineral rights associated with public land currently owned by the federal government. The plan was criticized by environmentalists as an effort to open more public lands to private oil and natural gas interests, and eventually was abandoned by Dunn.

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