Powell wants to get past the ‘us-against-them’ mentality
Ray Powell says his time working with Jane Goodall has been a needed sabbatical from politics – one that has empowered him and given him the desire to return to the New Mexico Land Office and work for change.
Powell said he had become cynical about politics because there are so many people involved in the political system who are self-serving. He has spent the last four years as the director for the Four Corners region of The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation.
In that role, he’s worked to educate and empower children to envision healthier communities, and he’s traveled the world and gotten to meet with top experts.
Working for Goodall has given him a renewed energy, Powell said.
“If you’re in politics for any amount of time, I recommend a sabbatical with someone who is so empowering,” Powell said.
Through his job, Powell has worked with children on service-learning projects aimed at integrating community, animals and the natural world – to teach children that they must take care of the environment but also think about the needs of the people around them.
Children understand that they are inheriting a mess, and Powell has been working to get them to think about what they must do to restore the planet, “not by assigning blame or by getting in a circular firing squad, but just to move forward.”
It’s that focus on moving forward that Powell said he wants to bring back to the land office. He served as land commissioner from 1993 to 2002, and he’s running for the seat once again on Nov. 2. He faces Republican opponent Matt Rush.
Powell said he’s “really worried” about the state of the land office after eight years of it being run by outgoing Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, a Republican.
“I want to get back and empower them,” Powell said. “… On day one, I an step into that office, clean it up and move forward.”
Economy and quality of life
Powell said the job of land commissioner is important to the state’s economy and quality of life – two issues he said are not mutually exclusive.
Goodall learned from working to combat deforestation in Tanzania that you can’t just “save the chimps,” Powell said – you have to help people too. That the area was so devastated that people were suffering, and Goodall found that saving the animals wasn’t the most important thing.
She began working on economic development that was done with an environmentally friendly mindset. She helped improve the lives of people in the area – and, in the process, protect the wildlife too.
“That’s what we need to do in New Mexico,” Powell said.
Powell said the land office needs to focus on taking care of the land, working on economic development, keeping food production in the state, developing new sources of energy, and continuing to work with non-renewable energy producers.
Powell said New Mexico has an opportunity to be the “worldwide experts” on renewable energy and what he calls a “restoration economy” because of its land, climate, universities and national laboratories.
Powell pointed to the Mesa Del Sol development in Albuquerque, which he helped bring to the state, as an example. Some 1,100 acres of land in that development are zoned industrial and focused on renewable energy development.
But Powell said the oil and gas industry can’t be ignored or shut out. Those sources of energy are necessary and will be around for a long time, he said, and the next land commissioner must continue to work with them. After all, 95 percent of revenues derived from state trust land come from oil and gas.
Powell said Rush’s answer for why he’s running is, “why not?”
“I’m not taking shots at him, but this isn’t something you do on a lark,” Powell said.
Powell said he’s interested in bringing all stakeholders to the table to find solutions to New Mexico’s problems.
“I think we’ve got to find common ground, and that’s another difference, because I’ve gone to forums with my opponent, and it’s always us against them,” Powell said.
Powell said he created various advisory groups during his previous tenure as land commissioner and he plans to do that again. During his previous tenure, he was able to propose legislation backed by people often portrayed as being on opposite sides of a fight because he brought them all to the table.
Powell said governance is “bringing people together so that you get this chemistry where things happen.” He said the land commissioner should be a “facilitator,” of that, not “the driver.”
“That’s why I just can’t go down that road of saying it’s us against them,” Powell said.
Powell said there are smarter ways to develop than the land office has done in recent years. He cited examples from his previous tenure.
Powell worked to create the Sandia Science and Technology Park on state trust land because a company that produced photovoltaic cells at Sandia National Laboratories was planning to move to New Jersey, where land was cheaper.
Creation of the park convinced the company to stay here and lease land from the state. The project created economic development and permanent revenue off the land from tenants at the park.
Another example: The land office retained ownership of much of the land in the Mesa Del Sol development so the state will continue making revenue off it. Lyons has sold much of the land he’s set aside for economic development.
And in Mesa Del Sol, Powell said he required the creation of an employment district before any homes were built – to prevent sprawl, establish a tax base, and ensure that people could work near where they live.
Community involvement is critical to development, and Powell said he will work as land commissioner to give communities a say in the development process for trust land. Rather than taking an entire, massive project to a community for approval at once – as Lyons did in Las Cruces with a 90,000-acre development on the East Mesa – Powell said he will require developers to come forward with a piece at a time when they’re ready to develop it.
And he will require industrial parks or other economic development before homes are built to ensure there’s no sprawl and that there’s a tax base in place.
Powell said his biggest mistake during his first tenure as land commissioner was “hubris” – taking a master plan development for Edgewood to the community for the first time after it was nearly complete.
He said it took 27 community meetings for him to earn back the community’s trust, and he learned that community involvement must come first.
‘All of these pieces fit together’
Farming and ranching are difficult, and Powell said his other focus will be on keeping those who want to work the land connected to it. That will include education on how to protect the environment so the land remains viable for future generations.
Powell said his overall goal is to “get food produced, get the land cared for, get our tax base increased and protect our watershed, which is so critical.”
“All of these pieces fit together,” Powell said, adding that his lifetime of experience – as a former land commissioner, as a veterinarian, and working for Goodall – has prepared him to step into the job again and approach the management of state trust land by “looking at how everything fits together.”
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