Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Former land commissioner accuses Democratic state officials of colluding to keep him off ballot | Local News

Former State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has filed a lawsuit accusing the Secretary of State’s Office of colluding with the Land Office’s general counsel to prevent him from running for the job again.

Dunn is a Republican who served in the role between 2015 and 2019 after narrowly defeating Democratic incumbent Ray Powell in the 2014 general election. Dunn became a Libertarian in 2018 following a disagreement with the GOP leadership, his attorney said.

He says in a complaint filed March 18 in state District Court that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver disqualified him as a Republican candidate for this year’s primary race based on a narrow interpretation of state law. Her motivation, he alleges, is to protect the interests of fellow Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, the current land commissioner, who is seeking reelection.

“She’s creating a new requirement not in the statues to disqualify Aubrey from being on the ballot,” said Dunn’s attorney and son, A. Blair Dunn.

Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, denied officials in the two agencies colluded. “Our Office did not qualify Mr. Dunn for the ballot because he did not follow the law. His baseless accusation of collusion between our general counsel and the State Land Office, without a shred of evidence, is just a cheap attempt to score political points,” Curtas wrote in an email.

“Secretary Toulouse Oliver will seek all available remedies to address the slanderous filing of a baseless claim impugning the reputations of well respected public attorneys,” Curtas added.

Tarin Nix, deputy commissioner of public affairs for the State Land Office, did not respond to an email Monday seeking comment from Garcia Richard or her general counsel, Ari Biernoff.

Aubrey Dunn’s complaint says he began seeking signatures from registered voters in January to qualify as a candidate for the preprimary GOP convention but wasn’t able to gather the 1,507 signatures required by a Feb.1 deadline. He instead set his sights on registering as a candidate at a later point in the process.

Blair Dunn asked the secretary of state how many signatures his father would need to collect to earn a spot on the primary election ballot without preprimary designation from the Republican Party. Toulouse Oliver said he would need 3,014, according to the complaint.

Aubrey Dunn began to gather additional signatures.

On Feb. 18, the complaint says, Blair Dunn encountered Toulouse Oliver’s general counsel, Dylan Lange, and told Lange his father appeared to be on track to gather the required signatures ahead of a March 8 deadline. Lange told Blair Dunn to make an appointment with the Secretary of State’s Office to complete the candidate filing process.

However, the complaint says, the Secretary of State’s Office later reversed course and told Aubrey Dunn he could no longer qualify as a candidate. In order to have his name on the ballot, the office said, according to the complaint, he would have had to first qualify for the preprimary convention; if he did not receive enough delegate votes at the convention to get a nod from the party, he then could have qualified by submitting the greater number of signatures by March 8.

A letter from the Secretary of State’s Office interpreting the election law is attached to the lawsuit.

The complaint says the secretary of state’s interpretation of the statue “enjoys no support in any prior opinion from a court or any other legal authority.”

The complaint alleges the Secretary of State’s Office came up with a novel interpretation of the law after Lange spoke with Biernoff about Aubrey Dunn’s intention to continue running for the post.

Garcia Richard’s only challenger so far is Republican Jefferson Byrd, a member of the state Public Regulation Commission.

“In what appears to be a partisan collusion between Mr. Biernoff and Mr. Lange … the office has now informed [Aubrey Dunn] that they are disqualifying his candidacy,” the complaint says.

Garcia Richard doesn’t want a strong opponent, Blair Dunn said, and Biernoff doesn’t want to look for a new job.

The attorney admitted the alleged scheme is speculation but said all that’s required for him to file the complaint is a “good faith belief” it occurred, which he has.

State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington had set an April 1 hearing to consider the complaint, but Blair Dunn is asking for it to be reset due to a scheduling conflict. The judge has not yet addressed the request.

“If I wasn’t a threat or a problem, they wouldn’t be trying to keep me off the ballot,” Aubrey Dunn said in a statement sent by his son. “They know that I did a good job as land commissioner and that I’ll come back and do it again.”

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