Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

GOP hopes oil and gas support will turn New Mexico red in election

Oil and gas and New Mexico’s energy sector played leading roles in New Mexico’s latest election cycle, contributing more than a million dollars to candidates it hoped would be supportive of the industry.

About 80 percent of the $1.4 million the oil and gas industry donated to New Mexico candidates during the general election cycle concluding on Tuesday went to Republicans, read a recent study, as the GOP pushed policy to support increased fossil fuel production in the state.

The study conducted by New Mexico Ethics Watch and released Oct. 27 analyzed campaign contributions between July 3 and Oct. 3.

More:Southeast New Mexico Republicans surpass Democrats in early voting weeks ahead of election

In the election, New Mexico voters will choose a governor, district attorney, secretary of state and public lands commissioner, along with all three of the state’s US House seats.

Every seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives is also up for reelection.

Democrats and Republicans are largely believed to have vastly different stances on fossil fuel, which typically provides about a third of the state’s budget and was credited for driving an estimated $2.5 billion surplus expected in the next year, according to a report from the Legislative Finance Committee .

More:Your guide to general elections in Eddy County, including voter registration deadlines

The GOP is usually supportive of expanding oil and gas development in New Mexico’s two major basins: the southeast Permian Basin and northwest San Juan Basin.

The Permian Basin, which New Mexico shares with West Texas, accounts for almost half of US oil production – about 5.5 million barrels of the almost 12 billion barrels produced daily by the nation.

New Mexico is second in the nation in oil production behind only Texas, and GOP state political leaders hoped to win big in the election to support more growth in the industry.

More:Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage blames Lujan Grisham for Roswell murder in GOP campaign ad

Gay Kernan

“It’s huge part of the election,” said New Mexico Sen. Gay Kernan, a Republican from Hobbs within the Permian Basin region, of oil and gas. “The rules and regulations have tightened up. I’m very concerned about four more years of progressive left ideology.

“There will be an even greater opportunity to diminish oil and gas in New Mexico, which is what they want to do.”

Oil money leans toward GOP in general election

That perceived affront from the Democratic Party was likely why the industry appeared largely supportive of GOP nominee for the governor’s race Mark Ronchetti, a former meteorologist who vowed support of fossil fuel extraction throughout his campaign, the study read.

More:GOP ahead in southeast New Mexico early voting. Democratic Party leads in bigger cities

About $318,000 of the oil- and gas-tied political contributions went to the Ronchetti campaign, the study read, more than four times the $75,000 in industry contributions sent to incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

That trend also held true for State House elections, according to the study, which received a total of $560,000 in campaign donations from the industry with the New Mexico House Republican Campaign Committee pulling in $240,000 aside from donations to individual candidates.

The Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico got about $70,000, meaning Republican political action committees got about a quarter of oil and gas’ overall donations.

More:Climate change, fossil fuel policies leading issues in New Mexico’s November election

Oil and gas company lobbyists gave about $470,000 to candidates and PACs between May and October, the study read, with about 70 percent going to house seats.

Much of that came from oil giants Chevron at $250,000, Marathon Oil at $90,000 and ExxonMobil at $87,000, the study read.

About 52 percent of that money went to Republicans, read the study, with 48 percent for Democrats.

More:Energy debated in New Mexico State Land Office race as more lands leased for wind power

Kathleen Sabo, executive director of Ethics Watch, admitted oil and gas money paid for public services and events in New Mexico, but warned that boon came at the expense of damage to the environment.

“Oil and gas industry money can certainly fund worthwhile events and projects and needs in this state, and pay our citizens good wages,” Sabo said.

“Perhaps New Mexicans need to calculate how much harm, and for how long they are willing to endure damage to our air quality and ground water quality even as state government and event coffers are flush with cash generated by oil and gas production in the state. ”

More:Mike Pence lauds Permian Basin oil and gas growth at Artesia visit amid pollution concerns

Democrat rule ‘a runaway train’ in New Mexico?

Republicans, through their support of oil and gas and other businesses many see as impeded by policy from the Democrat-controlled state government, hoped to flip seats in the House that ahead of the election had 45 Democrats and 24 Republicans.

No Senate seats are up for election this year.

Opportunities for Republicans to win seats in House were in larger cities like Las Cruces or Albuquerque where voters were less “locked-in” than many rural areas, said Republican New Mexico Sen. Ron Griggs, who represents the State’s 34th District which spans parts of Eddy, Otero and Dona Ana counties.

More:How could recent federal laws signed by Biden aid New Mexico in shift from fossil fuels?

Legislators appointed by Lujan Grisham to fill vacancies could also be vulnerable, he said, in reference to the governor’s policies during her first term.

State Sen. Ron Griggs

“I believe we will pick up seats in the house,” he said. “The ultimate question is how many. Can we get close to a majority? That’s going to be a real challenge.”

He said he viewed the Republican Party as more focused on supporting a “free market,” which voters could respond to in bigger numbers than in past elections as the state’s economy struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

More:GOP nominee Jeremy Gay wants to restore ‘mission’ of New Mexico attorney general’s office

Oil and gas was the “economic driver” of the state as it recovers, Griggs said, and should be supported by public policy.

“Democrats think government is always the answer. They think it’s the end-all-be-all,” Griggs said. “That’s just not correct.”

Kernan said oil and gas should have a strong voice in New Mexico politics, as decisions made at the state level, she said, can have significant impacts on the industry’s ability to operate.

More:Vasquez to balance oil and gas and the environment. Will it get him elected to Congress?

She pointed to recent, tougher restrictions on emissions of air pollutants by the oil and gas industry imposed by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and other regulatory hurdles like long wait times for permits and other required approvals.

The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico recently appealed the NMED’s rules in court, calling them problematic for especially smaller producers the Association said it represents.

“Their ability to produce their product is heavily dependent on the policy,” Kernan said of the industry. “When you have an energy secretary who is appointed by a progressive governor, policy is going to get more restrictive. When we can’t even get rights by the way, that’s not good policy.”

More:‘Real frustration’: Mark Ronchetti aims to take New Mexico governor post from Lujan Grisham

Rules like that already impeded oil production by raising the cost of compliance with state law, Kernan said, potentially sending more companies over the border to operate in neighboring Texas where drillers can have access to mostly the same shale deposits.

“They need to be fair. They need to be realistic,” Kernan said of state policies.

Griggs worried if Republicans fail to take the governor’s office, Lujan Grisham and her party’s majority in the legislature could act unbridled by an impending reelection campaign, meaning oil and gas policy could get even more restrictive.

“If the governor has four more years, if that happens she’s not worried about reelection. The majority could push anything they want,” Griggs said. “Without him (Ronchetti) there, it’s fixing to be a runaway train.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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