SANTA FE, N.M.
(Heartland Newsfeed) — Aubrey Dunn, New Mexico’s land commissioner, has switched party affiliations from being one of the state’s top elected Republicans to a Libertarian.
Dunn noted in a statement Saturday that he is considering his next political move as he nears the end of his term later this year, as some New Mexican Libertarians have launched a draft campaign to run for U.S. Senate.
Dunn’s departure from the GOP leaves Republicans with one less statewide elected officer, as the party continues to grapple with factional battles and its own party identity in a mixed state during the presidential administration of Donald J. Trump.
Dunn’s departure, both unusual and not surprising, the rancher and banker based in the southern portion of the state has long been at odds with current Republican governor Susana Martinez and has clashed with oil companies, developing a reputation as a libertarian-leaning Republican — a rare breed in the party.
Citing his decision to switch parties, Dunn said, “I was on the outside.”
Dunn has also been one of very few Republicans to win a statewide election in recent years. He was first elected in 2014, ousting Democratic incumbent Raymond Powell in such a narrow race, a recount was prompted.
The New Mexico Land Commission manages 13 million mineral acres and 9 million surface trust land acres, generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the state’s educational system.
While Dunn has scrapped with oil companies on environmental issues regarding the Ogallala Aquifier and Gov. Martinez over management of the state’s investment council, his office has remained without scandal.
None of these would appear to be a disadvantage heading into an election year where anti-Trump backlash is expected. Dunn initially launched a Congressional campaign for Representative Steve Pearce’s seat, who is running for governor, but withdrew from the race, citing a crowded campaign field divided due to infighting within factions of the state party.
Dunn’s political future has been in limbo as the the 2018 election season takes shape. Republican Pat Lyons, the state’s public regulation commissioner, is already running for his post.
Dunn’s son, A. Blair Dunn, is running for Attorney General as a Libertarian and is partially responsible for the draft campaign to get his father to run for U.S. Senate.
Currently running for the seat are Democratic incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich and Republican businessman Mick Rich.
The Libertarian Party received 9 percent of the vote in the state in the 2016 presidential election under former Republican governor and 2012 Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, which allows for easier ballot access and could create an unprecedented victory for the Senate seat.
The state party received confirmation of their designation as a major political party, allowing for easier access to get their candidates on the ballot, but currently Libertarians currently constitute as 1 percent of the state’s registered voters — roughly 7,260 people according to a November 2017 report from the Secretary of State’s office.