ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s Democratic Congresswoman Deb Haaland has been chosen by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Haaland will be the first Native American to hold the post, so where does that leave her congressional seat here in New Mexico? If confirmed, the Congresswoman will oversee the country’s natural resources, including tribal lands. Experts said the post could also have a huge impact on our state’s oil and gas industry.
Rep. Haaland is making history once again. Two years ago, she was one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress and now she’s poised to be the first Native American to hold a cabinet position after being selected as the Biden administration’s Interior Secretary. Haaland tweeted Thursday: “Growing up in my mother’s pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet and all of our protected land.”
“So it’s a great choice and she’s a historic nomination,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a Thursday news conference. The position oversees millions of acres of public land, Native American programs, and oil and gas drilling sites.
“There’s no state that has a bigger connection to oil and gas than New Mexico,” said Ryan Flynn with the NM Oil and Gas Association. The oil and gas industry is vital to New Mexico’s economy, bringing in almost half of the state’s revenue each year. Some worry Haaland could push President-elect Biden’s more progressive agenda on climate change and clean energy but the NM Oil and Gas Association said they hope Haaland keeps our state in mind on any future decisions.
“That’s our approach, approach it with an open mind and a sincere commitment in trying to work together and be successful,” said Flynn. If she’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would have to leave her Congressional seat here in New Mexico and the Secretary of State would call a special election in a couple of months to fill her spot.
“This has traditionally been a Democratic-leaning seat over the past few election cycles but you’re opening the door for an open race,” said University of New Mexico Political Science Professor Gabe Sanchez. Both Republicans and Democrats said it’s too early to tell who will be nominated to run in the election but both sides said they have a deep bench.
“That means Republicans have a greater opportunity to steal this seat than they would if Congresswoman Haaland was to retain her seat as an incumbent for it,” said Sanchez. “So I think there will be a lot of speculation about that.”
Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. The governor of the Laguna Pueblo said in part they’re proud one of Laguna’s own citizens will be leading the Interior Department. KRQE News 13 reached out to Haaland for an interview but did not hear back.