A New Mexico climate activist with Navajo roots plans to challenge state House Speaker Brian Egolf for his seat in 2020, her campaign said Tuesday.
Lyla June Johnston, a Stanford-educated climate activist whose social media presence swelled during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, plans to take on incumbent Egolf, one of the most powerful Democrats in New Mexico politics.
A Facebook page for Johnston — a community organizer, poet and musician — announced Monday she will run for office to “work with New Mexicans to face the climate crisis ... protect the scarce and sacred water,” support education initiatives and “fight for marginalized communities.”
Her campaign confirmed with The New Mexican on Tuesday that she plans to run for House District 47 — Egolf’s seat. She said during a telephone interview that she intends to focus her campaign on environmental issues and criticized Egolf and other Democratic leadership for not doing enough to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the oil-rich Permian Basin.
Oil and gas extraction in the section of the basin stretching into New Mexico accounts for roughly 45 percent of the state’s income. Johnston, 30, said she would like to institute a plan to eventually wean the state from hydraulic fracturing.
“Of course they’re telling us that we need oil revenue to fund our children’s education, but fossil fuel extraction destroys the future of those very same children,” Johnston said. “We’re educating them for a future they’re not gonna see. And that’s how I know a lot of our leadership is insincere” about fighting climate change.
“It’s not worth having state revenue in a state with no future.”
Johnston, who grew up in Taos, describes herself as an environmental scientist. She also is a poet and musician. She co-authored a book called Lifting Hearts Off the Ground: Declaring Indigenous Rights in Poetry with fellow poet Joy De Vito in 2017, and she said she has traveled the world delivering spoken-word performances — all related to ecology — at more universities than she can remember.
She earned a degree in environmental anthropology from Stanford and is now pursuing her Ph.D. in sustainable food systems online from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She works as a community organizer in Santa Fe.
“In Taos, New Mexico, it’s pretty rough. I became a drug addict and an alcoholic at age 11. And so I know what it’s like to fight and struggle through addiction. With the help of friends and family and prayer, I was liberated from my addiction and went on to graduate from Stanford University,” she said.
“This Thursday, I will be seven years completely sober without a single drop of alcohol or a single drug of any sort. Just like I have liberated myself from addiction, I know that New Mexico can liberate itself from its addiction to oil and the dealers who are telling us we need it,” she continued. “Even our most capable politicians are drunk off the money they inject into our political system.”
In less than 24 hours, Johnston has raised more than $5,000, according to ActBlue, the web portal for Democratic candidate donations.
She plans to publicly announce her candidacy at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Roundhouse Rotunda in Santa Fe. More than 51,000 people have followed her Facebook page.
Egolf said he and his staff are learning more about Johnston’s campaign and said during a phone call that he is “truly and deeply proud about what my constituents and I have been able to accomplish since I’ve been in the House.
“We are literally leading the nation and the world toward carbon-free electricity,” Egolf said.
He touted legislation he has supported meant to ensure clean water in New Mexico, expanding early childhood education, enacting measures meant to bring pay equity for women and supporting abortion access “no matter what the Supreme Court does.”
Egolf also mentioned his support for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s efforts to come up with a rule that cuts methane emissions in New Mexico and said his efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions extend beyond his support for the Energy Transition Act — a proposal he voted for and the governor signed into law this year that requires zero-carbon electricity by 2045.
It also would allow Public Service Company of New Mexico to recover the costs of investments sunken into the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington once the power plant shuts down.
Egolf said he recently met with the governor “and told her we need to be committed to a 10-year plan to wean ourselves off our dependence on oil and find new solutions” to feed state coffers. The House speaker said the ETA is “not the end of what we do in New Mexico to address climate change.”