State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard portrays herself as a superhero. She’s not trying for laughs, and she isn’t getting any, either.
Garcia Richard appears in a state coloring book that depicts her as a sinewy imitation of Wonder Woman. Garcia Richard’s superpowers are not defined, though the cape she wears implies she can fly.
To be sure, the sky’s the limit for Garcia Richard’s self-promotion. Every drawing in the coloring book highlights her and usually no one else.
Garcia Richard’s coloring book didn’t cost her a nickel. She used public employees, state money and equipment in the State Land Office to design and print it.
Her spokeswoman downplays the cost as minimal, claiming total expenses so far at $363.84 for staff hours and expenses accrued by the in-house print shop.
Garcia Richard, a Democrat, described the coloring book as an educational endeavor. She says it’s a way for kids to gain a fundamental understanding of the Land Office and the 9 million acres it manages.
A retired teacher walking through the New Mexico State Fair initially was inclined to agree. She picked up a free copy of the coloring book, thinking it would help her grandson learn about the state’s natural resources. Grandma wasn’t happy with all the unnatural drawings of Garcia Richard.
“It annoyed me,” the grandmother said. “What you get is a distraction from the information by the representation of her on every page.”
The woman didn’t bother giving the coloring book to her grandson. She mailed her copy to The New Mexican after writing a note on the cover: “Misuse of state funds!!”
A spokeswoman for Garcia Richard said the commissioner was not available for an interview. But Garcia Richard found the time to compose a statement to me about the coloring book’s importance in highlighting a political pioneer — herself.
“As the first woman and woman of color to be elected as New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands, I feel a deep responsibility to be a powerful role model to young girls everywhere. They should know that women in leadership is the norm and no longer the exception. They and all youth are the superheroes that this coloring book is dedicated to on the first page.”
If Garcia Richard really sees children as heroes, it’s strange that she omitted them from 10 of the 11 drawings in the coloring book. Garcia Richard is featured in every drawing.
Smiling in her superhero costume, she stands in a classroom filled with empty desks.
On another page, Garcia Richard stands in front of a hot air balloon, fitting for her self-aggrandizing publication.
She’s depicted alongside oil wells, a wind farm, a cattle ranch, an empty hospital bed and logos of New Mexico’s public universities. A man harvesting chile is in the background of another drawing. Garcia Richard towers over him and even above mountains in the backdrop.
Garcia Richard stands alone on the coloring book’s cover. She wears a red cape and blue tights. Lemon-yellow is the color of choice for her belt, gloves and boots.
In her statement, Garcia Richard wrote that she was continuing a practice of three men who preceded her as land commissioner.
“Educational outreach to inform youth of our mission on their behalf has been a long standing tradition and one component of those efforts has been the use of a coloring book — practiced under previous Commissioners [Aubrey] Dunn, [Ray] Powell, and [Patrick] Lyons,” Garcia Richard stated.
Dunn was land commissioner in the four years immediately before Garcia Richard. He disagrees with Garcia Richard that his approach was similar to her own.
“I think we did do a coloring book, but it was pretty generic. It didn’t have me in it,” Dunn said.
Garcia Richard’s promotion of herself is “over the line a bit,” Dunn said.
He was a Republican during his term as land commissioner. He did not seek reelection. Garcia Richard won the open seat over Republican Lyons.
The coloring book is only one instance of Garcia Richard highlighting herself at public expense.
She once attached a 10-foot-wide banner to tacky wooden posts above the entry to the State Land Office headquarters in Santa Fe. The banner applauded the office in small type and Garcia Richard in much larger type for raising a billion dollars in 2019.
Not mentioned was that Garcia Richard didn’t assume office until January 2019. Dunn’s policies to generate cash through state trust lands were at least partly responsible for any successes in that oil-rich, pre-pandemic year.
Angie Poss, spokeswoman for Garcia Richard, downplayed how much the commissioner had to do with the comic book. Poss says the Land Office protects natural resources to benefit children.
“So why not feature the first woman elected to run this office as a superhero? It’s a little silly, sure, but it was meant for children to engage them and was not a decision that was made by the commissioner, but by Deputy [Commissioner Tarin] Nix and myself.”
For all Garcia Richard’s talk about being a role model for girls, few kids have received the comic book.
“There are over 300,000 students enrolled in New Mexico public schools, and roughly 1,000 copies of this coloring book have been printed and distributed to students in under three years,” Garcia Richard stated. “To say its use was for any other purpose besides education and outreach is simply inaccurate.”
That seems to be a contradiction. If fewer than 1 percent of students have received the comic book, Garcia Richard’s effort to educate kids is hardly a triumph.
The comic books might be more useful to Garcia Richard in schmoozing potential donors if she runs for a second term next year. But that would be a misuse of public money for a campaign, something no superhero would even think about.