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New Mexico’s first female land commisioner pushes for inclusive pronouns

May 24, 2019 GMT

Stephanie Garcia Richard, elected last year as New Mexico’s first female state land commissioner, heads an agency that has rules referring to the commissioner as “he” or “him.”

And those written rules governing activities of the State Land Office, an agency created before women had the right to vote, seemingly assume that anyone who wants to lease state trust land or mineral rights under her management is male.

Garcia Richard said she wants to eliminate the use of gender-specific pronouns and replace them with references such as “the commissioner” or “the applicant” or “the lessee.”


She has scheduled a public meeting to discuss the proposed changes on Friday morning in Santa Fe.

“The land office was created over 120 years ago, and there was never a woman elected to the office until 2018,” Garcia Richard said in announcing the hearing. “It is not surprising that the language in the rules that govern this office do not reflect the 21st century.”

She added, “I may be the first woman land commissioner, but I do not intend to be the last, and so this change is necessary for those that come after my tenure.”

One example of language that would be changed is a section that says, “The commissioner reserves the right to issue leases for a primary or fixed term less than 10 years when under the circumstances he deems a shorter term to be in the best interest of the trust.” Garcia Richard wants to strike the “he” and replace it with “the commissioner.”

The State Land Office is hardly the only public body in the state guided by documents that employ masculine pronouns. In the state constitution, there’s a section that reads: “If any senator or representative permanently removes his residence from or maintains no residence in the district from which he was elected, then he shall be deemed to have resigned.”

The state Legislature began grappling with such antiquated pronouns in state statutes in 2013. That year, lawmakers passed — without a single dissenting vote in either chamber — Senate Bill 232, sponsored by Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, which mandated that the Legislative Council Service use gender-neutral language in drafting new legislation, except when language is intended or required to be gender-specific or the intended meaning would otherwise be altered.

The measure was signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez, the state’s first female governor.

A fiscal impact report on the bill said the legislation “puts into statute a practice that is currently being employed.”

Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said Thursday that when the Legislature amends or updates old laws that contain obsolete gender-specific pronouns, bill drafters change those throughout the statute being amended.

The hearing on changes proposed by Garcia Richard is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the State Land Office, 310 Old Santa Fe Trail.