By Steve Terrell | Santa Fe New Mexican

State Land Commissioner apparently took it personally when a former land commissioner, Jim Baca, called his proposal to start a new permanent fund to finance early childhood education programs a “crackpot idea.”

In a news release this morning, Dunn called Baca “unhinged” and “detached from reality.”

This proposal, which Dunn intends to take to the the Legislature in January, is to establish a new permanent fund to finance early childhood education programs with money earned by leasing mineral rights from public land currently owned by the federal government. If the Legislature passed the proposal, Congress would have to approve the transfer of the rights.

The idea was criticized last week by Baca as well as environmental groups.

“After so many years of service to the state, it is sad that someone of Jim Baca’s stature has become so unhinged and detached from reality that he can only resort to name calling,” Dunn said, apparently thinking that his characterization of Baca was not name calling. “These types of negative attacks only serve to shut down honest and reasonable conversations about public policy in our state,” Dunn.

Baca told me Friday that Dunn’s plan is “another ruse to get public resources out of public hands, all designed to help the fossil fuel industry. … It’s just throwing mud on the concept of private lands. I don’t know where they come up with these crackpot ideas.” In his own blog last week, Baca said, “Only a crackpot could figure this one up.”

Environmentalists have similar criticism of the plan. Ben Shelton, political director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, said last week that Dunn’s bill is “a new spin on an old idea — the same standard as Koch brothers’ federal land seizure that has swept the West in recent years. This time, it’s masquerading as an attempt to benefit New Mexico’s children.”

Dunn on Monday had response similar to that of his spokeswoman, who last week told my colleague Robert Nott that Shelton and other environmentalists  “seem to be more concerned about climate issues and keeping money in the hands of the federal government than they are about improving the lives of New Mexico’s children.”

The commissioner said Monday,  “By their own admission, these folks are more concerned with climate change and keeping money in the hands of Washington politicians than they are about improving the lives of New Mexico’s kids.”

Dunn also said, “New Mexico ranks 49th in child well-being and apparently that’s where Conservation Voters New Mexico, New Mexico Wildlife Federation and former Commissioner Baca want our kids to stay.”

The news release said, “Since Commissioner Dunn’s proposal only involves subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land, public land access would not be affected. Much of the land in question is already potentially ‘fenced off’ due to the private status of the surface.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this issue could prove to be one of the most interesting and most contentious issues in the upcoming Legislature.