Dianna Duran was supposed to be the one. With scandal plaguing the two previous secretaries of state, she ran for office in 2010 promising to be different.
“This campaign is about working to restore the confidence and trust,” Duran said while campaigning in 2010. “The word scandal comes to mind any time you think of that office, and I’d like for us to have a scandal-free Secretary of State’s Office. Our elections should be above reproach.”
Instead, Duran became the third consecutive secretary of state whose tenure cast doubt on the integrity of elections in New Mexico. The problem is bipartisan: Duran is a Republican, while the previous two women to hold that office, Mary Herrera and Rebecca Vigil-Giron, were Democrats.
Many find Duran’s sins stunning. She was stealing money from her campaign to keep her personal bank account in the black while she gambled. As secretary of state, Duran was responsible for overseeing the very campaign finance reporting system she abused. Meanwhile, the office, under her leadership, did little to enforce campaign finance laws.
Perhaps now we know why.
Back to the drawing board
So, back to the drawing board. Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, called Duran’s resignation “the first critical step in rebuilding the public’s trust in our political system.”
The next step is up to Gov. Susana Martinez, who gets to appoint Duran’s replacement. Martinez’s office announced today that the governor is accepting résumés and recommendations from the public, lawmakers, and other elected officials. She hopes to make an appointment in the coming weeks.
“In wake of Ms. Duran’s resignation, the governor hopes we can come together and move forward as a state,” spokesman Chris Sanchez said.
Until Martinez fills the job, Deputy Secretary of State Mary Quintana will lead the office.
Martinez’s appointee will be responsible for overseeing the 2016 election in New Mexico, but voters will also pick a new secretary of state next year. So Martinez’s appointee, if he or she wants the job long-term, will have to almost immediately begin campaigning for re-election.
New Mexico has been here before.
After Robert Vigil, who was facing his own felony corruption charges, resigned from his job as state treasurer in 2005, then-Gov. Bill Richardson formed a committee to recommend replacements. From that pool of candidates Richardson appointed Doug Brown to fill the job. Brown agreed to not seek re-election a year later in 2006, and served as a sort of caretaker until voters had the chance to replace Vigil in office.
That helped create at least the perception that Richardson was focused on restoring trust instead of politics.
Could Martinez do something similar? Duran has tainted not only the Secretary of State’s Office, but arguably also the Republican Party of which she and Martinez are members, at a time when the GOP has built unprecedented power in New Mexico on an anti-corruption platform.
A caretaker appointment could help distance the GOP from the scandal heading into the 2016 election.
On the other hand, Martinez has the opportunity to give a Republican the advantage of incumbency in the 2016 election. She could appoint someone who intends to run for re-election and give him or her a chance to become the face of restored trust.
“Whoever she appoints will have an uphill battle, despite incumbency,” Claudia Anderson of Farmington wrote during a discussion NMPolitics.net facilitated on Facebook. “The sense I get is that no one trusts the SOS office and hasn’t for several administrations.”
In the meantime, the Democrat who narrowly lost to Duran last year, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, is sounding a lot like a candidate. Her office released a statement in which Oliver called Duran’s resignation “an important first step in a long road toward safeguarding the public’s trust.”
“It’s clear that the Office of the Secretary of State must immediately turn a page to move forward,” Oliver said. “Public corruption and abuse of power have no place in our democracy, and the hard work of implementing badly needed improvements to the systems that hold public officials, campaigns and political organizations accountable must begin immediately.”
Later Friday Oliver confirmed her interest in the 2016 race in an email to political supporters.
“I am actively considering a run, and will make any decision based on how best I can continue to serve the people of New Mexico,” she said.
It seems unlikely Martinez, a Republican, would appoint Oliver to the job, so the Bernalillo County clerk’s most likely path to that office would be on the ballot in 2016. In the meantime, other names are being tossed around as possible Martinez appointees. They include:
- State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen
- Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover
- Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal
- Former Albuquerque City Clerk Amy Bailey
- Two former state elections directors who both worked under Duran — Bobbi Shearer and Rod Adair, who’s also a former state senator
All six are Republicans.
Shearer and Adair didn’t directly answer when asked if they were interested in the job.
“I’m following the process and I’m sure the governor will choose a qualified person,” Shearer told NMPolitics.net. “More than focusing on any particular person, I’m actually interested in seeing that correct public policies are followed, those that protect the integrity of New Mexico’s electoral system.”
Adair said he has “confidence that the governor will select a qualified individual.”
“Frankly, I’m more concerned that SB 643 be fully implemented and that the public policy initiatives offered in that bill are adopted and utilized,” he said. “I’m also very concerned about addressing the huge shortcomings in the Campaign Reporting Act.”
That Senate bill, which became law earlier this year, allows for electronic voter registration.
Emanuele Corso of Peñasco wrote on Facebook that Martinez’s top priority should be appointing someone “other than a party loyalist troll.”
“Right now Duran has become the face of the New Mexico Republican Party,” Corso wrote. “The governor really needs to think this one through.”
This article has been updated with the comment from Oliver’s email.