Members of New Mexico’s citizen Legislature only receive $164 per day for expenses, plus mileage, during the session. But there are other perks to the job. For instance, the industry group called Ski New Mexico last week handed out VIP membership cards to 110 of the 112 state lawmakers, entitling them to two free days of skiing at any of eight ski areas in the state. The total value of the cards was $27,500, according to a lobbyist expense report filed this week by George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico. That expense represented a large portion of the $85,000-plus that lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have reported spending on meals, parties, receptions and gifts for legislators and others so far in the session, which began just over two weeks ago.
After her first week in office, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is ready to get to work revamping the state election code. She said while there are a number of things she wants to focus on, her office might have to get creative financially. “We have a lot to do and we’re not fully funded to do it,” Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report. Since former secretary Dianna Duran left office last year, there hasn’t been a lot of movement in terms of rule changes or reforms from the secretary’s office. Toulouse Oliver has long said she would work towards improving the state’s campaign finance rules if she were elected.
Monday marked the first full day in the office not just for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, but also for two new staffers. Toulouse Oliver was sworn in as Secretary of State late last week, about a month ahead of when she was originally scheduled to take office. Toulouse Oliver’s office announced in a press release that John Blair is the new Deputy Secretary of State and Theresa Chavez-Romero is Toulouse Oliver’s executive assistant. Blair most recently worked for the U.S Department of Interior as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Born and raised in Santa Fe, Blair also ran unsuccessfully in the primary election for the New Mexico state Senate in 2008.
Maggie Toulouse Oliver will take over the Secretary of State’s office on Dec. 9, according to a release from Brad Winter, the current Secretary of State. She will be sworn into office on that day. Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, won election to the position this November over Republican Nora Espinoza. Winter became Secretary of State after Gov. Susana Martinez appointed him last December after the resignation of Dianna Duran.
In a debate characterized by a negative tone not unlike the recent showdowns between presidential candidates, both candidates for New Mexico Secretary of State laid out their visions for the office. Democratic candidate and current Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver started by invoking the only reason the office is up for grabs this year in the first place. “We had a secretary of state who violated the very laws and ethics that she was charged with upholding,” Toulouse Oliver said. “I’m running to restore integrity, transparency and trust in the Secretary of State’s office.”
Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican who beat Toulouse Oliver in the election for the office two years ago, last year pleaded guilty to using her campaign funds to fuel a gambling habit. Duran, a Republican, resigned from office, spent 30 days in jail and is currently on five years of probation.
The Secretary of State’s office can’t pay the penalty after being unable to comply with an open records law related to allegations of voter fraud. Now, after another appeal lost by the Secretary of State, the tab is nearly $125,000 and Secretary of State Brad Winter says they can’t pay up. That news comes from a report in the Albuquerque Journal. The penalty for violating the state law dates back to Dianna Duran’s time as Secretary of State and a 2011 assertion that voter fraud was rampant in New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico sought the documents from Duran’s office to back up the allegations but never received any.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s head lawyer left her post last month to practice law in the private sector and at least one advocacy group is unsure about the lack of a replacement. Former Legal Counsel for the Secretary of State Amy Bailey’s last day was June 17. “I have only wonderful things to say about the Secretary and the office as a whole,” Bailey said. “Leaving was bittersweet, but was a life choice for me.”
A spokesman for the office said Bailey’s position will not be filled until a new Secretary is elected in November’s general election. “Secretary Winter has decided to let the next Secretary of State fill this position,” Chief of Staff Ken Ortiz said in a statement.
An open records case related to unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud will cost the Secretary of State’s office $90,000. The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported on the decision by the state Court of Appeals. Then-Secretary of State made national headlines when she alleged that 117 foreign nationals were registered to vote—and that 37 had actually illegally voted. Duran checked voter registration records against motor vehicle and Social Security databases; she sent 64,000 records with alleged irregularities to state police to investigate. Some questioned why Duran sent the files to the state police instead of to individual county clerks to check the voter rolls; experts said at the time that these were likely clerical errors or voters just using variations on their name (Tom instead of Thomas, for example).
Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran withdrew a motion seeking to reduce her sentence for gambling with campaign funds
KRQE-TV first reported this, citing court officials. NM Political Report had already reached out to Erlinda Johnson, Duran’s attorney, for confirmation but was told Johnson was in a trial. We will add any comment by Johnson to this story when we receive it. Duran sought to reduce the amount of public speaking requirements and the amount of community service required as part of her sentencing. Duran’s first public speaking appearance lasted just five minutes and she showed up 40 minutes late.
New Mexico’s former Secretary of State who went to jail for gambling with campaign funds is back in the news. This time, it’s because she wants certain parts of her criminal sentence reduced. Update: Judge Glenn Ellington set a hearing on March 11 on Duran’s request. The rest of the story remains as originally written below. It can get a bit complicated and news reports have focused on the back and forth, so we decided to break it down and explain what is going on.