September 9, 2015

Speaker names panel to examine impeachment of Duran

The leader of the House of Representatives named ten members to a panel that will look into the possible impeachment of Secretary of State Dianna Duran.

RoundhouseSpeaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, named five Democrats and five Republicans to the panel tasked with examining evidence against Duran and examine possible impeachment.

Duran is facing possible impeachment, which in turn could lead to removal from office, for allegations that she moved campaign funds into personal accounts. The 64 charges from Attorney General Hector Balderas were filed in late August.

The ten names on the committee are:

  • Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque
  • Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque
  • Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso
  • Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque
  • Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen
  • Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque
  • Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque
  • Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque
  • Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas
  • Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces

Chasey and Cook will be the co-chairs of the panel.  Cook was also the co-chair of the last committee to look at impeachment in 2011, for then-Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. In 2011, Cook was co-chair along with Las Cruces Democrat Joseph Cervantes, who has since become a member of the Senate.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Cook and Chasey are also the only two on the new committee who sat on the previous impeachment subcommittee. Tripp himself was on the Block impeachment subcommittee.

‘One of the heaviest burdens’

Speaker Tripp made the announcement in a press release.

“One of the heaviest burdens the House of Representatives carries is determining whether to overturn the results of an election,” Tripp said in the release. “As we begin to conduct an independent analysis of the evidence against Secretary of State Duran, it is critical that the special committee I have appointed approaches this difficult task with the solemnity it deserves.”

Tripp said that he expects the panel “will put partisan politics aside as they follow a process that is fair and unbiased.”

Speaker of the House Don Tripp

Speaker of the House Don Tripp

Not a regular occurrence

Tripp announced last week that he would put the put the panel together after calls from Democratic leadership in the House.

New Mexico Political Report previously looked at what a possible impeachment would look like. The ten member panel will likely hire a counsel to investigate the charges and report back on the details.

An impeachment is not a criminal conviction, but closer to an indictment in criminal proceedings. If the House votes to impeach Duran, then she would stand trial with the Senate as the jury and the House, or a counsel hired by the House, as the prosecutor.

No statewide official has ever been impeached by the House, let alone removed from office by the Senate. In fact, there is no evidence that the House has ever impeached any elected official.

The closest was likely former State Treasurer Robert Vigil. The Democrat resigned before the impeachment could go to the full House. Vigil later served more than two years in prison for corruption charges.

When she won election in 2010, Duran became the first Republican elected as NEw Mexico Secretary of State since before World War II. She took over after two other scandal-plagued Secretaries of State and campaigned on cleaning up the office.