December 20, 2016

An uphill battle at Secretary of State, but Toulouse Oliver says she’s up for it

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

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.

She said her office will be active in the upcoming 2017 legislative session, “pushing some ethics legislation.”

But, Toulouse Oliver said, the office will concurrently work on changing rules in-house, specifically regarding campaign finance disclosure.

“We can’t wait until after the session because publishing these rules is a public process,” Toulouse Oliver said.

The shrinking state budget is an increasing concern for all departments, and the Secretary of State’s office is no different.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature moved money from the Secretary of State’s public election fund. Then-Secretary of State Brad Winter issued letters to a handful candidates informing them they would not receive public financing. Those candidates eventually received state money after Winter successfully applied for a supplementary state grant from the State Board of Finance.

While Toulouse Oliver has no control over how the Legislature moves money, she wants to do what she can to make sure public financing stays safe.

“If we are having to be creative, I want to make sure moving forward that [the public financing] fund is protected,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who once served as the state election director, said protecting the public election fund will be extremely difficult this year. He’s been outspoken against using the public election fund to help balance the budget before, but said this year’s budget may not offer a lot of other choices.

“We’re in real dire straits,” Ivey-Soto said. “This may not be the moment to stand on principles.”

Toulouse Oliver said her office is about 75 percent staffed and the state’s budget crisis isn’t likely to make things any easier.

“We have severe budgetary issues right now,” Toulouse Oliver said. “And the Secretary of State’s office is being heavily impacted by that.”

Ivey-Soto said budgetary issues aside, Toulouse Oliver’s policy understanding makes her the best person to work with few available resources.

“It sucks to be in her position,” Ivey-Soto said. “But if somebody’s going to be in that position it should be her.”