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.
The Secretary of State’s office has chronic under budgeting resulting in a regular need for emergency loans, grants and special appropriations just to fulfill one of the office’s key functions: running elections. That’s the news from an audit recently released by State Auditor Tim Keller. “Repeatedly using emergency funding mechanisms for routine, regularly scheduled elections runs against commonsense budgeting principles,” Keller said in a statement. “We know we are going to have elections, we know when we’re going to have them, and we know generally how much they cost. There is no need to use band aids [sic] year after year.”
Secretary of State Brad Winter told NM Political Report while he can’t speak to the past, he believes the problem stems under-funding, not under-budgeting.
The Secretary of State’s office told county clerks that some 17-year olds will be able to vote in the upcoming primary elections. The Secretary of State’s office sent an email to county clerks last week informing them of the new procedure for these voters. The only 17-year olds who will be eligible to vote in the primaries are those who will turn 18 before the November 8 general elections. The Secretary of State said the decision came “after consultation with the Attorney General.” NMPolitics.net first reported on the email.
While former state Rep. Sandra Jeff avoided ballot disqualification after a recent scuffle with the Secretary of State, several questions remain about possible discrepancies in previous campaign reports. The biggest question is the sudden disappearance of more than $27,000 in debt from her failed 2014 campaign for reelection to the state House of Representatives. In July 2014, Jeff reported a loan contribution of $26,720.82 from Gallagher & Kennedy, a law firm with offices in Santa Fe and Phoenix. A note next to the contribution reads, “Campaign Debt for legal fees incurred.”
Jeff continued to report this debt, plus an extra $1,200 that she loaned to herself, for the next six campaign reporting periods, marking a period of nearly two years. But on March 15 of this year, Jeff amended seven old campaign reports from the 2014 election cycle.
Former state Rep. Sandra Jeff will make it on the ballot for state Senate this upcoming primary election in June after all. Jeff came to an agreement with the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday—nearly three weeks after that office disqualified her from the ballot for not paying a fine for filing a late campaign finance report from an earlier campaign. Jeff, a Democrat, is challenging Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, for the party nomination this year. Her attorney Zach Cook told NM Political Report that she agreed to pay “a nominal amount” of roughly $100 to the Secretary of State’s Office to get on the ballot. Part of the deal involves Jeff not having to concede that the fine was legitimate.
An Albuquerque City Council committee earlier this month voted unanimously to accept $50,000 in federal money to pay Albuquerque Police officers working overtime on a task force with the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), passing the final question on to the full council next Monday. The federal money — and another $5,725 in matching city dollars — would fund a working relationship between the two law enforcement agencies that dates to at least 2012. That’s when then-Police Chief Ray Schultz signed a memorandum of agreement with the ATF that allowed his officers to investigate violent crimes with federal agents. In the weeks before Webster’s death last October, undercover ATF agents allegedly purchased $6,500 worth of heroin and a firearm from Davon Lymon, the man who, according to police, fatally shot Webster during a traffic stop on Oct. 21.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office is not saying much about whether some 17-year-olds will be able to vote in the upcoming New Mexico primary elections. During the 2016 legislative session, a bill passed that allows those who will turn 18 before the general election to participate in primary elections. Gov. Susana Martinez signed the bill into law following the session. Still, it is unclear whether the Secretary of State’s office will be ready to accept votes from that age group during the primary on June 7. The Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff Ken Ortiz told NM Political Report in an email that the office is “exploring the legal options to assure the law is implemented appropriately.”
He did not provide an answer to a direct question on whether 17-year-olds would be able to vote in the upcoming primaries.
The New Mexico Legislature has been diverting money from a public election fund for years, contrary to the wording of the law that established the fund. Some have blamed the budget situation for the recent necessity for an emergency grant to replenish the fund, but the situation dates back years. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Brad Winter sent letters to candidates who opted for public financing to inform them that their public financing would be reduced, citing the “current economic climate” and a negative budget. New Mexico’s limited public finance law—it only applies to Public Regulation Commission and judicial candidates—allows for a reduction in disbursements if there is a shortfall. While the economy may have been to blame for a negative overall budget, a closer look revealed that the New Mexico legislature used funds designated for public financing to pad general election funds—and Gov. Susana Martinez approved this.
If approved into law, the latest push for creating independent ethics commission would be the culmination of a decade of efforts to combat corruption in New Mexico. But if history is any guide, the road to agreement could still be long and rocky. Update: Add this one to the list of failed attempts: The legislation died in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday morning. This piece continues as originally written below. The impetus came in a mirror image to the current situation, just a decade earlier.
New Mexico Secretary of State Brad Winter met with some members of the state legislature to discuss some of his goals for the office on Friday morning. It was Winter’s first meeting with legislators during the legislative session as Secretary of State. Winter took over after Dianna Duran, the previous Secretary of State, resigned ahead of pleading guilty to six charges, including two felonies, related to misusing her campaign funds. Winter told the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs committee that one of his priorities is improving education on and compliance with campaign finance laws. He said his office created a department devoted to educating candidates on how to properly comply with campaign finance laws.