Gov. Susana Martinez is taking her time to appoint a new New Mexico secretary of state while 14 applicants and others up for consideration cool their heels.
Applications obtained by SFR through a public-records request show that the governor hasn’t exactly been bombarded with interest in the job that was vacated by Dianna Duran after she pleaded guilty on Oct. 23 to embezzling campaign contributions and other crimes. But Martinez isn’t talking about her thought process or plans to replace the defrocked Republican official. Her spokesman wouldn’t answer questions posed more than two weeks ago, but instead issued only a brief statement this morning.
"Our office is accepting resumes and recommendations from the public, lawmakers, and other elected officials. All of these will be reviewed and considered, and the Governor hopes to make an appointment in the coming weeks," writes Michael Lonergan, Martinez' press secretary.
While of course, there’s speculation about whether the governor will use the appointment to repay a political favor, at least one applicant is talking about the need for a nonpartisan “reset” in the office.
Two big-name Democrats and an Independent who wants to reform party-based voting in New Mexico are on an applicant list that’s heavy with Republicans. So far, the governor’s appointment history has fallen mostly within party lines, including a state House seat for part of Santa Fe County that became vacant when Democratic Rep. Stephen Easley died suddenly. Her pick, Vickie Perea, got ousted a few months later when voters picked Eldorado attorney Matthew McQueen, returning the seat to the Dems.
“There’s a good chance that it will be a more sort of typical political appointment,” says Bob Perls, a former state legislator who submitted his application on Nov. 2.
“I haven’t even heard anything from the governor’s office, so I assume my chances of getting selected are very small,” Perls tells SFR.
Perls, a Corrales resident who has worked as a US diplomat abroad for the last five years, vows he won’t run in the 2016 race if the governor appoints him to the job now. The former Democrat changed his voter registration to Independent about six months ago and now runs a nonprofit that is fighting for a big change in the political party power structure in New Mexico—to open the primary ballot to all voters rather than just the Democrats and Republicans who currently get to weigh in.
“People have checked out from the political process. It’s like there is this little elite game that the political class plays, and everyone else has thrown up their hands and left,” he tells SFR.
If he did get the state appointment, Perls says he would drop that advocacy for the time he held office. Instead, the position could be a great platform “to re-enthuse people about the election process.”
Another applicant who’s already been putting in time to try to rally apathetic voters is Maggie Toulouse-Oliver, and if a few more people had bothered to hit the polls in the last election, she might already be secretary of state.
The Bernalillo County Clerk since 2007, Toulouse-Oliver got 24,5508 votes in the statewide race in 2012. Despite the fact that Duran remained aloof during the campaign, even refusing to answer questions from SFR during her candidacy, 52 percent voters favored her, with 26,2117 ballots.
A former campaign spokesman for Toulouse-Oliver says she’s travelling right now but, as of Wednesday, had not heard from the governor’s office regarding her interest in the appointment.
Also on the list is Rebecca Vigil-Giron, a former three-term secretary of state whose own charges of fraud, money-laundering and embezzlement were ultimately dismissed. She told the Albuquerque Journal last month, “I think my 12 years of experience far outweighs allegations and accusations made against my persona.” Several applicants already hold elected or appointed positions in state government, and others are familiar faces including Amy Bailey, general counsel in the secretary of state’s office since July; former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress on the Republican ticket in 2012; and Letitia Montoya, who’s made no fewer than five attempts to get elected to various state and county offices in recent memory.
The pool includes other fresh faces and long shots such as Gary Lucero, who writes in his application that he formerly worked at United World College. He says he met the governor at “the Republican X-Mas party last year in Santa Fe” and notes that he has “conservative values.”
“I would not embarrass the office like it is now,” Lucero writes.
Christopher Sandoval is a director at the Boys and Girls Club Ranch and a youth football coach. Daniel Cameron Morris’ résumé provides pages and pages of details about his work as a military contractor. Willow Misty Parks is an attorney serving as a will and probate judge in Bernalillo County. Laura Lee Smart is a health and wellness consultant. Marjorie Masden Keilers is the executive director of a nonprofit in Los Alamos. Diane Bessera works in Albuquerque’s city government.
For now, the acting secretary of state is Mary Quintana, who served as Duran’s deputy. The position is set to appear on the general election ballot in November 2016.