If Santa Fe City Council candidate Rebecca Romero is elected Nov. 2, she will need a lot of help from the highest authority in the Land of Enchantment to actually take office.

Romero — who is running for the District 4 seat against Santa Fe Public Schools special-education director Amanda Chavez — would need a pardon from the governor to serve since she pleaded guilty to a slew of embezzlement, credit card fraud and forgery charges 15 years ago, when she about 22 years old.

Romero will remain on the ballot — the deadline to withdraw was Aug. 31 — but the revelation has seriously complicated her candidacy.

According to state statute and the state constitution, a felony prohibits people from holding public office or voting unless they receive a pardon from the governor or have their "political rights" restored.

Romero has stated her ability to vote was reinstated after she completed probation in 2014, and voting records show she has voted regularly since 2016, but Secretary of State Communications Director Alex Curtas wrote in an email that the right to vote isn't the same as the right to hold office.

"If a person is a convicted felon they cannot hold office unless they complete all the terms of their sentence and then receive a pardon from the governor," he wrote. "A person who has a felony conviction can have their voting rights restored once they've completed the terms of their sentence, but that's separate from the holding office issue."

City Attorney Erin McSherry noted Wednesday that, based on case law, it's possible that if Romero were elected, she could become eligible in the time between the election and when she would take office in January.

In the 1999 New Mexico Supreme Court case Lopez v. Kase, the court found Patricia Ann Richardson, a Sierra County Commission candidate with a felony conviction, was eligible to take office after being elected by a large margin a year prior and receiving a pardon.

The district attorney for the 7th Judicial District in Socorro was informed via an anonymous phone call of Richardson's conviction, and a few days later filed a successful emergency writ of prohibition in a bid to prevent her from being sworn in and a stay on her swearing-in ceremony. 

In 1971, Richardson pleaded guilty to making false entries in a bank record and received a suspended sentence of two years of probation. In December 1998, she was pardoned by then-Gov. Gary Johnson.



"We conclude that Richardson became eligible to hold office when, prior to taking the oath of office, she received the Governor's certificate," the state Supreme Court wrote in its findings.

There have been other cases in which New Mexico officials were found to have felony records after being elected.

In 2016, Anthony Leroy Benavidez was asked to resign from the West Las Vegas Schools board by the state Attorney General's Office after it was discovered he pleaded guilty to a felony drug possession charge in 2002.

He first challenged the Attorney's General Office, then resigned a week after the agency warned him in a letter that he'd otherwise face criminal or civil action.

Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine E. Clark wrote in an email that if a candidate does not meet all requirements to hold a position, the office recommends the county commission not certify the election results and leave the position vacant.

If the candidate did not receive the necessary pardon, an appointee could fill the position, she wrote.

In an email, Romero said she recently discovered a pardon was required for her to hold office and is "working on that issue."

Pardons have been infrequent under the past two governors.

Gov. Susana Martinez issued three pardons over her eight years in office, compared with 38 across two clemency acts by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Gov. Bill Richardson issued 74 pardons in eight years.

(13) comments

Khal Spencer

I went to the NM SoS web site. It will not let me access the form a candidate needs to fill out. I was able to open the Candidate Guide:

https://www.sos.state.nm.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/2021_RLE-Canddate_Guide.pdf

Felony Convictions: A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not be permitted to hold an office of public trust for the state, a county, a municipality, or a district, unless the person has presented the governor with a certificate verifying the completion of the sentence and was granted a pardon or a certificate by the governor restoring the person’s full rights of citizenship. NMSA 1978, § 31-13-1(E).

That said, I don't know if there is a question on the application form asking if one is a felon or whether the form must be notarized. If someone can access the form (Milan??) sure would be nice to know, as that could constitute perjury.

Chris Mechels

They should have fact checked before running this piece, which appears to have a number of errors. Below, from the NM Constitution:

A. Every citizen of the United States who is a legal resident of the state and is a qualified elector therein, shall be qualified to hold any elective public office except as otherwise provided in this constitution.

As she is clearly a "qualified elector" she can hold office; in spite of the statements by the City and SOS. You should ALWAYS fact check those folks.

Don Ric

https://www.nmlegis.gov/sessions/01%20Regular/FinalVersions/SB0204FV.html

31-13-1. Section C. Effective July 1, 2001

I’m thinking it’s particularly challenging being the smartest guy in the room when you keep proving you’re anything but.

Robert Fields

Well, Chris did say we should always check the facts. Thanks for doing exactly that, Don!

Hey @Chris Mechels, after checking the facts as you advised, it sure looks like you’re the one who is wrong. How about that 31-13-1?

Chris Mechels

I believe you second guessers should look more carefully, and snipe a bit less. The 2010 Amendment to Article VII of the Constitution changed the game. With that change she qualified to have her voting rights restored, without a pardon. Then, as a qualified voter, it appears she can run for office:

Sec. 2. [Qualifications for holding office.]

A. Every citizen of the United States who is a legal resident of the state and is a qualified elector therein, shall be qualified to hold any elective public office except as otherwise provided in this constitution.

B. The legislature may provide by law for such qualifications and standards as may be necessary for holding an appointive position by any public officer or employee.

She could not be appointed to office, but it seems she can be elected except as provided IN THE CONSTITUTION. The restriction at 31-13-1 is NOT in the constitution, its a statute, and seems to be a relic overlooked in 2010. Our Legislature frequently does sloppy work like that. But, the Constitution does trump the statute, in spite of your arguments. Better luck next time. Snipe less, do your research.

Chris Mechels

Sloppy work Don. The world didn't stop in 2001, it changed, to Section E, again in 2005. And the Constitution changed in 2010. You do lousy research....

Don Ric

Keep digging if it makes you happy, scholar. Your conclusion is wrong.

Stefanie Beninato

One reason why early voting can be a problem. Yet Romero needed to be honest--the fact that she is not says volumes about her integrity.

Khal Spencer

So how is it she was able to get on a ballot without someone vetting her and finding out she was a felon? This never should have happened if someone was doing their job. Or, in New Mexico, isn't it anyone's job?

Chris Mechels

Khal stop screaming with the rest of the crazies. She did some stupid stuff, did the penalty, and is allowed the rights of a citizen. Rehabilitation is allowed isn't it?? Would you put a brand on face?? The serious crimes are done at places like LANL, where you and I worked for a time.

Carolyn Cc

If only there were a way we could find out what the Mayoral candidate who gave up her seat thinks about this situation involving the criminal convictions of the person running for her seat.

Robert Fields

Who could you be referring to? You aren’t talking about Jay Baker, are you?

Nancy Lockland

Sorry Rebecca. Looks like you lost this one.

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