No magician doubles as a state legislator. And magic would be required to remove politics from the Secretary of State’s Office.
Two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Bill Tallman of Albuquerque and Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, will try anyway to do the impossible.
They are sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment to make the secretary of state a nonpartisan position. In theory, this change would mean New Mexico’s chief election official wouldn’t be indebted to a political party or swayed by its platform.
It’s the kind of idea that might be debated in a middle school civics class. But it wouldn’t matter a whit in the hard-eyed world of politics.
Democrats and Republicans have loud fundamental differences on what should be required before a person can vote. This wouldn’t change if the secretary of state were chosen in a nonpartisan election.
Republican Dianna Duran, who twice won election as secretary of state, pushed without success for a state law requiring prospective voters to show government-issued photo identification. This was in keeping with her political party’s stand.
Duran and her fellow Republicans claimed a mandate of photo identification would lessen in-person voter fraud.
Democrats opposed their attempts to change the law. They argued that in-person voter fraud was almost nonexistent, and they supplied evidence to prove it.
In addition, Democrats said requiring photo identification might deny low-income and older people their constitutional right to vote. For example, tribal members who were born at home and did not have a birth certificate could have difficulty obtaining state identification.
Duran persisted. In her first term, she sent the names of 64,000 voters to state police, floating the possibility of widespread voter fraud. Not a single criminal case resulted from her grandstanding.
Then she made a mini career of saying she really didn’t suspect that crimes had occurred at polling places. Police, she said, were just better positioned to verify information than she was.
Duran knew a fair amount about fraud. She pleaded guilty in her second term to two felonies and four misdemeanors for corruption in office.
Duran falsified campaign finance records and stole money to help pay for a gambling habit.
She resigned from office in disgrace, served 30 days in jail in a wrist-tap sentence and kept her three state pensions. She had served as the Otero County clerk and a state senator before her election as secretary of state.
Duran’s elected successor, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, has been efficient and run the Secretary of State’s Office without scandal.
But Toulouse Oliver also has been accused of political maneuverings to undercut the rival party.
She tried to block Republican Steve Pearce from using $942,000 he had stockpiled as a congressman for his 2018 campaign for governor. Toulouse Oliver said she was just following state campaign law.
Pearce sued and won. A federal judge ruled that Pearce could transfer his federal account to his campaign for governor. The judge also ordered Toulouse Oliver’s office to pay more than $66,000 for Pearce’s legal fees.
Both Duran and Toulouse Oliver were first elected to public office as county clerks. Those positions, decided in partisan elections, are the traditional training ground for secretary of state candidates. zEven if Ely’s and Tallman’s proposal took effect, candidates for secretary of state would still have a partisan viewpoint.
Tallman told me he is carrying the measure out of respect for a fallen colleague who believed it was important.
“Just say I’m sponsoring it because [Rep.] Bill Pratt was a friend of mine,” Tallman said.
Pratt, D-Albuquerque, died last month at age 84.
Sentiment aside, Tallman’s and Ely’s proposal would waste time and money, lengthening the state ballot without the prospect of changing anything for the better.
Their proposal is Senate Joint Resolution 6. It would have to clear both houses of the Legislature in the 30-day session to receive a place on the November ballot.
Voters wouldn’t be fooled. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in political science to see that the amendment wouldn’t be worth the paper it was printed on.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.