Secretary of State Dianna Duran, leaving office in shame, did not go gently — despite resigning in the middle of the night on Thursday.
Her news conference on Friday, after a plea deal was discussed before Judge T. Glenn Ellington, has further tainted her reputation. Rather than express sincere remorse and apologize for being caught with her hands in her campaign coffers — transferring money to shore up personal accounts depleted by gambling — Duran took the time to tell everyone what a great secretary of state she had been.
Then, she said, “I want it to be completely clear to all New Mexicans that at no time did I ever do anything in my official capacity as secretary of state that would jeopardize the integrity of the office. Moreover, I want to make it abundantly clear to all New Mexicans that I never improperly used taxpayer resources, including money.”
Her resignation letter, delivered at midnight, did not contain an apology. Instead, she told the governor she was resigning effective immediately, and then stated, “Although I may be leaving office, I shall always reflect upon the last 36 years of service, honored to work with you and others, serving the citizens of New Mexico.”
That’s the wrong approach after standing up to admit that you’re a crook.
The plea deal is disappointing. While Attorney General Hector Balderas deserves praise for untangling Duran’s messy finances and rooting out transfers and irregularly recorded campaign donations, reducing 65 charges to six is too soft. Duran is pleading guilty to two felonies and four misdemeanors: two felony counts of embezzlement, one a third-degree offense and one a fourth-degree charge; a misdemeanor count of embezzlement; a misdemeanor count of money laundering (under $10,000); a misdemeanor count of making an illegal campaign expenditure; and a misdemeanor count of filing incorrect information on a campaign report. In return, Duran will receive five years of probation and repay thousands of dollars in campaign donations. She won’t go to prison and likely will keep her state pension, too.
For someone who shows more regret about being caught than for breaking the law, that is a sweet deal.
Judge Ellington can ask for changes in the plea agreement, and we hope he does. There’s a risk, of course, that Duran could then reject the deal. But that’s a risk worth taking. New Mexico’s climate of corruption will not improve until public officials are held accountable. It’s that simple.
Duran claims that her actions did not affect the conduct of her office. She is wrong. As secretary of state, her office regulated the election process. That included monitoring campaign donations and accounts. Duran broke the rules she was sworn to uphold and that she oversaw for other candidates. Thus, charges against her relate directly to the job she was elected to do.
By resigning, Duran has done a favor for all New Mexicans. Taxpayers don’t have to fund her impeachment. A costly criminal trial likely has been avoided. That’s not enough, considering the breach of public trust. Her punishment does not fit the crime.