The Quay County Sun spoke with New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrera, a Democrat up for her second term, and District 40 Republican State Sen. Dianna Duran, who is challenging Herrera in November's secretary of state election. Each candidate responded to a series of questions about the contested office. Below are Duran's responses.
State Sen. Dianna Duran
Question: Do you consider yourself well prepared for this office?
Duran: I have as much experience as anyone in this state in the oversight and conduct and, in fact, direct involvement in elections in our state. I have served as a county clerk form Otero County from 1989 to 1992. But I've worked in that office in various positions starting from the bottom up, from the ground up. I began there in 1979 and I left in 2004, and I actually have over 25 years experience working in that office and conducting elections which, as you know, the secretary of state serves as the chief elections officer responsible for oversight and the conduct of elections. Having been involved in that area for over 25 years, I feel that I am extremely qualified, but I'm also uniquely qualified for this position in that I am also serving in my 18th year in the New Mexico State Senate. Having been there during that time, I have worked closely with the 33 county clerks along with the legislature and the executive in implementing legislation to bring about election reform in many areas. Many, many times I look at the secretary of state as a large county clerk's office, if you will. County clerks around the state have many of the similar responsibilities the secretary of state does so I feel I am uniquely qualified for this position.
Q: If elected, what initiatives do you have planned for your first term in office?
Duran: As I travel and talk to various groups across the state, I talk about the need for a number of things, but as the next secretary of state I will work first of all on implementing photo IDs. That's been an issue I have worked on tirelessly as a state senator and will continue on as the next secretary of state. I believe we can do this with the experts involved. By experts I mean county clerks and their involvement, and of course with the legislature, encouraging and informing the legislature about how this can be done and done correctly. In addition to that, though, I understand the importance of bringing fiscal responsibility to this office. We in our state are in bad shape as far as financially, and I believe that we elected officials in every office should want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, and I understand the need for fiscal responsibility. I also will work hard to bring about transparency in the office. I am all for openness in the office. The secretary of state's office belongs to the people. It does not belong to the person who holds that position, and it needs to be treated as such. We need to have openness in every process that the secretary of state is involved in, but especially in those areas like contracts. We must have transparency in the process there. And then of course we should have a secretary of state who is accountable to answer to the public. So I will be a secretary of state who will answer questions that are posed to me by the press. We need a secretary who will be accountable, who will answer those questions that are asked, and who will have transparency throughout the office. I want it to be a transparent process, as transparent as we possibly can. People need to have answers to their questions, so I'm going to work hard to restore the confidence and the trust that has been lost in that office by so many years of mismanagement and not having sound business practices and not being answerable to the public, so that's what my goal will be.
In polls that have been done around the state of New Mexico talking about possible voter fraud issues and talking to people about how they feel about elections, a majority of New Mexicans have said "We want a voter ID requirement." It's amazing how many people will move to New Mexico from other states and say "How can you not require something like an ID when you go to vote?" We have a precious right that should be guarded, should be trusted that we know that the person who is showing up to the polls to vote is actually the person they say they are. How can they not require an ID? So New Mexicans have said, time and time again, we need a voter ID requirement. You'll remember a Dona Ana county municipal judge who was convicted there of voter fraud when he voted twice in one election. We have a number of people who have alleged certain instances of voter fraud and we have yet to have a secretary of state who wants to even acknowledge that there may possibly be voter fraud in the state.
When I introduced legislation into the senate years ago, I had bi-partisan support. I had Democrats signed onto my bill in the state senate that said "We agree with you. We need to be required to show an ID. We don't want to have someone walk up to the polls and announce someone else's name because they know their friend is out of state." It's not the right way to run elections and it's not the way that we encourage people to trust the system. We must have a system that is fair and honest. We cannot guarantee them that until we have a voter ID requirement.
It's been done, as I've said. We can implement voter ID and do it correctly and do it in a way that will not disenfranchise anyone and that will not be a huge cost for the state of New Mexico.
My opponent continues to say that we need hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement photo IDs, that we'll be disenfranchising people who don't have IDs. She and I are totally on opposite ends on this whole voter ID issue. She has been a proponent of things like same-day registration which I have been opposed to, and of course I believe that the fiscal responsibility and the competency in that office we differ on greatly.
I believe that we need to bring fiscal responsibility to that office and I believe that she has continued to say she needs more money, more money, more money to run elections when in fact much of that money has been wasted. Wasteful spending has been going on and I think that under us bringing in sound management practices and people who are competent and knowledgeable of the election code and the election process, we can conduct elections without having to spend millions of dollars of the taxpayers' money which had been misappropriated. I think that the leadership in that office is lacking in many ways and so I'd like to bring competent leadership to that office.
Q: What distinguishes you from your opponent in this election?
Duran: I believe that the secretary of state's office should be as non-partisan as possible, and I would, as the next secretary of state, put an end to any kind of misuse of employees by requiring them to campaign on state time to requiring them to get signatures, things like that dealing with the campaign. I think that we must have a secretary of state's office that is above reproach, that will be scandal-free, that won't have these allegations of political activity going on and in addition that the issue of fiscal responsibility is huge. The secretary of state has spent millions of dollars on voter cards, for example, that were incorrect and unusable. I think all of that is due to lack of competent people being hired. I will be a secretary of state who is not going to hire just political hires, if you will. By that I mean those who worked on the campaign or did a job. I aim to have qualified, knowledgeable individuals in that office, professionals who actually have knowledge of the election code who understand the constitution of the state of New Mexico and what direction that gives to the secretary of state, and in addition, knowledgeable elections directors.
Q: Who is funding your campaign?
Duran: That's a good question. They are all kinds of different people. They are anyone from the small people on the street, those who are small contributors. I don't want to call them small people, but small contributions from people on the street who understand the importance of this office. I get contributions as small as $10, $12, maybe $5, people who understand the need to bring significant change to this office. Anywhere from them to the state Republican party, who I think has been the largest contributor, of course, and that was just in this latest expense and contribution report. They vary from county clerks, to just the everyday person who has an association with that office for whatever reason, to other candidates who understand the importance as well. There are New Mexicans from all over the state, both Democrat, Republican, Independent, all parties who have contributed to my campaign, and not just monetarily, but with their hard work, with in-kind support contributing items that needed to be done. These are people all over New Mexico who understand how important this office is, and have contributed in many, many ways to my campaign, and they are a variety of people of all political parties.
Q: Your opponent states that some of her former employees are working for your campaign, including one who was responsible for mailing out the unusable voter cards you talked about. What is your response?
Duran: First, let me just say this. My campaign is a pretty low budget campaign. I have hired no one. There are people who have volunteered, who have shown their support to me and my campaign who are former employees of the secretary of state's office. Whether or not that would be an employee who mailed out those unusable voter cards that I talked about where she spent millions of dollars mailing out those inaccurate cards, that I could not answer because I do not know what those former employees did in her office. But the important thing to note here is as the chief elections officer, as the secretary of state, we all know this: Anytime you are the person at the top, whatever happens within your office, the buck stops with you. You are responsible for what happens within your office. When that happens and those millions of dollars were spent mailing out unusable voter cards, the secretary of state, Mary Herrera herself, was responsible for that, should take responsibility for that. However, she seems to always skirt around her responsibilities so I'm not surprised that she said that. But that is where the issue should stand. She should be responding to why she has spent so many millions of taxpayers' dollars in mailing out those cards. It doesn't really make sense to point to an employee in her office who did it. She is the person who is ultimately responsible for what happens in her office.
I have not hired anyone to work on my campaign and I couldn't afford to hire anyone. These people who have called and offered their support, whatever they are doing is on a volunteer basis, and they don't work day-to-day on my campaign either. The only two people who work day-to-day on my campaign right now are my husband Leo and myself, and then I have a senator who has been working with the campaign, throughout the campaign. He's working free of charge because he understands how important this office is, so I am currently paying no staff to work on my campaign.