SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday appointed Wayne Johnson – a Republican Bernalillo County commissioner from Albuquerque – to serve as New Mexico’s next state auditor.
Johnson, who owns a media production company, succeeds Democrat Tim Keller, who resigned Thursday, just before he was sworn in as mayor of Albuquerque.
Johnson’s role as Keller’s successor comes after the two competed against each other in a harsh campaign for mayor, which Keller won. Johnson finished fourth among eight candidates in the initial round of voting.
Now the two-term Bernalillo County commissioner will turn his attention to state government. Overseeing the Auditor’s Office, he said, is a natural fit.
“One of the things I got into elected office to do is to hold elected officials and governments accountable,” Johnson, 50, said in an interview.
He said he isn’t aware of any prohibition on serving in both county and state offices at the same time, but that he expects to resign his commission seat “at some point.”
That would give Martinez, a Republican, another appointment, filling the vacancy created by Johnson’s departure. His commission district covers much of Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights and the East Mountains area of Bernalillo County.
Michael Brasher, a former county commissioner, and John Jones, a retired naval officer, both said they are interested in succeeding Johnson when he steps down – either through appointment or by campaigning for election.
Johnson, in turn, will serve as auditor through next year’s general election, and he said he is strongly considering a campaign to keep the job.
The governor described Johnson as the right person to take over the office now.
“It is very clear from Wayne Johnson’s background that he will put the interests of New Mexicans first as state auditor,” Martinez said in a statement. “As a county commissioner, he has championed transparency, ethics and accountability. I am very confident that he will bring those same standards to the state auditor’s office.”
She chose Johnson out of 10 applicants.
Johnson’s move into the State Auditor’s Office comes after he questioned whether Keller was using that office to retaliate against a campaign critic – the company behind the Santolina development proposal, which financed attack ads against Keller.
Keller’s office this year directed auditors to look into allegations that the city-county water authority had illegally subsidized Santolina by making water infrastructure improvements.
An official in the State Auditor’s Office, meanwhile, accused Johnson of violating the law by disclosing a confidential audit letter to the public – an allegation Johnson called “spurious and false.”
In any case, it will be Johnson running the office for now.
New Mexico voters will elect an auditor to a four-year term in November next year.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces has already announced he’s running, and other candidates could enter the race in the coming months.
Johnson said a run for auditor is something he’s seriously considering, given the office’s role in auditing more than 1,000 local governments and other agencies in New Mexico.
State auditors help “maintain the public trust,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
As a county commissioner, Johnson successfully pushed for funding to hire extra sheriff’s deputies and for an ordinance that requires the county to disclose the names and salaries of all of its employees as a transparency measure.