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Duran’s downfall ended 36-year career

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s 36-year career in public service ended in the middle of the night with a two-sentence letter of resignation emailed to the Governor’s Office.

Hours later, she admitted in court to felonies and misdemeanors for misusing her campaign money, including for gambling.

State prosecutors agreed she could stay out of prison; she agreed to repay some $14,000 and stay away from casinos.

“I now realize some of my choices were not healthy, and I will be seeking the appropriate professional help,” Duran, 60, told reporters on Friday after the plea agreement was finalized in state District Court.

It was an ignominious end to an administration that began nearly five years earlier with a promise to restore confidence and integrity to an office that had been scarred by scandals.

Duran in 2010 became the first Republican elected to the secretary of state’s job in 80 years, capping a career path that began as a voting machine technician in Otero County.

The Tularosa native had spent 25 years in the Otero County Clerk’s Office, including four years as county clerk. She also served in the state Senate for 18 years, where she chaired the GOP caucus.

The $85,000-a-year job as secretary of state put her in charge of administering elections, regulating ethics and overseeing how candidates collect and spend campaign funds. It also put her second in line in succession to the governor.

The missteps of her Democratic predecessors – who also had come under investigation by the attorney general – paved the way for Duran’s election in 2010.

She defeated an incumbent, Mary Herrera, who had been accused of misconduct by her employees. Herrera was never charged.

Herrera’s predecessor, Rebecca Vigil-Giron, was charged after she left office with crimes related to the awarding of federal contracts for voter education.

The case was thrown out after it hadn’t gone to trial 3½ years later.

Success turns sour

In her first term as secretary of state, Duran focused on the specter of voter fraud and unsuccessfully pushed for voter photo identification legislation. She brought the state in compliance with a federal law requiring ineligible voters to be removed from the rolls, and said she gave New Mexicans confidence in the office again.

“We have restored the trust and integrity that was lost in the Secretary of State’s Office … put it back where it should be,” Duran told the Journal in 2014.

Democratic critics said her agenda was politically motivated, but Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver – a Democrat who accused Duran of being “hyperpartisan” – fell short in her unsuccessful challenge to Duran’s 2014 re-election.

Toulouse Oliver got about 48 percent of the vote.

Duran refused to step down for almost two months after 64 charges were filed against her in August – a 65th was added later – and criticism mounted as she took action against a Democratic legislator, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque, referring discrepancies in his campaign reports to the attorney general.

Democrats claimed it was a political vendetta meant to distract from her own pending case.

Duran’s office’s announcement that it was proceeding with new regulations to implement the state’s campaign finance law drew more criticism.

A public hearing on the regulations, which had been scheduled for Friday – at the same hour she was due in court for a hearing on the criminal charges – was abruptly canceled when Duran’s resignation was announced.

Officials in Duran’s office said the new secretary of state, who will be appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez, should have the opportunity to shape the office’s policy and rules.

Duran insisted in an interview after her court hearing on Friday that she is leaving an office that New Mexicans “can be more proud of than ever.”

“I have a tremendous leadership team in that office, a lot of hard-working, dedicated people who know their jobs and are experts in their field. … New Mexicans can feel confident and sure their Secretary of State’s Office is in good shape,” she told reporters.

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