Vigil, a Democrat who served three previous terms as secretary of state but faced a slew of criminal charges after leaving office, is one of nine people whose names that have been floated – either by themselves or others – for the position that was vacated when Dianna Duran, a Republican, resigned last month.
Other individuals who have submitted applications to Gov. Susana Martinez or been recommended for the job include two high-profile former legislators – Sandra Jeff and Janice Arnold-Jones – Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver and former Albuquerque City Clerk Amy Bailey, who is currently the Secretary of State Office’s general counsel.
The applications were obtained by the Journal from the Governor’s Office this week in response to an open records request.
Martinez is expected to announce a secretary of state appointment in the coming weeks, with Duran’s successor being expected to hold the office through next year – a key election year. It would be up to voters to pick a new secretary of state in November 2016.
Vigil, who previously went by the name Rebecca Vigil-Giron, said in a Thursday interview that she felt compelled to apply for the vacant secretary of state job, adding that her past experience in the post could make for an easy transition.
“I know exactly what I would be in for if I were to be selected,” she told the Journal.
In her application letter to the governor, Vigil referred to the criminal charges that were filed against her by former Attorney General Gary King, saying she had been “falsely accused of horrific charges.”
Specifically, Vigil faced charges that included fraud, money laundering and embezzlement, in connection with the awarding of $6 million in federal contracts for voter education efforts.
The case was dismissed by a district judge in 2012 because it hadn’t gone to trial after more than three years and the judge ruled her right to a speedy trial had been violated. The state Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision last year.
Asked whether she thought the charges would affect Martinez’s decision, Vigil said, “I don’t see why they should.”
“I think my 12 years of experience far outweighs allegations and accusations made against my persona,” she added.
Vigil served one term as secretary of state in the late 1980s and then returned for two more terms, from 1999 through 2006.
She also ran for Congress in both 1990 and 2008. In her first congressional bid, Vigil faced questions about her campaign’s claim she had a bachelor’s degree from New Mexico Highlands University, when in fact she held a two-year associate degree at the time.
The governor, a two-term Republican, has not set a deadline for applications for the $85,000-a-year job. She has said she is open to suggestions from legislators and other officials, meaning there are no guarantees Martinez will pick one of the formal applicants for the post.
Until Martinez decides, Mary Quintana, who worked as deputy secretary of state under Duran, is serving as acting secretary of state.
The Governor’s Office has not commented specifically on the individual applicants, though a Martinez spokesman said last week that all résumés and recommendations will be “considered and reviewed.”
Among the other applicants to date, Toulouse Oliver, Jeff and Arnold-Jones are each current or former elected officials.
Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican, served in the Legislature from 2003 through 2010. She sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2010, but Martinez won the nomination in a crowded field. Arnold-Jones also ran for Congress in 2012, then served a brief stint on the Albuquerque City Council.
In her application letter, Arnold-Jones said she would bring knowledge of the state election code to the job, while also saying, “It would be an honor to work with you to restore the trust this office requires and deserves.”
Jeff, who was a House member from 2009 through 2014, is a Crownpoint Democrat who occasionally clashed with her party’s leaders while in the Legislature and voted with Republicans on several high-profile issues.
She did not apply for the secretary of state job, but rather was recommended by both Navajo Nation Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, a former state senator, and Pueblo of Zia Lt. Gov. Eric Ruiz.
If appointed to the position, Jeff would become the state’s first Native American secretary of state, both noted in their letters to Martinez.
Toulouse Oliver previously announced her application to become the next secretary of state and has said she is “actively considering” running for the position in 2016.
She has been the Bernalillo County clerk since 2007 and was the Democratic nominee for secretary of state in 2014, losing in the general election to Duran by about 17,000 votes – out of more than 507,000 votes cast in the race.
Meanwhile, Bailey is the only current Secretary of State’s Office employee who had applied for the position as of Thursday.
An attorney, Bailey, a Republican, worked as the appointed Albuquerque city clerk from May 2010 through 2013. She has been the Secretary of State’s Office’s general counsel and public policy administrator since July.
“I am able to bring perspective, stability and institutional memory to the position, along with a modern view of election administration and agency management,” Bailey wrote in her application letter to Martinez.
Whoever is appointed by Martinez will take over an office that has had a flurry of ethical allegations in recent years.
Most recently, Duran resigned as secretary of state Oct. 23 and pleaded guilty to reduced charges that included embezzling political contributions and violating several of the campaign finance laws she was elected – and re-elected – to enforce.
Duran was accused by Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office in August of using campaign money to cover gambling expenses at casinos across the state. She faces sentencing on Dec. 14.
The other four who had submitted applications to the Governor’s Office as of Thursday are:
n Willow Misty Parks, an attorney who has been the Bernalillo County probate judge since January 2011.
n Diane Beserra, a former Secretary of State’s Office employee who now works for Bernalillo County’s Public Safety Department.
n Christopher Sandoval, a former executive of the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation Inc.
n Laura Smart, a health and wellness consultant with previous experience as a flight attendant and a legislative assistant.