SANTA FE – Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter was sworn in Tuesday as New Mexico’s secretary of state, hours after Gov. Susana Martinez announced his appointment to succeed the disgraced Dianna Duran.
Winter, a Republican, said he was “very honored, very humbled” to accept the position on an interim basis, and said he would work to restore confidence to the office.
Martinez said in a statement that Winter “has the integrity, skills and temperament” to serve as secretary of state until someone is elected in November 2016 to finish out the last two years of the term Duran was elected to.
The state Democratic Party wasted no time blasting the appointment, calling Winter a “political crony” of the governor.
Winter, the first man to head the Secretary of State’s Office since Manuel Martinez, who served from 1919 to 1922, said he “absolutely” won’t run for the office next year, and at this point he intends to stay in his City Council seat.
No state law or city ordinance would require him to resign from the council, and he said he managed to serve on the council while also serving recently – “24/7” – in a demanding job as interim superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools.
“I love being a city councilor,” Winter told the Journal.
Winter, who just started his fifth term on the council – making him its longest-serving member – had retired after his stint as interim superintendent. In a career of more than two decades with APS, he also was chief operations officer, executive director of facilities and operations, and director of capital master plans.
Martinez said his administrative experience would be key “to overseeing a successful and well-run election next year.”
The Secretary of State’s Office oversees elections operations and rides herd on campaign finance reports from candidates and organizations, as well as reports from lobbyists on their spending. Among other duties, the secretary of state is also the state’s ethics administrator.
Duran, a Republican, resigned nearly two months ago after being charged with embezzlement and other crimes for misusing her campaign funds to cover spending at casinos.
She was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail and nearly $28,000 in fines and restitution.
“I think I can add to the office, and get it on track and make it better,” Winter told the Journal in an interview.
He said he would immediately meet with the secretary of state’s staff to discuss short-term goals and would reach out to New Mexico’s county clerks to hear their concerns.
Martinez described Winter in a statement as a “proven leader, routinely praised by Republicans and Democrats alike.”
The Democratic Party of New Mexico issued a statement denouncing the selection and noting that Winter had paid Martinez’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey, for work during his most recent City Council race this year. According to the Democratic Party, that totaled about $30,000.
McCleskey is facing a federal grand jury investigation that, at least in part, involves how money was raised and spent for the inaugural celebration following Martinez’s first gubernatorial election in 2010.
“We are deeply concerned that Gov. Susana Martinez has appointed to be our state’s elections watchdog a man who has clear and direct ties to scandal-ridden political consultant Jay McCleskey,” said state party Chairwoman Debra Haaland.
Winter said after his swearing-in that he had this response to his critics: “Please, give me a chance.”
“Hopefully, people can see what kind of job I have done” in his various posts, Winter said.
Winter’s even-keeled personality has made him a favorite to serve as council president; he’s done that four times, all when Democrats held a majority of council seats.
He is generally an ally of Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, but also has worked across the aisle on high-profile legislation. He teamed up with Democratic then-Councilor Rey Garduño to win passage of legislation aimed at strengthening civilian oversight of the Police Department.
Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Duran last year and applied to the Governor’s Office to be named as Duran’s successor, issued a statement congratulating the new secretary.
She said she is “ready to work closely with new Secretary Winter to ensure accessible and secure elections for every eligible person.”
Mary Quintana, a deputy under Duran, has been serving as acting secretary of state since October.
Winter praised Duran’s staff, saying it has “done a fabulous job in the Secretary of State’s Office under some difficult circumstances.”
“When I get in there, the first thing I’m going to do is meet with the team, look at the short-term goals to move the office forward, and get it ready for the next secretary of state to come in,” he told the Journal.
He said he wants to improve the accountability and transparency of campaign finance reporting and make the secretary of state’s website easier to use.
Winter’s appointment marks the second time Martinez has tapped a member of the family to temporarily take over a troubled state agency.
The governor named Winter’s wife, lawyer Nann Winter, to be chairwoman of the New Mexico Finance Authority Board in July 2012, after a scandal over a falsified audit caused the NMFA to delay loans to cities and postpone a $40 million bond sale.
Journal staff writers Dan McKay and Dan Boyd contributed to this report.