New Mexicans are enjoying yet another ethics scandal involving a powerful elected official. On March 4, the Albuquerque Journal reported that AJ Salazar had just resigned as director of the state Bureau of Elections and had alleged Secretary of State Mary Herrera ran a “crooked organization.” Among other things, Salazar cited political activities conducted during state business hours, solicitation of donations by contractors and improper handling of voting machines.
Last week, SFR broke the news online that a client of Salazar’s private legal practice had filed a complaint accusing him of taking her money but not performing any real work. The legal complaint, sent to SFR anonymously, was supposed to be confidential; the timing was also suspicious, coming so soon after Salazar’s allegations against a powerful politician.
Herrera has avoided interviews and left her defense to a private attorney. So SFR decided to track her down at the New Mexico Democratic Party’s pre-primary convention, held March 13 at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino. While we were there, we asked several prominent Democrats what they thought of the latest bomb to drop on their party.
[State Sen. Gerald (Jerry) Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo, a lieutenant governor candidate, is removing his campaign posters from a wall.]
SFR: What do you make of the allegations against the secretary of state?
GOP: It’s a mess. The Democratic Party does not need more clouds over our efforts this fall. It reinforces the message that we have not passed clear ethics legislation. Until we do, we’re going to have these problems. The Republicans are not more ethical than we are. [But] we can anticipate that they’re going to make a big deal about this.
What should be done in the short term?
The attorney general ought to step in and make a report quickly. We want an honest report. Not a whitewash. Until we get an ethics commission, he’s all we’ve got.
[State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, stands near a drinking fountain, glad-handing passersby.]
What do you think of the allegations in the Secretary of State’s Office?
BE: I think the episode is unfortunate. For the good of the party—and more importantly the good of the state—they need to cooperate with everything that’s going on so we can make a decision with information…I don’t think it’s fair to jump to a conclusion if you don’t know [the facts]. I refuse to be political about it. It’s too serious to be political.
So you want to see the AG involved?
The AG is involved. He can only say a certain amount because he’s a prosecutor…You’ve got to let people do their jobs. I think he’s doing it.
[Secretary of State Mary Herrera stays put in the convention ballroom, seated in the middle of a row near the backstage doors.]
SFR: I spoke to AJ Salazar, and he said it was ridiculous your lawyer tried to portray his resignation as a dispute over leave. He also said the email exchange your lawyer released was incomplete. Will you release all the emails between yourself and Salazar?
MH: I’m not going to comment right now because it’s a personnel issue. We’re working through the [Inspection of Public Records Act] requests that have come in. Absolutely, you will [get to see all the emails]. Absolutely. We’re gathering all that.
Have you heard any concern that another scandal involving a high-level Democrat will hurt the ticket in November? Has anyone spoken to you about that?
Not at all. Nothing but 100 percent support. It’s a personnel issue…
Were you aware of a Supreme Court Disciplinary Board complaint against Salazar?
I’m not going to comment on any of it, sorry.