Secretary of State
Job Description: Democracies need good secretaries of state like voters (or anyone, for that matter) need air. Without a smooth-running election process, the public can have no faith their vote actually means anything, and the entire democratic ideology crumbles away. The secretary of state oversees the entire election process, from maintaining lists of registered voters to evaluating voting machines to certifying precinct boundaries. The title also has the critical jobs of regulating lobbyist activity and managing campaign finance reports.
Term: Four year (maximum two terms)
Office Currently Held By: Rebecca Vigil-Giron (D), who can’t run again due to term limits. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face Vickie Perea (R) in the November general election.
Elections in New Mexico seem to be a tricky business. With claims from the 2000 and 2004 elections of lost or discarded votes and allegations of voter fraud, whoever holds the office of secretary of state has a heavy responsibility to voters. This particular race was a difficult one because most of the candidates are well-qualified and concerned about changing the way New Mexico does elections. Ultimately, we believe Stephanie Gonzales would do the best job in this role.
Indeed, she’s already proven herself in the position twice—when she served as Secretary of State for two terms from 1991-1998, at which point she was unable to run again due to term limits. Other relevant experience includes an appointment by President Clinton to be the director of the Rural Development Administration in 2003 and an appointment by Gov. Bill Richardson to be the director of the New Mexico Child Support Enforcement Division.
Gonzales has an eight-point plan for what she’d like to accomplish in the office if elected, including instituting same-day voter registration (which would have to be approved by the Legislature), improving civics instruction in public schools, increasing funding for county and city clerks, and updating the office’s computer technology. Gonzales says she’d also like to continue with outreach programs for Native American communities—something she did while previously in the office. Also, as a long-time supporter and advocate for paper ballots, she’s eager to help transition the state into the new system.
When it comes down to it, we trust Gonzales to manage and protect one of our most basic democratic rights.
Current Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera is another excellent candidate for secretary of state. Serving the largest county in New Mexico since she was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004, she has a solid grasp on what it takes to run the Secretary of State Office.
Some of Herrera’s goals if elected are to work with the Legislature to update state election laws to ensure all counties function under the same regulations; improve training among county clerk volunteers and staff; improve voter education; and expand Native American Voting Rights Programs.
Herrera says she’s running for the office because she thinks she can make a difference, and we agree—she probably could. But her experience isn’t yet strong enough to match Gonzales’, and we’re a little wary of her position against paper ballots before they were approved by the Legislature.
Shirley Hooper has the kind of personality that could warm a rattlesnake. She was one of our favorite candidates this round because of her wit and charisma alone. Unfortunately, although she is also likely well-qualified for the job, her experience doesn’t add up to that of Gonzales.
Hooper served as secretary of state from 1979-1982, at a time when only one term in the office was allowed. Because she couldn’t re-run for the position, she ended up in the county clerk slot in Lea County a few years later in 1987, and stayed for two terms. Most recently, she was the chief deputy to Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza, and is currently on a leave of absence from the job while campaigning.
Her campaign also emphasizes implementing the paper ballot system (something she recommended to the Legislature years ago), as well as keeping closer contact with county clerks, clearing up ambiguities in the Election Code and enforcing random voting machines audits.
Every year, we get at least one chipper, young candidate with little to no political experience who “wants to make a difference.” It’s a good thing—because it’s encouraging to know that, if you care enough and put in the effort, almost anyone can run for office. We really like Letitia Montoya—she’s kind, personable, has good ideas and wants to see positive growth and change in local elections. But she just doesn’t yet have the background to back her up. Maybe one day she will.
Montoya and her husband own Assure Financial, Inc., a business they opened in 1998. She also served two terms as secretary of the New Mexico Democratic Party, and has been involved with organizations like the Salvation Army and the League of Women Voters.
There are three tenets to Montoya’s campaign (much of which her campaign manager fleshed out for her in her interview). She wants to institute same-day voter registration, help implement paper ballot voting and create “mobile voting vans,” which would go primarily to the elderly and disabled who couldn’t otherwise make it to the polls. She says no taxpayer money would be used to fund the vans and believes corporations and foundations will sponsor the project, but has not yet found someone to say they will put money toward the initiative. The program has never before been done in the U.S.