Jim Noel sent a letter to Secretary of State Mary Herrera saying he wouldn't be reporting for duty Monday, Sept. 8, after all. This leaves New Mexico without a director of the Bureau of Elections less than two months before Nov. 4.
Noel is the director of the Judicial Standards Commission, but another title spurred outrage from the state's Republicans—Noel is also the son-in-law of Rep. Tom Udall, who's in a close race with Rep. Steve Pearce for U.S. Senate. Noel's wife is Amanda Cooper, campaign manager for Udall and daughter of Udall's wife.
The Republican Party released a statement saying it was pleased Noel opted to forfeit the position but was still disappointed the potential conflict of interest hadn't been acknowledged.
The secretary of state’s spokesperson, James Flores, says there wasn't a conflict of interest. Why not? "Because there isn't, you know. Why is the sky blue? Because it's not green. It's pretty simple."
Whether Jim Noel was hired or whether he wasn't, or whether it was somebody else hired, either way, we're ready to go with the election.
James Flores, spokesperson for the secretary of state
He says the office was disappointed Noel decided not to take the job, because he was definitely the most qualified. "We move on," he says.
In Noel's letter to Herrera, he said he could not in good conscience allow "certain individuals to use my appointment to cast any sort of doubt over the integrity of the electoral process." He points out in his letter that every four years, county clerks in New Mexico count their own votes and those of their opponents.
The previous Bureau of Elections director, Daniel Ivey-Soto, resigned to chase down a possible judgeship in March. The position has been vacant since. The director is appointed by the secretary of state. When asked why Herrera didn’t seek a candidate without a relative running for office, Flores replied, "I'm not going to sit here and guess with you about who might be out there. Of the people that displayed interest or were interviewed, he was the most qualified."
A temporary director will be in place through the November election. Flores says Noel wouldn't have counted ballots and wouldn't have had anything to do with the November election in his position as director of the Bureau of Elections. But in an earlier Alibi interview [" WANTED: Elections Bosses," July 10-16], Ivey-Soto said he timed his exit from the position so that it wouldn't interfere with ballot counting. "Obviously, right in the middle of counting ballots is a really bad time to say, Oh, by the way, I'm taking another job," he said.
Flores says Noel's decision did not leave the office in the lurch right before the election. "We could probably hold the election next week," he says. "Whether Jim Noel was hired or whether he wasn't, or whether it was somebody else hired, either way, we're ready to go with the election."