COMMENTARY: When the Martinez Administration froze funding to 15 behavioral health agencies in 2013 without any proof of fraud – and put many of them out of business – I was part of a team of journalists watchdogging the situation for the news organization New Mexico In Depth.
We reported that the Martinez Administration didn’t have to freeze funding, in spite of its claims to the contrary. We and others documented that the Medicaid freeze sparked a chaotic transition and disrupted critical services for the most vulnerable New Mexicans.
To date, the attorney general has cleared several of the 15 agencies of criminal wrongdoing. One employee of one agency has been charged with fraud. Several investigations are ongoing.
The exonerations, some say, are proof that Gov. Susana Martinez violated the due-process rights of the health providers. Regardless of whether they are legally correct, they’re right that Martinez killed some longtime New Mexico businesses and nonprofits without giving them the chance to defend themselves – and that she didn’t have to make that choice.
Similarly, the attorney representing Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who’s facing criminal charges related to abusing the state’s campaign finance system, says the media has already convicted her client. Instead of resigning – as many of the state’s newspapers, politicians and others have demanded – Duran is choosing to remain in office and defend herself in court and before the Legislature, which is considering impeaching her.
Fine. That’s Duran’s right. I’m not going to add to the calls for her to resign.
Let me be clear: I feel betrayed by Duran, who was allegedly committing crimes even as she smiled and promised me in 2010, while campaigning for office, that under her leadership New Mexico would have a “scandal-free Secretary of State’s Office.”
I’ve been unimpressed by Duran since 2011, when I wrote that her long-anticipated investigation of alleged voter fraud should have been transparent and bipartisan – but instead, disappointingly, led to “a snarky report we can’t trust.”
Most importantly are the criminal allegations. Even if Duran is acquitted in a court of law, we now know of donations others reported making to her campaigns that she never disclosed. The official charged with administering our state’s campaign reporting system – and enforcing violations – apparently wasn’t reporting all of her own donations.
Perhaps that explains why she’s done such a horrible job of holding other candidates accountable when they violated campaign reporting law. The Farmington Daily Times reported earlier this year that Duran had collected only 4 percent of almost 2,000 fines her office issued for violations during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles.
And in January, five years into her tenure as secretary of state, Duran hadn’t referred any violations to the attorney general for possible prosecution.
So please don’t hear me defending Duran. I’m not. I have zero confidence in her ability to do the job New Mexicans have now twice given her.
But I do believe in due process.
The House should proceed with its investigation. The criminal case against Duran should move forward. Both are formal, legal processes that could lead to her removal from office.
It might be easier and cheaper for taxpayers if Duran resigned, but she has the right to stay and fight. I suspect in the end that’s only going to make things more painful for her, as the evidence, including details about her personal life, is on display.
But if that’s what Duran wants, OK.
Just as I believe Martinez should have let the 15 behavioral health agencies keep doing their jobs while the AG investigated them, I support Duran’s right to finish her term in office unless a felony conviction disqualifies her or the Legislature removes her.