COMMENTARY: Every once in awhile an elected official says something so outrageous that I wonder if he has completely lost touch with the people he is supposed to represent.
New Mexico State Sen. Bill Sharer did just that on Monday while asking a judge for leniency for former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who illegally used campaign funds to keep her personal bank account in the black while gambling at New Mexico casinos.
“She didn’t harm anybody but herself,” Sharer, a Republican from Farmington, said during Duran’s sentencing hearing. “… What she took was her own reputation, and she’s paid a high price already.”
The most valuable thing Duran “took” wasn’t her own reputation. It was the trust New Mexicans placed in her while she was one of the highest ranking officials in state government.
But Sharer, a self-proclaimed “tough-on-crime” lawmaker, appears to be unaware of Duran’s victims – the hundreds of people who funded her political campaign, the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for her, and every citizen of the State of New Mexico whose faith in government Duran harmed.
Our society is built on what’s called the public trust – the idea that power lies with all of us, and, therefore, the people we elect must handle the trust we place in them with respect and integrity. It’s a sacred pact.
Duran, with her crimes, shook the public trust to its core.
As secretary of state, Duran was in charge of administering our campaign finance reporting system, which lets the public know who’s funding campaigns and how they spend that money. She was also responsible for investigating alleged violations and, along with the attorney general, enforcing the law.
Our state has long been plagued by ethical problems. Several public officials have been imprisoned for public corruption in the last decade. The previous two secretaries of state were dogged by scandal.
When Duran first ran for secretary of state in 2010, she promised to give New Mexicans a “scandal-free” office.
“This campaign is about working to restore the confidence and trust,” Duran told me.
Instead, Duran was lax on other violators of campaign finance law during her tenure. And she was stealing money from her campaign donors. She destroyed whatever credibility our feeble campaign reporting system had left.
The damage is extreme. We’re all victims.
But Sharer, who has been in office for 14 years, says Duran “didn’t harm anyone but herself.” Does he not understand the concept of public trust? His statement leaves me questioning his worthiness to continue holding an elected position in our government.