The two candidates for secretary of state in this year’s election have taken turns missing various forums, but they’re both scheduled to appear at an event in Las Cruces on Thursday.
If both attend, it will mark the first time Republican candidate Nora Espinoza and Democratic candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver have participated in the same event.
The League of Women Voters recently cancelled a series of planned debates around the state after more than eight failed attempts to contact Espinoza to invite her to participate, said Meredith Machen, president of the New Mexico chapter of the League.
And Oliver skipped two events sponsored by the New Mexico Business Coalition that Espinoza did attend.
But both are scheduled to be in attendance in Las Cruces on Thursday at a third event sponsored by the New Mexico Business Coalition — though they’ll appear for separate interviews rather than in front of an audience together. That event, which also includes candidates for other offices, will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. Click here for more details.
The candidates have also both agreed to attend a debate in Albuquerque in October.
Oliver and Espinoza are vying in the Nov. 8 election to replace Republican Brad Winter, who has held the secretary of state’s job since Republican Dianna Duran resigned in October 2015 while facing criminal charges related to abusing the state’s campaign finance reporting system. NMPolitics.net’s profiles of Oliver and Espinoza reveal some substantial differences between the two – which is arguably why forums are so important.
The candidates have been hammering each other for skipping forums.
“How can voters trust ‘No-Show Nora’ Espinoza when she won’t debate?” a recent press release from Oliver’s campaign about the League of Women Voters forums asks.
Similarly, Espinoza’s campaign responded by criticizing Oliver, who “was invited, had personally confirmed her attendance, only to have her campaign manager later call and cancel” appearances at the two New Mexico Business Coalition forums.
“It is hypocritical for Ms. Oliver to avoid joint forums which I have attended, thereby developing her own record as ‘Missing Maggie,’ then have the audacity to turn around and accuse me of refusing to participate,” Espinoza said.
Both campaigns provided explanations for their respective candidates’ absences.
“NMBC is a highly political organization with a clear agenda,” said Alan Packman, Oliver’s campaign manager. “Their events do not provide any opportunity for candidates to interact with each other or share a stage together.” Still, Packman confirmed Oliver’s attendance at Thursday’s Las Cruces event, whose co-sponsors include the Republican Party of Doña Ana County.
The New Mexico chapter of the League of Women Voters, Espinoza said, is “a little out of sync with the national organization’s guidelines and stated purposes.” She said 17 of its members are openly backing Oliver and have donated a total of $8,000 to the Democrat’s campaign, figures that Packman could not verify.
“If I appear in what is supposed to be a neutral forum but, unknown to the voters, it’s actually in an overtly partisan setting, the crucial issues may well be ignored,” Espinoza said. “It ill-serves the voters to allow manipulation of the campaign process and misdirect the voters in any way.”
Espinoza said she would be doing voters “a disservice” by participating in such forums “when the ‘moderators’ are virtually all participating in my opponent’s campaign, some as heavy donors. I believe fair-minded New Mexicans understand that.”
Machen refuted claims that the league is partisan in a recent Albuquerque Journal story, saying it was “a flimsy excuse” by Espinoza for not participating.
In 2014, Oliver and Duran, to whom Oliver narrowly lost the secretary of state’s race that year, participated in League of Women Voters forums.