Republican candidates gather in Farmington

Nora Espinoza, Republican candidate for New Mexico Secretary of State, headlines Four Corners Federated Republican Women event

Brett Berntsen
New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura talks with a visitor at a Four Corners Federated Republican Women gathering on Thursday at Piñon Hills Community Church.

FARMINGTON — More than a dozen Republican lawmakers and candidates gathered at Piñon Hills Community Church on Thursday to urge voters to support the GOP during the upcoming election in November.

“We need you to vote Republican across the ballot,” said Terri Mosberger, president of the Four Corners Federated Republican Women, which hosted the event. “Republicans that don’t vote end up electing Democrats.”

Titled “Time to Kick Up Our Red Heels,” the gathering featured a speech from Nora Espinoza, a state representative from Roswell and the GOP’s candidate for New Mexico Secretary of State.

Mosberger introduced Espinoza as the candidate to clean up the office, which was embroiled in controversy after former Secretary Dianna Duran pleaded guilty to fraud and breaking campaign finance laws, which her office was entrusted with enforcing. Duran's resignation sparked a special election to fill the position.

Espinoza has campaigned on a platform of fighting voter fraud through stricter identification requirements and banning same-day registration.

“There is no greater issue than voter fraud,” Espinoza told the audience. “It’s real.”

She pointed to a situation in Española, where an investigation has been launched into fraudulent absentee ballots. She said her Democratic opponent Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who was narrowly defeated by Duran in 2014, doesn’t take the issue seriously.

Alan Packman, spokesman for the Toulouse Oliver campaign, said in a phone interview today  that Espinoza is taking the traditional hard-line approach in an attempt to distract from important issues.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver

“These are the same policy points we heard from Dianna Duran,” Packman said. “The issues surrounding how we ended up in this situation is really what this election is about.”

Packman said there's overwhelming evidence that voter fraud is not a prevalent problem. He said focus instead should lie on ethics reform.

Duran also made voter fraud the centerpiece of her campaign, and shortly after taking her post claimed that records showed 37 foreign nationals had fraudulently voted in New Mexico elections. When challenged in court to support that claim, her office failed to produce the documents. She later referred 64,000 voter registration records to the New Mexico State Police asking them to investigate for voter fraud.

A New Mexico Department of Public Safety spokesman told the Albuquerque Journal that investigators were unable to cross check the records against federal immigration records. "In the end," the spokesman said, "DPS was not able to confirm the presence or absence of any voter fraud and returned all materials to the Secretary of State’s Office. No criminal cases were filed.”

Democratic officials have said the Republican remedy for voter fraud, voter ID, is actually intended to make it harder for low-income people and minorities — who tend to vote for Democrats — to cast ballots.

Republican candidate for Secretary of State, Nora Espinoza, speaks at a Four Corners Federated Republican Women gathering on Thursday at Piñon Hills Community Church.

Espinoza also advocates for ethics reform, however, and supporters at Thursday's event said they believe she can restore confidence in the office.

“She seems like the person who can do it,” Farmington resident Chris Nick said.

Nick was part of an audience that moved from booth to booth, mingling with Republican hopefuls. Candidates included U.S. Congressional District 3 candidate Michael Romero, and Justice Judith Nakamura, who is running to retain her New Mexico Supreme Court seat.

During the June primary, Romero advocated for returning federal land to the state and increasing commercial use of the state's natural resources. He will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-Santa Fe, in the general election.

Nakamura is currently the only Republican Supreme Court Justice, and said that it's important to have multiple view points represented.

"We all know it makes for a better decision if we have diversity," Nakamura said, "not only in terms of philosophy, but also in legal opinion."

Nakamura was appointed in 2014 by Governor Susanna Martinez to fill a vacancy in the court. State law requires justices to defend their seat in the next election cycle. Mosberger urged members of the Four Corners Federated Republican Women to reappoint Nakamura.

"We need to keep this lady in place," Mosberger said.

Nakamura is running against Michael Vigil, the chief judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

Terri Mosberger, president of Four Corners Federated Republican Women, speaks at a gathering on Thursday at Piñon Hills Community Church.

While there were not many in the audience wearing actual red high-heels, there were other examples of attire with a political message. One person in the crowd sported a T-shirt reading “Hillary for Prison,” referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president. Clinton has recently drawn criticism for her use of a private email account while serving in that position.

As far as the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, Mosberger urged the crowd to stand by the party, no matter the candidate. Members of the crowd also voiced support for Trump, despite the candidate drawing criticism for remarks that have been characterized as racist, even by fellow Republicans.

“If he would just shut his mouth, we would win,” Nick said.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.