New Mexico House speaker names panel to investigate Duran

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp announced Wednesday the creation of a 10-member bipartisan committee to investigate charges against Secretary of State Dianna Duran and consider whether to recommend impeachment.

Democrat Gail Chasey of Albuquerque and Republican Zach Cook of Ruidoso will serve as co-chairs of the special committee.

Duran, a second term Republican, faces a 64-count criminal indictment accusing her of funneling about $13,000 in campaign contributions to personal bank accounts and withdrawing large sums of money while frequenting casinos around the state.

Aside from her attorney saying she would fight the criminal charges in court, Duran has remained silent and has kept away from her office in Santa Fe as pressure mounts for her to resign and state lawmakers take steps toward possible impeachment proceedings.

Tripp said lawmakers need to conduct an independent analysis of the evidence against Duran.

Impeachment of Duran by the full House would set the stage for Senate proceedings to decide whether to remove her from office. No state elective officer has ever been impeached in New Mexico.

Duran, a former state senator, was first elected as secretary of state in 2010 on the promise of cleaning up an office that had been the target of federal investigations. The first Republican to hold the office in more than 80 years, she was re-elected again in 2014.

"One of the heaviest burdens the House of Representatives carries is determining whether to overturn the results of an election," Tripp said in a statement. "As we begin to conduct an independent analysis of the evidence against Secretary of State Duran, it is critical that the special committee I have appointed approaches this difficult task with the solemnity it deserves."

Duran's first court appearance is scheduled for next week in Santa Fe.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the full 10-member special panel is:

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque (co-chair); Rep. Zach Cook. R-Ruidoso (co-chair); Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque; Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque; Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque; Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces; Rep. William "Bill" Rehm, R-Albuquerque; Rep. Tomas Salazar, D-Las Vegas; Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen; and Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque.