SANTA FE (KRQE) – In a mostly empty committee room at the Roundhouse, five Republicans and five Democrats got to work on the process that could lead to New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s impeachment Monday morning.
“Nobody’s happy to be here but I think everybody recognizes that it’s their responsibility,” said Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, one of two co-chairs of the special committee investigating Duran.
“While we’re being called upon to judge the conduct of the secretary of state, so too will our conduct be judged by the people of New Mexico,” said Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque.
The House Special Investigatory Committee has been appointed to investigate the case against Duran and report back to the whole House. She’s facing more than 60 criminal charges, accused in a criminal complaint filed by the attorney general’s office of taking campaign donations, using them as casino spending cash and then trying to cover it up.
While the criminal case is moving forward, lawmakers are separately investigating impeachment. Duran could be removed from office by either impeachment or a felony conviction.
On Monday, the committee allowed the two co-chairs to find and hire special counsel to work for the committee. Cook expects that attorney will be hired in the next week, although the committee itself likely won’t meet again until late October. When asked about the length of time the committee would take to complete its investigation, Chasey said, “it’s not [a matter of] weeks.”
If the committee recommends impeachment, the whole House would still have to vote in favor of articles of impeachment to move the matter over to a trial in the Senate. The legislature itself isn’t set to return to session until January. A special or extraordinary session would have to be called in order to move impeachment forward before that.
The committee has a budget of $250,000 to start with. The process would come to a halt if Duran resigns, which has happened the two prior times the House launched special committees to investigate possible impeachment for elected officials. Nobody has been impeached in New Mexico history.
Meanwhile, the criminal case is set to go to a preliminary hearing in late October although Duran’s attorney Erlinda Johnson is pushing for that to be moved back. No trial date has been set.