A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 7, 2010
Did embattled Secretary of State Mary Herrera ask one of her exempt employees to “get involved” with the Republican Party to try to discourage the GOP from fielding a candidate for secretary of state this year?
That’s what former SOS public information officer James Flores, who was fired by Herrera last month, said Wednesday. Herrera, however disputes that.
If there was such a plan, it didn’t work. The Republicans nominated state Sen. Dianna Duran, a former Otero County clerk, to run for the office.
In a Jan. 21, 2010 e-mail from Herrera to Flores — a copy of which I obtained last week — Herrera wrote, “I asked you a long time ago to get involved in the R party, you didn’t and now they are looking for someone to run against me.”
Contacted Wednesday, Flores verified that e-mail was authentic. Flores, a registered Republican, said Herrera had repeatedly asked him to “get involved” in the party to talk her up and even arrange for her to speak at Republican events. However, Flores said, “I didn’t want to do that. I never did that.”
But Herrera said Wednesday that she’d only suggested to Flores he become active in the GOP so that Republicans would feel that her office was open to both parties. She said that Flores is one of four Republicans she hired.
If I don’t have a job ... The same e-mail from Herrera goes on talk about requiring employees to help with political campaigns — something that Flores and others have accused her of and that she repeatedly has publicly denied.
However, while chastising Flores for an apparent lack of “interest in helping me,” here Herrera doesn’t mention her own campaign, but that of another state official seeking re-election.
“As the Treasurer mentioned to me, he told all his exempt (employees), ‘If I do not have a job, neither do you.’ He said he told them (that) after November they can submit (a) letter of (interest) but he is only keeping (exempts) who helped him.”
Flores said “the Treasurer” was a reference to state Treasurer James Lewis.
Despite the e-mail, Herrera said Wednesday that Lewis never told her such a thing. She said if she wrote that, it might have been based on a conversation with Deputy Treasurer Mark Valdes, her boyfriend. But she also said that Valdes told her that Lewis didn’t require his employees to support his re-election.
Yasmine Dennig, chief counsel to the state Treasurer’s Office and a spokeswoman for Lewis, said Wednesday, “The treasurer never said anything like that to me. He’s never asked me to volunteer (for his campaign) or contribute and never even implied anything of that sort.”
Flores was one of two exempt employees whom Herrera fired in September. He and former office administrator Manny Vildasol had spoken to the FBI about what they claimed was possible criminal behavior on Herrera’s part. Herrera has denied that was the reason for the firings. No charges from the accusations have been filed. Herrera has denied any wrongdoing.
Documents obtained indicate Herrera had accused Flores, who was responsible for sending news releases to reporters, of having an “altered media list.”
Some SOS sources say that Herrera suspected Flores of e-mailing news releases to Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza — who is a critic of Herrera — and to her former elections director A.J. Salazar, who resigned in March, accusing Herrera of several possible violations of law or policy, including having her staff do political campaign work in the office during work hours.
Herrera repeated her belief that the fact there’s various e-mails and other documents floating around in recent weeks is related to the election.
I’m not a crook: With last week’s burglary of Salazar’s Española law office I’d better add a disclaimer here before the Española police come looking for me.
Salazar did report that some of his documents from his secretary of state file appeared to be missing. But I received this e-mail at least a couple of days before that incident. It’s not the fruit of any crime.