- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran began 2015 tasked with enforcing the state’s campaign finance laws. She ended the year sitting in a Santa Fe County jail for violating them.

Duran resigned in disgrace and pleaded guilty to charges that involved siphoning thousands of dollars from her election account to fuel a gambling addiction. A judge handed down an elaborate sentenced in December.

Her case reignited the debate about weaknesses in New Mexico’s campaign finance laws and led to more lawmakers being accused of sidestepping the laws by failing to report donations and misusing their election funds.

Meanwhile, there were loud calls for reforming the state’s criminal justice system after Rio Rancho Officer Gregg Benner and Albuquerque Officer Daniel Webster were fatally shot by men who had lengthy criminal records. Another repeat offender was accused of shooting and wounding Albuquerque Officer Lou Golson at the start of the year.

The shootings and Duran’s conviction were among the stories that dominated headlines in 2015.

Other top stories of the year:

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POLITICAL POWER SHIFT

New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session began with Republicans leading the House for the first time in six decades. Democrats kept control of the Senate.

A deeply divided legislative body led to stalemates on a number of bills, including millions of dollars for public works projects. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez denounced Democrats and they fired back before a special session was called.

The political finger-pointing continued throughout the year and culminated in December when Democrats took direct aim at Martinez’s leadership after authorities released police dispatch recordings of the governor intervening in a noise complaint during a staff holiday party at a Santa Fe hotel.

Martinez was accused of being inebriated and of bullying dispatchers and police. She said she had only a drink and a half and apologized for the way the incident was handled.

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MINE WASTE SPILL

In August, a massive spill of toxic wastewater from an inactive mine made its way down rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including on the Southern Ute Reservation and the Navajo Nation. The water turned a sickly yellow and forced municipalities and farmers to turn off their taps while the plume passed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came under intense criticism from Congress and from state and local officials for causing the blowout and for the way it responded.

The spill led to legislation in September that would require the federal government to identify the most dangerous abandoned mines in the West and make plans to clean them up.

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NUKE REPOSITORY SETTLEMENT

The U.S. Energy Department agreed to funnel more than $73 million toward road and water projects around New Mexico as part of a settlement reached in April over a radiation leak that forced the indefinite closure of a troubled nuclear waste dump.

The settlement - which has yet to be signed - was the largest ever negotiated between a state and the department. New Mexico officials noted at the time the principles of the agreement were announced that the agency needed to be held accountable.

The 2014 leak was caused by a barrel that had been packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory with incompatible waste. It ruptured while being stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico.

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HOLLY HOLM’S VICTORY

Albuquerque’s Holly Holm shocked the mixed martial arts world last month when she dominated UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, finishing the former champ with a second-round head kick that loosened her teeth.

Holm’s victory generated excitement across Albuquerque and led to a parade and rally that attracted an estimated 20,000 people.

Holm’s win came the same night New Mexico upset 30-point favorite football powerhouse Boise State, capping off one of Albuquerque’s most historic sports nights.

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ALBUQUERQUE POLICE SHOOTINGS-INDICTMENTS

In August, a judge ruled there was enough evidence for two Albuquerque police officers to be tried in the 2014 shooting death of James Boyd, a homeless man who authorities say was schizophrenic.

Now-retired detective Keith Sandy and former police officer Dominique Perez face second-degree murder charges in Boyd’s death. They’re expected to stand trial in August.

The case divided Albuquerque and preceded a settlement agreement between the city and U.S. Justice Department that has led to federally mandated reforms.

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DEADLY ROAD RAGE

A road rage dispute turned deadly in Albuquerque in October when authorities say a gunman opened fire on Interstate 40 and shot 4-year-old Iliana “Lilly” Rose Garcia.

She had just finished her second day of preschool and was in the back of her father’s pickup truck with her 7-year-old brother when Tony Torrez fired at the family’s vehicle.

Torrez alleged in police interviews that he shot at the Garcias’ truck in self-defense after Lilly’s father nearly ran him off the road. He faces first-degree murder and other charges.

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DRIVER’S LICENSE FIGHT/REAL ID

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in October that New Mexico wouldn’t get another extension to comply with tougher federal identification requirements under the Real ID Act.

That reignited the fight over the state’s long-debated practice of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants regardless of their status.

Lawmakers have promised to address the issue during the 30-day session in January, and federal officials say another extension is possible if the governor and lawmakers can assure them the issue will be fixed.

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ALBUQUERQUE SCHOOLS CONTROVERSY

The state’s largest school district was thrown into turmoil over the summer after it was revealed that former administrator Jason Martinez was hired before a background check was completed.

Martinez resigned abruptly after it surfaced that he was facing child sex abuse charges in Colorado. He denied the allegations and his case ended in a mistrial in October.

The scandal forced then-Superintendent Luis Valentino to resign just weeks into his new job. Valentino, who had hired Martinez, left the district with a settlement of $60,000.

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AP Writers Russell Contreras, Mary Hudetz and Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.


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