- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The fall election for New Mexico secretary of state will pit Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver against Republican state Rep. Nora Espinoza of Roswell in the wake of a scandal that landed the state election agency’s former chief in jail.

A primary registration deadline passed Tuesday with no other major party contenders for secretary of the state. Aspiring candidates also filed declarations ahead of June 7 primaries to run for two high court vacancies and three U.S. congressional seats.

Toulouse Oliver ran for secretary of state in 2014 and was defeated by Republican incumbent Dianna Duran. She supports changes designed to boost voter registration and increase campaign finance disclosures and auditing.

Espinoza is a strong supporter of photo ID requirements for voters, and her candidacy could inject broader social issues into the election season. The five-term state representative is sponsoring legislation during the current session that would allow business owners to refuse service to customers whose sexual orientation goes against the religious beliefs of the owner.

The secretary of state is charged with administering and enforcing the state’s election and campaign finance reporting laws. The agency’s duties could be transformed by a long list of proposed reforms making their way through the legislature this month, including a constitutional amendment to create an independent state ethics commission to hear complaints about the conduct and campaign finances of public officials and lobbyists.

Duran resigned as secretary of state in October and pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement and money laundering charges for using campaign donations to fuel a gambling spree. She completed a 30-day jail sentence in January. Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter has been appointed secretary of state until a replacement is elected in November and takes office.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico filed an ethics complaint on Monday against Espinoza under the government conduct code, criticizing the lawmaker for directing those interested in her new campaign to her official legislative webpage.

Espinoza said she did nothing wrong during a recent radio interview by sharing her personal email address on the air and directing listeners to her legislative webpage if they needed to find it and get in touch with her. She called the complaint misleading and specious.

In U.S. congressional races, three Republicans will vie to challenge Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-Santa Fe, who represents the sprawling third congressional district in the north of the state. They are Michael Romero of Vadito, a retired law enforcement officer; Michael Lucero of Jemez Pueblo, who works for a security contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Jerald Steve McFall of Angel Fire, who has worked at the local ski and golf resort.

Lucero comes from a ranching family that gained attention for pushing back against Forest Service restrictions on grazing designed to protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

Richard Priem of Albuquerque will seek the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-Albuquerque.

Merrie Lee Soules of Las Cruces filed as the only Democratic contender for the first district congressional seat, where Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs, is seeking re-election.

Running for a seat on the New Mexico Supreme Court vacated by Richard Bosson are Democrat Michael Vigil, a judge on the state Court of Appeals, and Republican Judith Nakamura, already serving on the Supreme Court under an interim appointment by the governor.

Two Republicans, Ned Fuller and Stephen French, will seek their party’s nomination to run for a seat on the state Court of Appeals, while Julie Vargas has filed for the Democratic nomination.

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