State Representative Sandra Jeff has an election battle on her hands and polling places aren’t even open yet.
Jeff drew the ire of Democrats during the session after another year of her consistently reliable conservative votes cost Democrats the critical vote to pass important progressive policy positions, including an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Jeff famously denied to reporters that she had received a personal phone call from Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the minimum wage issue.
Need to catch up? Read The Ballad of Sandra Jeff from Matt Reichbach at the NM Telegram
A lawsuit filed in Gallup last month contends that Jeff failed to obtain the minimum amount of signatures from voters in order to qualify her as a candidate in her District 5 state House of Representatives seat.
Jeff submitted the names and signatures of 91 persons supporting her nomination for re-election, but a review by challengers found that less than half were valid. Jeff must obtain valid signatures from 78 registered Democrats in the district to be certified to the ballot on the June 3 primary (the heavily Democratic seat has no Republican challenger for the general election).
But Monday’s hearing in McKinley County district court never made it to the question of the validity of the challenged signatures (opponents say the nominating forms included registered Republicans, duplicate names and non-residents). Instead, Republican lawyer Pat Rogers stepped in to represent the signature signers while Sandra Jeff never even showed.
Pat Rogers has served as the Republican National Committeeman from New Mexico since 2008 and formerly served as a member of the RNC’s national executive committee. In addition to national Republican positions, Rogers served as the lawyer for Governor Martinez’s first gubernatorial campaign.
He was forced to resign in 2012 after ProgressNow NM released emails suggesting Governor Martinez’s meeting with the state’s Native American tribes was disrespectful to the legacy of notorious Indian killer Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
The judge permitted Rogers to intervene on behalf of Jeff and all signers over the objection of the plaintiffs. Rogers argued that Jeff had not properly been served notice of the hearing and, therefore, it should be dismissed.
While the plaintiffs offered a witness who testified that he served Ms. Jeff’s registered address with the notice (and that the Secretary of State received notice), Rogers claimed that Jeff had not received proper notice because the Secretary of State had not notified Jeff before the hearing.
Read more about this requirement in New Mexico Statues at NMSA 1-8-35(B).
For the purposes of an action challenging a nominating petition, each person filing a nominating petition under the Primary Election Law appoints the proper filing officer as his agent to receive service of process. Immediately upon receipt of process served upon the proper filing officer, the officer shall, by certified mail, return receipt requested, mail the process to the person.
While the law appears to require the Secretary of State, acting as the agent of candidates, to immediately mail a copy of the process to the candidate, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran failed to do so. This caused a delay in notice and, Rogers argues, a reason to dismiss the case.
Duran’s Chief of Staff, Ken Ortiz, reads the law differently, according to his statement to the Albuquerque Journal:
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, said notifying candidates of legal challenges is not the secretary of state’s duty, contrary to suggestions made by those seeking to have Jeff removed from the ballot.
The judge used that as a reason to dismiss the case and avoid hearing the larger question about her petition.
Just to simplify: Sandra Jeff, who frequently votes with Republicans in the House opposing issues like raising the minimum wage, doesn’t show up to her court hearing but Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s lawyer (who also happens to be the state’s highest-elected Republican party official) does and he just happens to step in to defend her. To avoid the question of disqualification, the Republican lawyer points out that their friend, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, didn’t follow the law and failed to give Jeff notice of the hearing, so their other friend, Sandra Jeff, can’t be sued.
The plaintiff’s have promised to file an appeal with the State Supreme Court.