SANTA FE, N.M. — One of New Mexico's highest-ranking state officials is expected to enter a plea Tuesday to charges that she funneled campaign contributions to her personal bank accounts and withdrew large sums of money at casinos.
Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran is due in district court to be arraigned on 64 counts of embezzlement, fraud, money laundering and other charges.
The charges involve a total of $13,000 in campaign donations.
It will mark her first public appearance since the charges were leveled in a complaint more than two weeks ago.
She has also been a no-show at her $85,000-a-year elected post with the exception of some conference calls with staff.
Duran's attorney has vowed to fight the charges, but Duran has remained silent, making no statements or public appearances since being charged.
The allegations have sent shockwaves through political circles and raised questions about the enforcement of the state's election and campaign finance reporting laws.
Calls for Duran to resign continue and a special committee of state lawmakers is expected to begin work this week as part of impeachment proceedings.
Duran is accused of violating some of the laws she was elected to uphold.
Political observers say the case has sparked disappointment and frustration among voters.
"We have no idea how to measure the impact, but the general effect is one of disillusionment with government and politics," said Christine Sierra, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of New Mexico.
Duran tapped into those same feelings of voter frustration to craft her platform when she first ran for secretary of state in 2010. A native of the southern New Mexico village of Tularosa, she wanted to turn around an office that had not only been the focus of federal investigations but was known for being dysfunctional.
One of only a handful of Latina women in the nation to hold a statewide office, Duran has spent most of her life in public service. She worked her way up from a technician in the Otero County Clerk's Office to the New Mexico Senate, where she served for 18 years.
She also was the first Republican elected to the New Mexico secretary of state's office in more than 80 years.
While partisan, Duran's reputation as a lawmaker and later as the state's top elections official never raised any flags.
Former Republican state lawmaker Janice Arnold Jones characterized the allegations during a recent call-in show on KUNM radio as a "personal fall from grace."
"It appears to me this is truly a gambling problem and there were personal choices, but it really didn't have anything to do with her ability to do the job in office," she said.
It's a credibility issue for Duran, but observers say the bigger question now is whether the case will spur lawmakers to take on reforms that have long proven to be elusive, such as the creation of a state ethics commission and tougher enforcement of campaign finance laws.
Many reforms in other states have come through referendums. Making changes in New Mexico would mean in some cases amending the Constitution, which can be difficult and require the support of voters.