New elections director named

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By Ralph Damiani

The appointment of Jim Noel, a lawyer who currently heads the Judicial Standards Commission, to be the new director of the state’s Bureau of Elections has drawn some fire from Republicans.

The problem as they see it is that the office is required to be nonpartisan – something that may not even be possible in this world – and Noel’s appointment seems far from nonpartisan.

It just so happens that Noel is the son-in-law of U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, the Democratic nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat from New Mexico, was formerly Richardson’s political director and has worked for his gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.

Not exactly a nonpartisan person.

Now, this does not mean he will not do a good job. It does raise questions and those are legitimate to ask.

Noel will begin his job Sept. 8, filling a position that has been vacant since March, when Albuquerque lawyer Daniel Ivey-Soto resigned.

Noel was an appointee of Richardson to elections task forces in 2004 and 2005, and helped get Richardson-backed elections changes through the Legislature.

Noel also was on the governor’s ethics reform task forces in 2006 and 2007.

He has been the executive director and general counsel since 2004 of the Judicial Standards Commission, which investigates complaints against judges and recommends disciplinary actions against them to the state Supreme Court.

These are certainly outstanding credentials.

As elections director, he will earn $104,809 a year and be in charge of ethics and campaign finance matters as well as elections oversight and elections law changes.

This – for government – is not outrageous pay.

The only real issue we see is that Noel’s wife – who is Udall’s daughter – is managing his U.S. Senate campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.

That gives the appearance of something fishy.

But he should be judged on the job he does and not on who his wife is.

If there are problems, Noel will certainly have a hard time answering charges. But short of that, he should not be disqualified from the job solely on the basis of who he is married to.