December 1, 2017

It’s time for Michael Padilla to step aside

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Laura Paskus

Sen. Michael Padilla in his office, standing with memorabilia of Sister Bladina Segale, who founded schools and hospitals in New Mexico in the 19th century.

Michelle Lujan Grisham is right. So why is everyone so quiet?

Since Lujan Grisham first called on state Sen. Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, to step out of the race for lieutenant governor because of his history of creating a “sexually hostile” work environment, there’s been a deafening silence. Yes, we’ve heard from Padilla about consulting with his friends and family; we’ve seen handwringing from legislative leadership about their sexual harassment polices (or lack thereof); and we’ve even had a reporter apologize for not taking the story seriously sooner.

But we have not had the chorus of amens and thank-yous that I expected. Only a few people have said anything at all. Why are we so tight-lipped when we’ve been waiting since the Anita Hill hearings to finally have a moment in which women are believed and men are held accountable?

The answer is that silence is what sexual harassment and sexual assault victims, which so many of us are, have always been relegated to. Not by choice, but by the painful reality of what it would be like to be shamed, blamed and humiliated by speaking out. It is and has always been scary to speak out. But this is our moment to break our silence, to be heard and to stand by women who, like Lujan Grisham, say enough is enough.

I’ve also been surprised by the whispered rationalizations and excuses for Padilla’s behavior that I have heard, quietly, from people who are typically outspoken advocates for women.

One person even said that by bringing up Padilla’s record of sexual harassment Lujan Grisham is dwelling in the past, when she needs to be focused on the future.

But focusing on the future is exactly what Lujan Grisham is doing: a future in which women won’t be second-class citizens in the workplace and in which they will know that their harassers will be held accountable. And a future in which we no longer have to be silent. That’s certainly the future I want for my daughter and stepdaughter.

Thankfully, that future is finally possible Things are actually changing. We too can speak out, just like the hundreds and hundreds of women who recently shared their stories through the #MeToo campaign or those who’ve recently taken action against their abusers.

Today, at last, when we speak up, we are believed and action is taken. We no longer respect and admire sexual harassers; we thank them for their service and show them the door.

NPR gets it. NBC gets it. All of Louis CK’s contractors get it. Even Fox News sort of gets it.

Why, then, are we in New Mexico – and Democrats in general — having so much trouble talking about it?

A big part of it for us in New Mexico may be that Padilla is pretty darn likeable. He’s a hard-worker. He’s a self-made man who overcame great odds to find success and, as a state senator, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

But sexual harassment is unacceptable and we must hold the line – even when the allegations come against people we like.

The fact is that it is possible to be a great advocate for working families, as Padilla has been, and to have created a “sexually hostile” work environment as court documents say he did. Likewise, it is possible to be a beloved national progressive standard-bearer and still have groped women during photo-ops as Sen. Al Franken has done. It’s even possible to be a civil rights leader, like Rep. John Conyers, and to have abused your power.

We are all complicated people with complicated stories. Human gifts and human failings are not mutually exclusive.

Mr. Conyers, you are an icon. Your work to advance civil rights and equality has truly changed our world, and, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. Now, it is time for you to let someone who has not fired an employee for refusing to have sex with him carry on your work.

Mr. Franken, you made us laugh. You definitely brought U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions down a peg, and we thank you for it. Now, it’s time to go and let someone who has not posed for pictures while groping the breasts of a sleeping woman take your place.

And, Mr. Padilla, thank you for all you have done for your community. Thank you for advocating for early childhood education and increasing the minimum wage. Now, it is time for you to step aside and let someone for whom the City of Albuquerque has not paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in sexual harassment settlements take your place.

It’s hard to speak up. I know. But sexual harassment thrives when women are silent. If we really want change—and I believe we do—we must stand together and speak up.

That’s exactly what Michelle Lujan Grisham did. I appreciate her leadership. I agree with her. And I’m ready to use my voice to break the silence and help her and other leaders bring real change to our state.

Heather Brewer is a New Mexico-based Democratic consultant. She does not work for Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign or any of the Democratic lieutenant governor campaigns.

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