A Democratic county commissioner from southern New Mexico is in more hot water and may have pulled the state party in with him. The Democratic Party of New Mexico’s vice chairwoman said the head of the party encouraged her to stay quiet after she was allegedly sexually harassed by the Doña Ana County Commissioner.
DPNM Vice Chairwoman Neomi Martinez-Parra sent a letter to state party Chair Richard Ellenberg on Monday asking that he take “corrective action” against Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez for “inappropriate sexual misconduct.”
In her letter, Martinez-Parra said she previously alerted Ellenberg of her interaction with Vasquez. She also said the chairman implied she should stay quiet as long as the party could convince Vasquez to step down from a local Democratic veterans group.
“Furthermore, you and I discussed these issues prior to Mr. Vasquez resigning as the DPNM Veteran’s Caucus Chair,” Martinez-Parra wrote. “I disagree with your proposal ‘something for something’, inferring that Mr. Vasquez would resign if I did not pursue a complaint against him.”
Martinez-Parra could not be reached for comment. But Ellenberg confirmed with NM Political Report that Martinez-Parra told him about her allegations in January. Martinez-Parra’s letter does not detail Vasquez’s specific actions and Ellenberg declined to speak for her.
“Let’s just say what was alleged to have happened was inappropriate,” Ellenberg said. “I’ll leave it to her to decide what she wants to say publicly.”
Ellenberg said he had multiple conversations with Martinez-Parra about how she wanted to move forward, and added he never intended to keep her quiet.
“If I said or did anything that gave the impression I was trying to be anything other than totally supportive of what choices she made, I apologize for that,” he said.
Ellenberg said Vasquez agreed to resign as the Democratic Veterans Caucus Chair if Martinez-Parra did not file a formal complaint. She declined the offer. But, Ellenberg said, he still persuaded Vasquez to resign from the caucus.
Vasquez did not reply to email, voice, text or Facebook messages from NM Political Report on Tuesday. One of his voicemail inboxes was full.
State Rep. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, who was copied on the letter to Ellenberg, told NM Political Report sexual harassment allegations “should be taken seriously at every level” and “should never be political.” Martinez-Parra also sent the letter to other Democratic Party officers, Democratic State Sen. Howie Morales and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.
Rubio stopped short of calling for Ellenberg’s resignation, but criticized him for his inaction.
“If leaders are not ready to make these decisions about these issues, they should not be in positions of leadership,” Rubio said.
But, Ellenberg said, the state Democratic Party’s hands are tied.
“We can’t tell anyone not to be a Democrat and we can’t tell anybody not to be a commissioner,” Ellenberg said.
Vasquez stepped down as chair of the Democratic Veterans Caucus, but still serves on the Doña Ana central committee, which, according to Ellenberg has its own policies and procedures for misconduct and removing officers.
NM Political Report could not reach the Democratic Party of Doña Ana County Chairman Tuesday.
Ellenberg said he’s heard “plenty of grounds” for Vasquez’s removal but that many people want to remain anonymous and don’t want to go public with their stories.
“I can’t accuse somebody of doing something I can’t say what it was and I’m not going to violate somebody’s privacy,” Ellenberg said.
The only other option, Ellenberg said, is for voters to recall Vasquez from office.That would require a large number of petition signatures from voters in Vasquez’s district.
“It would take a huge effort and would almost certainly be unsuccessful,” Ellenberg said.
This isn’t the first time Vasquez has made headlines.
“We also had the issue with him on the Facebook post,” Ellenberg said, referring to a series of comments Vasquez made to a constituent who also helps run an advocacy group. “There’s no shortage of issues.”
Earlier this year, Vasquez said on Facebook that the mother of a female activist, and constituent, asked for “wierd (sic) favors” from the commissioner. He was widely denounced for the exchange on Facebook, which has since been deleted.