The chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico resigned Tuesday amid criticism of his handling of recent claims of sexual harassment against a Doña Ana County Commissioner and a former New Mexico Federation of Labor president Jon Hendry. The labor organization is a key ally of Democrats in the state. Ellenberg announced his resignation with a letter to the party’s state central committee. “I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment, and take full responsibility to continue to learn and grow so that I can be an advocate and ally in the future,” Ellenberg wrote. Last month, the state party’s vice chairwoman wrote a pointed letter to Ellenberg about how he dealt with her accusations of sexual harassment against former Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez.
A Doña Ana County Commissioner mired in controversy over the past several weeks announced his resignation on Thursday. John Vasquez faced public criticism over social media posts and a sexual harassment allegation by a state Democratic Party leader in recent weeks. In a letter to Doña Ana County Commission chairman Benjamin Rawson, Vasquez said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and wants to focus on his health, family and marriage. His marriage in particular, Vasquez said, suffered from what he said was a false allegation from the Democratic Party of New Mexico Vice-Chairwoman Neomi Martinez-Parra. “I am amazed and disappointed how people like Neomi Martinez-Parra can make completely unsubstantiated claims,” Vasquez wrote.
Some Democratic elected officials from New Mexico and the party’s state chair called for a member of their party to step down as a Doña Ana County Commissioner on Thursday after allegations of sexual misconduct. A day after the Democratic Party of New Mexico Vice Chairwoman Neomi Martinez-Parra criticized party chair Richard Ellenberg for not doing enough to address Martinez-Parra’s allegations against Vasquez, Ellenberg issued an apology and called for Vasquez to resign. “While I can’t force his hand, I am calling on John Vasquez to resign from the County Commission and the County Central Committee, and I will repeat that call as often as is necessary until we are successful,” Ellenberg wrote in a statement Thursday. Following Ellenberg’s statement, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with U.S. Reps.
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.
A southern New Mexico county commissioner appeared to take personal shots at the mother of a female activist and constituent on Facebook Wednesday night. Screenshots from progressive activist Johana Bencomo show comments from Democratic Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez, saying Bencomo’s mother asked him for “wierd (sic) favors” from the commissioner. In a time of #MeToo and public discussions regarding treatment of women by men in positions of power, Vasquez may have put himself, the county commission and the state and local Democratic party in an unwanted spotlight. Bencomo said Vasquez’s personal shots came after she commented on a post he made criticizing other politicians for endorsing candidates seeking election in 2018. “I just simply asked a question,” Bencomo told NM Political Report.
A report examining possible “pay-to-play” over state pension investments is drawing sharp reactions and a call for an investigation into whether donations by investment firms broke state laws. The International Business Times and the money-in-politics watchdog nonprofit Maplight released an investigative report earlier this week on donations given directly to Susana Martinez’s campaign and to organizations that backed Martinez and later received state investment money from a public pension fund. A spokesman for Martinez essentially called the report clickbait and said “these accusations are shameless and dishonest” in a statement to NM Political Report. The spokesman, Joseph Cueto, continued, “It’s a shame that the dark-money liberal political group behind this is getting their way with clicks and smear headlines without a shred of evidence. The Governor remains open to further strengthening of our disclosure laws – despite Democrats’ previously killing her proposals to do just that.”
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A few things happened on the news front over the weekend that we’re deciding to wrap up the relevant details in quick summaries below:
—It looks like the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project will likely get some federal cash after all. In Washington D.C., Congress has agreed on a spending plan to avoid a government shutdown that includes $50 million for ART. That’s $19 million short from what the city asked for, Dennis Domrzalski at ABQ Free Press reports. —As of Friday, nine mayoral candidates qualified for the Albuquerque ballot. One more candidate, Stella Padilla, is roughly 500 valid signatures away from getting on the ballot.
State Democrats elected Deborah Haaland as their new state party chairwoman on Saturday, making her the first American Indian to serve the post. Haaland, a candidate for lieutenant governor with Gary King’s failed gubernatorial run last fall, was elected on a 214-168 vote during the state Democratic convention in Albuquerque. She defeated Richard Ellenberg, who served as chairman of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party until recently. Haaland, 54, begins her new job right away. She’ll serve a two-year term.
The Democratic Party of New Mexico will hold a State Central Committee Meeting on Saturday where delegates will decide who will be the next state party chair. Richard Ellenberg, the current chair of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party, and Deb Haaland, the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2014, are the two nominees who will face off. New Mexico Political Report sat down with both of them and asked them five questions on why they believe they are the best person for the job and what they would do if they were elected to the position.