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.
Lawmakers voted to update the State Legislature’s sexual harassment policy, the first such change in a decade. The 15-0 Legislative Council vote came a day before the start of the 2018 legislative session. The council adopted the policy crafted by eight legislators who rewrote it at a time where many industries and organizations, including political institutions, are grappling with sexual harassment. The policy allows for an outside investigator to look into allegations of sexual harassment against legislators. It also calls for “outside counsel who is experienced in harassment matters” to determine in consultation with legislative leaders if a complaint merits an investigation.
Responding to renewed attention on sexual harassment, New Mexico Democrats removed Sen. Michael Padilla from his position as Majority Whip in the chamber on Saturday. The move comes two weeks after Padilla dropped out of the race for Lieutenant Governor. Democrats in Senate leadership released laudatory statements when announcing the caucus voted to vacate the whip position. “Senator Padilla is a valued member of the New Mexico state Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said. “We look forward to supporting his ongoing legislative efforts to create jobs and help New Mexico families.”
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen also praised Padilla.
A panel of New Mexico legislators discussed a draft version of an updated sexual harassment policy Friday, a month ahead of the 2018 legislative session. This marks the first time the policy has been updated since 2008. Legislators have not undergone sexual harassment training since then, before many current legislators were even elected. The Legislative Council expects to vote on a final version on Jan. 15, the day before the start of the session.
The New York Times reported a former state representative in New Mexico told a female lobbyist he would vote for a bill a client supported if she had sex with him, then kissed her. That was part of a story the newspaper wrote about lobbyists facing sexual harassment in state capitals around the nation. The allegation brought up by Vanessa Alarid, still a prominent lobbyist, accused former State Rep. Thomas A. Garcia of making the proposition and the unwanted kiss. Garcia was a member of the Legislature for three terms, from 2006 to 2012. The Democrat denied the allegation.
State Senator Michael Padilla dropped out of the race for Lieutenant Governor Monday afternoon. The move came just two weeks after gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham said he should drop out because of past sexual harassment allegations which led to the city of Albuquerque paying out almost $250,000. Padilla has denied the allegations. “I do not want to be a distraction as we come together as New Mexicans to solve this unacceptable work place issue,” Padilla said in a statement to media, though not NM Political Report. Padilla is still the Senate Majority Whip, a leadership position.
Legislative leadership in both chambers and of both parties announced a bipartisan group of legislators will address the state’s sexual harassment policy. The sexual harassment policy was last revised in 2008, which was also the last time legislators underwent sexual harassment training. The group of legislators will work with the Legislative Council Service as well as outside attorneys to review the existing policy and recommend an updated draft policy to the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council, which is made up of members of each chamber, will then vote on adoption of the new policy in January. Leadership announced that the working group will look at applying the policy to staff, contractors, lobbyists and outside vendors in addition to legislators as well as “clearly outlining terms of enforcement” and outlining protections for those reporting sexual harassment from any retaliation.
One state representative says the Legislature needs to do more to address sexual harassment. Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, wrote a letter to leadership in both the House and Senate, saying there is an “anything-goes” culture in the Roundhouse. She described “deliberate, often serial, offensive actions intended to intimidate, humiliate, or coerce” in the Roundhouse. She said that she has “personally experienced harassment in her time as a legislator.”
“I have also witnessed instances of harassment where colleagues and lobbyists have been subject to repeated profane comments and innuendo,” Fajardo wrote. “I heard stories of sickening quid pro quo propositions where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors.” Fajardo did not name who harassed her or others.