ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Widespread sexual harassment at the New Mexico Statehouse has gone unchecked amid ineffective procedures for reporting and investigating the abuse, according to women lobbyists and elected officials.
Democratic consultant Heather Brewer said Monday the harassment ranged from groping to propositions for sex.
It has been so common that women lobbyists, legislative aides and even lawmakers exchanged the names of male lawmakers who didn’t harass and those who did to protect each other.
“Unfortunately, the culture there is so entrenched,” Brewer said.
She didn’t provide more details about the incidents.
State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Belen Republican, said she has witnessed colleagues or lobbyists being subjected to “repeated profane comments and innuendo.” She contends that lobbyists in particular have little protection or recourse under the current policy.
She didn’t provide more specific details but said women have confided in her and don’t feel like they can safely complain without reprisals.
Fajardo says that without an independent process for investigating complaints she fears women lobbyists will continue to encounter sexual misconduct or be replaced as men try to avoid liability. Complaints currently are investigated internally by legislative staff.
The Legislative Counsel Service, which acts as a legal counsel to the Legislature, says it has received two complaints of misconduct over the past five years, both involving Statehouse maintenance staff and not lawmakers.
Fajardo has pressed for more information about a 2016 email alleging sexual misconduct by a senator. Attorneys for the Legislature say the former legislative employee who complained did not want to pursue the matter.
In a recent letter to legislative leaders, Fajardo described second-hand “stories of sickening quid pro quo propositions where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors.”
“Tolerating this behavior is seen as the price of doing business in the Roundhouse, especially for women,” said Fajardo, who indicated that she also has been the target of harassment.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told the Santa Fe New Mexican that she’s been subjected to sexual harassment and called it “an unfortunate reality,” without providing more details.
Statehouses nationwide are dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct as part of a wave of claims against powerful people in politics, entertainment, business and elsewhere.
Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, said Monday he would end his bid for lieutenant governor following renewed questions about decade-old complaints of sexual harassment at a previous job. He described past accusations against him as issues of a hostile workplace and not sexual misconduct.
New Mexico legislative leaders have begun a review of workplace harassment guidelines and preventative training, and lawmakers are likely to undergo prevention training for the first time in more than a decade.
The last time New Mexico lawmakers underwent such training was 2004, according to the Legislature’s legal services office.
Rep. Monica Youngblood, an Albuquerque Republican, called the current process for investigating allegations of sexual harassment “a joke” and said women still will be reluctant to report cases no matter what changes are made.
“I think we need a culture change before we get a process change,” she said.
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report from Santa Fe, New Mexico.