SANTA FE — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez slammed Democrats in the state Senate on Wednesday for choosing Michael Padilla as majority whip last year, even after he’d been accused in a previous job of sexual harassment.
Debate over the allegations against Padilla — which stem from his tenure as a city supervisor a decade ago — intensified over the last week when Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham called on Padilla to drop out of the race for lieutenant governor.
Padilla flatly denies the allegations and says no one has made a similar accusation against him since he left his city job in 2007.
Martinez said Wednesday that it’s a little late for Lujan Grisham and other Democrats to criticize Padilla, who was elected majority whip by Senate Democrats in November last year.
“What’s shocking,” Martinez told the Journal, “is that his behavior is wrong. It’s wrong today, and it was wrong back then, and they didn’t choose to do anything except to elect him to leadership” in the caucus.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she and her colleagues are entitled to choose their own leaders.
“Her opinions are her opinions,” Papen said of Martinez. “I think he did an excellent job as a whip. We have the right to pick our people, just as she has the right to pick her people.”
Lujan Grisham is a candidate for governor, meaning she and Padilla would be paired on the same ticket if they win their primary races next year.
A city investigation in 2007 determined that Padilla had repeatedly asked a dispatcher out on dates and at one point told some of the women who worked at the center that “it may be 2006 out here, but in my house, it’s 1969 and the women make tortillas, take care of the kids and clean the house,” according to Journal articles at the time.
Padilla maintains he would never say anything like that.
“This is not who I am, and this is not a pattern,” he said in a written statement Wednesday. “This was 11 years ago, and there has never been an accusation like this again.”
Allegations of sexual harassment have rocked capitols across the country.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said New Mexico lawmakers are examining what changes to make to their own rules to ensures that complaints are properly investigated and everyone knows the process.
Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is offering training for lobbyists.
“Sexual harassment in any form is never acceptable,” she said. “This is just a first step, but it is my hope that by giving lobbyists the opportunity to enroll in sexual harassment training programs, we will be able to prevent some instances of misconduct from happening in the first place.”