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NM Rep.: Lobbyists often targets of harassment

Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen

SANTA FE — State Rep. Kelly Fajardo says it’s time to end the “anything goes” culture at the Roundhouse — where, she said, female lobbyists are frequent targets of harassment.

Fajardo, a Republican from Belen, said she has witnessed colleagues or lobbyists being subjected to “repeated profane comments and innuendo.” She’s experienced harassment herself, she said, and heard “sickening” stories.

“Tolerating this behavior is seen as the price of doing business in the Roundhouse, especially for women,” Fajardo said Friday in a blistering four-page letter to legislative leaders.

She called on Democratic and Republican leaders to better protect lobbyists, lawmakers and staffers.

Fajardo also cautioned against dismissing misconduct as merely attempts at humor gone awry or something similarly innocuous. People should feel free to compliment and joke with each other, she said, but they also need to feel safe reporting legitimate instances of harassment.

“It is possible to distinguish malfeasant action from innocuous banter,” Fajardo said, “and it is important to make that distinction.

But, she added, “the incidents I cite rose to a different level; they were deliberate, often serial, offensive actions intended to intimidate, humiliate, or coerce.”

Fajardo’s letter comes as capitols across the country are rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct.

In New Mexico, the debate intensified this month when Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham called on state Sen. Michael Padilla to drop out of the race for lieutenant governor because he’d been accused of sexual harassment in a previous job.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez also blasted Senate Democrats for electing Padilla majority whip last year, despite the past allegations.

Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, has repeatedly denied the allegations, which center on his tenure as a city supervisor more than a decade ago. He notes that he hasn’t faced any similar accusations since.

‘Cannot be tolerated’

House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, said a bipartisan group of legislators leaders is already talking about ways to strengthen the Legislature’s anti-sexual harassment policies.

“If in fact it has been going on, it cannot be tolerated,” she said.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she and other leaders want legislators to undergo anti-harassment training, though there may be policy changes beyond that, too.

“We need to have good, solid, tough policies,” Papen said.

Legislators haven’t received anti-sexual harassment training since 2004.

State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, said she has pushed for the state Democratic Party to require anti-sexual harassment training for its candidates.

“Now’s the time for us to address this,” she said.

Changing the culture

Fajardo called the current complaint system “a joke.” There’s no guarantee of impartiality, she said, because complaints are supposed to be reported to legislative staffers who are handpicked by leadership.

And the policy appears to apply only to employees of the Legislature, not lobbyists or others, she said.

In an interview, Fajardo said women who work at the Roundhouse warn each other informally about sexual harassment.

“It’s a very tough thing for a woman, especially a female lobbyist, to address a male legislator,” Fajardo said. “Their bills could be dead.”

The Legislature, she said, should hire independent counsel to investigate complaints and take other steps to prevent retaliation.

“The previous ‘anything goes’ culture of the Roundhouse must end now,” Fajardo said in her letter.