Top-ranking Democratic and Republican leaders say they’re taking initial steps toward revising the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy to better protect staffers, lobbyists and lawmakers.
They said Wednesday that they’ve asked a group of legislators to work with outside attorneys to review the policy and suggest changes that could be adopted in January.
The announcement came the same day that Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes said in a letter to the leadership that she endured verbal attacks, demeaning behavior and physical intimidation by a legislative colleague – an experience, she said, that demonstrates the need for broad anti-harassment training, not just a focus on sexual harassment.
Maestas Barnes, a Republican, didn’t identify her colleague by name, though it’s clear from the circumstances that’s she’s referring to Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a Democrat.
Both representatives are Albuquerque attorneys who have been at odds over crime legislation.
Maestas Barnes alleges that after a vote during a special session in October 2016, Maestas “charged over to me, then verbally attacked me, using profane and threatening language and violently slammed his fist down on my desk.”
An archived webcast of the exchange shows Maestas walking briskly over to Maestas Barnes on the House floor, then leaning against the desk as he talks. The microphone didn’t pick up what was said. He picks up his hand and puts it back down on the desk as he leaves, though it isn’t clear how forcefully he did it.
Maestas Barnes also said that, in the regular legislative session earlier this year, Maestas mocked her during a committee meeting for an interview she had granted to a television station.
“If such behavior can happen so openly without acknowledgment or censure, one can only imagine what takes place out of the public eye,” Maestas Barnes said in her letter.
Maestas, for his part, apologized after this year’s committee incident.
“I’ve known Sarah for 15 years,” he said Wednesday. “We’re very frank with one another. After these two instances, we met and talked about it, and I left those meetings thinking we’d resolved it.”
But he added that “if somebody feels intimidated, you have to respect their feelings and you have to address it.”
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat and chairwoman of the House appropriations committee where one of the dust-ups between Maestas and Maestas Barnes happened, said she called the two into her office afterward to clear the air and thought they had resolved the issue. Maestas apologized the next day, she said.
As for the new working group on harassment, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he hopes it “doesn’t just result in a policy change, but in a cultural change at the Roundhouse.”
House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the “current sexual harassment policy is in need of a comprehensive overhaul. I look forward to working to ensure the victims have swift access to justice without fear of retaliation.”