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Serious conversation, not false allegations, can lead to real change

A former lawmaker’s letter to the Journal revives a two-year-old complaint involving Rep. Nate Gentry. She and two of Gentry’s colleagues speak up on the issue of workplace misbehavior.

Rep. Kelly Fajardo

Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage

A long-anticipated reckoning is taking place in this country, brought on by countless years of misconduct. We are grateful to the courageous women who have been willing to risk their careers and livelihoods to speak out and challenge the dynamic.

Alongside this call for change, another disheartening dynamic is emerging – one where false complaints of abuse are used as weapons to inflict political damage and divert attention from the blatant wrongdoers.

Both of us know and work alongside Rep. Nate Gentry in the Legislature – and each of us owes him a debt of gratitude for his relentless support of our careers and the exceptional legislation he has championed on behalf of women. We cannot stand by as disingenuous attacks are made against him as a means of diversion from serious accusations. We recognize that Stephanie Maez has a job to do. She’s spent her professional career working for deeply partisan organizations that exist to attack political opponents. And, while we know it’s her job to push these attacks, exploiting the current discussion for political gain instead of calling out known serial offenders and demanding constructive solutions undermines our efforts as women in pursuit of equal footing.

Not coincidentally, Maez attacks Gentry only when members of the Democratic Party are under fire. Where was Maez’s indignation when former Democratic Speaker Kenny Martinez was nationally criticized for saying, “rape is defined in many ways, and some of it is just drunken college sex”? …

Cultural attitudes will not change until we have more women serving as lawmakers, lobbyists, and in high-ranking staff positions. In this regard, we applaud the efforts of Nate Gentry. Gentry recruited each of us to run for the Legislature and worked to place us in positions of leadership. Because of his recruitment efforts, the number of female legislators has grown. Rep. Gentry also recruited Denise Ramonas to serve as the first-ever woman chief clerk in the history of the New Mexico House of Representatives.

As his colleagues in the Legislature, we witnessed Gentry lead and win the years-long fight for funding to reduce the rape-kit backlog and increase counseling services for sexual assault victims. He worked to pass Rachael’s Law to allow sexual assault victims obtain permanent restraining orders against their attackers. He has also sponsored legislation to ensure that women receive pay equal to their male counterparts.

Almost three years ago, Gentry dashed off a sophomoric note to a colleague. The interaction in question is clearly not what we should be seeking to address. We cannot go so far as to create an atmosphere where men and women are afraid to talk to each other for fear of triggering a baseless complaint. This result would make the situation for women even worse.

Women must have a seat at the table, and men must be comfortable having us there.

What every man and woman in New Mexico – and in this country – must commit to is real, systemic change in how we address real instances of harassment and hold policy violators accountable. The current discussion is too important to allow those who want to score political points to enter this discourse uncontested.