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Lobbyist: Legislator sought sex for vote

Vanessa Alarid says a legislator wanted to trade sex for a vote in 2009. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Lobbyist Vanessa Alarid says she figured he was joking.

A Democratic lawmaker – who had already voted in committee to support her bill – told her late one night that she shouldn’t assume he would support the legislation when it reached the House floor, she says.

Then the representative made it clear he wasn’t joking, Alarid alleges.

Thomas A. Garcia, then a state representative from Ocate, wanted sex in exchange for voting in favor of the bill and getting his colleagues to support it, Alarid said.

“He said, ‘If you (have sex with) me, I will vote yes for your bill and whip your votes on the floor,’ ” Alarid said in a Journal interview Friday.

The incident, she said, happened late in the 2009 legislative session as she lobbied for a bill sought by her employer, a development company.

Former Rep. Thomas Garcia

Alarid shared the story with The New York Times this week – putting the national spotlight on New Mexico as allegations of sexual harassment shake up capitols and campaigns across the country.

Garcia flatly denies the allegation.

“It’s a total fabrication,” Garcia told the Journal. “… I’m not going to hide from the truth. This didn’t happen.”

He said the allegations are aimed at keeping him from running for the state House again, which he’d been considering.

“This is politically motivated,” Garcia said, and aimed at “damaging my reputation.”

Two former legislators reached by the Journal on Friday – Democratic Rep. Sandra Jeff and Republican Sen. Rod Adair – said Alarid told them at the time that Garcia had asked for sex in exchange for a vote. They said they had no reason to doubt her story.

“She was pretty much shaken up,” Jeff said, recalling that Alarid had approached her in 2009. “She was in tears.”

‘A few predators’

Alarid told the Journal that she decided to come forward this week because of the national conversation on sexual harassment in workplaces.

In New Mexico, state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, has said female lobbyists are frequent targets of harassment, and she and other legislators are working to revise the Legislature’s no-harassment policy.

Women who work in the Roundhouse have described it as a minefield of inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, leering looks and sexual propositions.

“There are a lot of good men in Santa Fe who act honorably and with integrity,” Alarid said, “but there are a few predators. We need to shine a light on them and hold them accountable.”

Filing a formal complaint in 2009 wasn’t a realistic option, she said.

“The reality is, there is not a mechanism for somebody to report,” Alarid said. “My livelihood is based on my relationships and my integrity. There was so much more to lose by reporting.”

Hotel meeting

The story, she said, began with a telephone call late in the 2009 legislative session.

Garcia, she said, called and offered to help her develop a strategy to win support for legislation authorizing a new tax district on the West Side of Albuquerque. It was a bill she’d been working on for two years.

Alarid, 32 at the time, said she was staying at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a boutique hotel in Santa Fe.

She met Garcia downstairs in the lounge. But eventually they wanted to order food, and the kitchen was closed. The staff said food could be delivered to her room.

Alarid’s lobbying team had rented a workspace, suite and several rooms at the hotel, so she and Garcia went up to the work area.

At some point, Garcia started walking toward an interior door that led to Alarid’s hotel room. That’s when he said he wanted sex in exchange for his vote, Alarid said.

She didn’t respond, she said, but he opened the door leading to her room, eventually pushing her onto the bed and forcibly kissing and groping her.

Alarid said she pushed him off and told him to leave, which he did.

And when her bill came up for a vote the next night, Alarid said, she saw Garcia talking to other legislators as the debate unfolded. The bill died on a tie vote, with Garcia opposed.

His opposition came after he had repeatedly supported the legislation, or something similar, in previous votes.

Legislative records show that Garcia voted in favor of similar legislation in 2008 on the House floor, and Garcia acknowledges he supported it in committee in 2009. Alarid said Garcia also supported a version of it in committee in 2008, though legislative records don’t specifically record each committee member’s vote.

Time line disputed

Garcia, in turn, said he never met Alarid at the hotel. He said he didn’t have enough seniority in the Legislature to attract attention for strategy sessions.

“A lobbyist wouldn’t rely on a third-year guy to get their bills passed,” Garcia said.

He disputed her time line of events and accused Alarid of changing her story, based on the descriptions he’d heard from reporters who’d called him about her allegations.

He said he voted for the bill in committee only as a way to help move it to the floor for a final vote, not as a sign that would support it for final passage. There’s no rule against legislators changing their votes.

High-profile bill

The bill in question was one of the most high-profile pieces of legislation in the 2009 session.

It called for the creation of a tax development district for a giant development on the West Side. Under the bill, $408 million in future tax money would have been pledged for the project.

The bill failed on two tie votes in the House, despite a massive lobbying effort and the backing of several top lawmakers. Garcia voted “no” both times.

Garcia, a Democrat, represented a northern New Mexico House district from 2007 through 2012. His district was merged with another in redistricting, and he ran for the Senate, losing to incumbent Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, in the 2012 primary.

Prominent lobbyist

Alarid’s story broke on The New York Times’ website late Friday.

In response to Alarid’s allegations, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, issued a statement calling Garcia’s alleged behavior “disgusting and completely unacceptable.”

Alarid is a prominent lobbyist. She has 10 clients, including several corporations and governmental agencies, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

She said she hopes her male friends won’t “treat me with kid gloves” now that she has shared her story. She is married to state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

“As a society, we have come a long way towards equality,” Alarid said. “I fear that the conversation about sexual harassment will alter the manner in which good men treat women. I hope that my male friends will continue to greet me with hugs and not treat me with kid gloves.

“As a society, we need to determine clear lines of sexual harassment and not muddy the waters with discussion of harassment because of someone’s tone of voice or for political or personal gain.”