ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democrats in the state Senate stripped their colleague Michael Padilla of his leadership title on Saturday, forcing him to step down as majority whip after decade-old allegations of sexual harassment resurfaced.
Padilla — an Albuquerque Democrat who grew up in foster homes and led the push to end “lunch shaming” in New Mexico — will remain a member of the state Senate.
But he is no longer the majority whip, a position that involves building support for Democratic bills in the Legislature.
Padilla has flatly denied the allegations of harassment, which stem from his time as a supervisor for the city of Albuquerque. He says he hasn’t faced any similar allegation since leaving city employment about 10 years ago.
“Tomorrow is another day,” he said in written statement Saturday, “and I will work just as hard as I always do.”
Senate Democrats met privately in Albuquerque on Saturday to weigh Padilla’s future as majority whip. A majority of the members voted to “vacate the position” and meet again next month to pick a successor, according to a written statement released afterward.
The meeting came as allegations against Padilla resurfaced amid the “Me Too” movement sweeping the country and spotlighting sexual harassment.
The focus on him intensified this fall as Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democratic candidate for governor, called on Padilla to drop out of the race for lieutenant governor because of the allegations.
The two would have been paired together on the gubernatorial ticket if they’d each won their races.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez also took aim at Padilla’s leadership role in the Senate. She said last month that it was “shocking” that Senate Democrats had elected him to the position in the first place, given that he’d been accused of harassment in a previous job.
Padilla ended his campaign for lieutenant governor earlier this month. He said he didn’t want to be a distraction.
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. The allegations, he said, arose out of his efforts to improve the 911 call center, a stressful job that naturally made some employees unhappy.
The claims against Padilla predate his tenure in the Legislature.
But the Roundhouse has been rocked by its own allegations of harassment, and legislative leaders are working to revise their anti-harassment policy.
Women who work in the Capitol have described it as a minefield of inappropriate comments, leering looks and sexual propositions. State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, has said female lobbyists, in particular, are frequent targets of harassment.
In a written statement Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, called Padilla “a valued member of the New Mexico state Senate. We look forward to supporting his ongoing legislative efforts to create jobs and help New Mexico families.”
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she appreciated Padilla’s legislative accomplishments.
“He is a strong and compassionate advocate for the people of New Mexico,” she said.
Padilla later released his own statement, saying he appreciated the opportunity to serve.
“I look forward to continued partnerships with my colleagues to get New Mexico moving in the right direction again,” Padilla said.