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Apodaca: Lujan Grisham should be investigated over alleged discrimination

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Democratic candidate for New Mexico Gov. Jeff Apodaca. (Courtesy of Jeff Apodaca)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Monday called for a congressional ethics investigation into whether U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, one of his rivals in next year’s primary election, discriminated against a former transgender intern.

Lujan Grisham, a three-term congresswoman, has denied any claims of discrimination and says she didn’t even know the intern was transgender until after she had left the office.

However, Apodaca said the allegation should be taken seriously and called on top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi to launch a formal investigation into Lujan Grisham’s actions.

“Harassment and discrimination are totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated in any workplace, much less in a U.S. congressional office,” Apodaca, an Albuquerque media executive, said in a statement.

Riley Del Rey, the former intern, recently went public with claims that she was discriminated against and was fired from her Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute internship two years ago.

Specifically, she has said she believes she was fired after a then-congressman outed her to Lujan Grisham. The congressman, former U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., has confirmed that Del Rey disclosed her transgender status to him at a Capitol Hill reception, but has denied conveying the information to Lujan Grisham or anyone at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

Del Rey, a Lovington native, apologized for her “unprofessional” behavior in a separation letter, but says she was pressured to write the letter after an institute official expressed displeasure with her initial draft.

The call for a congressional investigation comes amid recent scrutiny of sexual misconduct claims against politicians, media personalities and other public figures.

Lujan Grisham herself recently called for state Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, to withdraw from next year’s lieutenant governor race over decade-old sexual harassment allegations.

Padilla eventually did drop out of the contest and he was stripped of his legislative leadership position by Senate Democrats in a closed-door caucus meeting Saturday.

Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham and Apodaca are two of the four Democratic candidates seeking the party’s 2018 gubernatorial nomination, with Lujan Grisham so far outraising her opponents by a significant margin.

The other Democratic candidates in the race are state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and alcohol awareness advocate Peter DeBenedittis of Santa Fe.

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