SANTA FE – No one said a campaign for governor of New Mexico would be a walk in the park, but the early phase of the 2018 contest is getting downright ugly for two of the four Democratic candidates.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat currently
serving in Congress, and Jeff Apodaca, a former television executive and son of a former New Mexico governor, are both running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018. And both have both been accused of improprieties in recent days.
They have each denied wrongdoing, and Apodaca’s campaign has accused Lujan Grisham of being behind the allegations against him.
Lujan Grisham’s office came under fire first, when a transgender former intern, Riley Del Rey, alleged earlier this month that she was discriminated against and fired from a 2015 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute internship in Lujan Grisham’s Capitol Hill office. Apodaca this week called on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to investigate the accusation.
Apodaca’s turn on the campaign hot seat came late Tuesday when Marianna Anaya, a staffer with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said in a Facebook post that Apodaca tried to kiss her while smelling of beer during a whiffle ball game in Santa Fe earlier this year between staffers from the state Democratic Party and union members.
He denied the claim – describing it as “absolutely false” – and his campaign alleged the accusation was orchestrated by Lujan Grisham. Anaya previously worked as a staffer in Lujan Grisham’s congressional office.
However, Anaya stood by her claim Wednesday, telling the Journal that “Jeff Apodaca cannot pretend to stand with some women while calling others, like me, liars.”
Apodaca’s denial also prompted the teachers union’s president to criticize Apodaca, saying his remarks set a “negative tone” for women who might be considering coming forward with stories of unwanted attention or abuse.
The dueling allegations come at a time when the issue of sexual misconduct has come under heightened scrutiny – both in New Mexico and nationally – amid a wave of allegations levied against prominent politicians, actors and media figures.
Both CHCI and Lujan Grisham’s office deny that Del Rey’s being transgender had anything to do with her dismissal, and they insist they did not even know she was transgender before she was let go. CHCI told the Journal this week that Del Rey has been “dishonest” with the media about both the reason for and the handling of her dismissal.
On Monday, Del Rey accused Lujan Grisham’s office of presenting the media with a “fake” letter from her dated March 24, 2015, around the time she was fired. In the letter, Del Rey apologizes for “unprofessional and unacceptable” behavior during the 2015 internship. The Journal obtained a copy of the letter, which was not signed by Del Rey, last week.
“I was never presented this letter in person, nor over the phone,” Del Rey told the Journal on Wednesday.
Del Rey said she did submit a draft letter but it did not apologize for unprofessional behavior. She said a CHCI supervisor told her over the phone that he “would make minor edits” to her letter or remove certain comments but would keep the essence of her draft letter intact. She said the supervisor told her that if she didn’t acquiesce to a revised letter she “won’t be able to work in this town again.”
In an email to a CHCI official provided to the Journal, Del Rey eventually agreed that a final letter revised by CHCI was “in my best interest,” although she repeated that she had never seen the final letter.
“I was under a lot of duress,” Del Rey said Wednesday. “He (the official) never read me the version of the letter that was sent in and later published.”
CHCI officials sent the Journal a statement late Tuesday accusing Del Riley of having “repeatedly been dishonest with the press” about the matter.
“Ms. Del Rey was not terminated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, but rather by CHCI, and the apology letter sent to Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham following Ms. Del Rey’s unprofessional behavior was indeed from Ms. Del Rey and fully warranted given the situation,” the CHCI statement said. “CHCI does not discriminate based upon, or even inquire about sexual orientation, contrary to Ms. Del Rey’s false allegations.”
With 2018 rapidly approaching, Lujan Grisham and Apodaca are two of four Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination for governor. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and alcohol awareness advocate Peter DeBenedittis are the others.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is the Republican candidate. Gov. Susana Martinez is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office.
Michael Coleman reported from Washington, D.C., and Dan Boyd reported from Santa Fe.