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Legislator criticized for Parkinson’s comment

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Debate over a nonbinding memorial about Parkinson’s – of all things – has ruffled some feathers at the Roundhouse.

The state Republican Party called on Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto to apologize for a remark about how he loves talking to people with Parkinson’s because they nod a lot.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s communication staff shared a video clip of the remark on social media.

Ivey-Soto, in turn, said his comment was meant as “a recognition of the struggles this community goes through” and not intended to upset anyone with a disability.

The remark came during a hearing on a memorial that would ask the University of New Mexico Board of Regents to develop a plan to establish a Movement Disorders Center as a way to address a shortage of specialists in the state.

At the meeting, Ivey-Soto began his remarks by thanking audience members for sharing their personal stories about the need for more specialists, and he pointed out – as people laughed – that he has received more email about the memorial than anything else this session.

Then he turned serious.

“This is one of those Russian roulette kinds of ailments,” Ivey-Soto said. “It just randomly strikes, and this is one of the places where we need to make sure that we’re providing services to people.”

Then he made the remark that’s drawn criticism.

“By the way, I don’t mean to be at all insensitive,” Ivey-Soto said. “I do have to say, I love actually talking about stuff with the Parkinson’s folks because I get all this nodding, and it feels very affirming as I’m talking,” he said, while demonstrating by nodding as he spoke.

The audience laughed, and Ivey-Soto went on to explain why he thought UNM would be a good fit for a future Movement Disorders Center.

Jamie Koch, a former state representative and former UNM regent who’s leading the charge for the memorial, presented the legislation to senators on Monday.

“I wasn’t offended, to be frank with you,” Koch said in an interview.

He added that he hopes people focus on the merits of the memorial itself, not any political back-and-forth. There’s no need for Ivey-Soto to apologize, he said.

“I thought he was very nice,” said Koch, who has Parkinson’s himself.

Ivey-Soto said the remark was intended to recognize the struggles of people with Parkinson’s.

“I took what happened as a human moment in the hearing,” he said. “… If what I said upset in any way somebody with a disability, I certainly do apologize. That was not the intent.”

In a news release, the state GOP accused Ivey-Soto of “cracking wise.” The party urged people to call Ivey-Soto to demand an apology.

“While we’re all for a healthy sense of humor,” the news release said, “this ‘joke’ wasn’t funny nor helpful in dealing with the challenges that come with this serious disease.”

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Former UNM Regent Jamie Koch, center, and Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, presents a memorial to push for the creation of a movement disorder center last week. Koch has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

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