Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A staff member for Animal Protection Voters accused state Rep. Carl Trujillo on Wednesday of inappropriate touching and sexual harassment – the latest allegation of misconduct to shake up the Roundhouse.
Trujillo, in response, bluntly denied the allegations and said his opponents are trying to hijack the #MeToo movement for political gain.
The clash was touched off by an open letter – addressed to Trujillo but shared publicly – written by Laura Bonar, chief program and policy officer for Albuquerque-based Animal Protection Voters. She said she worked with Trujillo in the 2013 and 2014 sessions, when he sponsored bills important to her organization.
Bonar accused Trujillo of propositioning her, touching her inappropriately and retaliating when she rejected his advances. She called on him to resign.
“You tried to sexually exploit me when I needed your help,” Bonar said. “You abused your power as a legislator, and with it the trust of your constituents.”
Trujillo – a Democrat from Nambé, just north of Santa Fe – struck back with a harsh statement of his own.
“These charges are lies of the worst sort, because we live in an age where anybody can say anything without proof and be believed,” he said in a written statement to reporters.
Trujillo, a business owner and scientist who serves as vice chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, is seeking re-election this year to his fourth two-year term.
“I thought there was a limit to how low my opponents could go,” he said. “I was wrong.”
The back-and-forth comes as allegations of sexual harassment have roiled the Capitol over the past year. Women who work at the Roundhouse have described it as a minefield of inappropriate comments, unwanted touching and leering looks.
In a joint statement Wednesday, Democratic leaders in the state House suggested the allegations could result in an internal investigation. They said Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and the House majority and minority leaders will follow a new anti-harassment policy – adopted in January – and meet with an outside attorney to determine how to proceed.
Under the policy, investigations can be launched even without the formal filing of a complaint. But the Democratic leaders said they would consider Bonar’s wishes when deciding whether to conduct an investigation, adding, “Sexual harassment has no place in the Legislature or in our society and will not be tolerated.”
The joint statement was issued by Egolf, Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque, Majority Whip Doreen Yvonne Gallegos of Las Cruces and Rep. D. Wonda Johnson of Church Rock.
‘Quid pro quo’
Bonar, for her part, said she doesn’t want money or an apology – just for Trujillo to resign and end his re-election campaign.
“I was but one victim of your sexual quid pro quo mentality,” she said.
Her attorney, Levi Monagle, said there was no formal process in 2013 and 2014 for Bonar to file a complaint. The misconduct itself happened at the Roundhouse, he said.
Bonar felt comfortable coming forward Wednesday, Monagle said, because of the #MeToo movement sweeping the country and the passage of a revised anti-harassment policy in the Legislature.
Her letter was published Wednesday on a website maintained by Brava, a group founded by Democratic women.
In it, she accused Trujillo of holding his “power as a state legislator over my head” and said she was initially too afraid to speak up.
“When I finally worked up the courage to tell you that I was not willing to succumb to your advances,” Bonar said in the letter, “you did what I feared you would do: you stormed off angrily and shut me out of the legislative process. You stalled work on animal protection legislation, and that legislation died.”
Trujillo has repeatedly sponsored legislation backed by Animal Protection Voters, and he describes himself as an animal lover on his campaign website. Just this year, he backed a proposal to impose a fee on dog and cat food to pay for spay-neuter programs.
Animal Protection Voters, in any case, turned its back on him Wednesday, supporting Bonar’s calls for him to resign and withdraw from the race.
“Laura Bonar is a long-term, trusted employee of Animal Protection Voters,” Elisabeth Jennings, the group’s executive director, said in a written statement. “She has told us what happened, and I and our board believe her.”
Trujillo fired back at the organization, challenging it “to stop participating in this lie, and not to sacrifice the larger mission of protecting the most vulnerable and voiceless to dangerous political games.”
Trujillo faces a Democratic opponent, Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, in the June 5 primary election. No Republican is campaigning to represent House District 46, which Trujillo won in 2012.
Romero, an entrepreneur, has faced controversy of her own. Earlier this year, she agreed to repay about $1,100 to a regional coalition in Los Alamos – where she served as the group’s director – after an audit questioned spending on alcohol and baseball tickets.
Monagle, Bonar’s attorney, said Bonar isn’t affiliated with the Romero campaign and hasn’t met her.
Trujillo, meanwhile, called on the Santa Fe political establishment to defend him.
“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing,” he said.
His own conscience, he added, is clean.
“Now is the time to look in the mirror and decide whether or not you can live with yourselves for the choice you’re making to stay silent,” Trujillo said.
But prominent Democrats didn’t come to his immediate aid.
Marg Elliston, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said she was grateful Bonar came forward.
“We’re very disappointed that Rep. Trujillo’s initial response is to accuse the victim of lies, and we encourage Ms. Bonar to use any remedies available to get the facts out,” Elliston said. “The party stands with those who seek justice.”
The joint statement by Speaker Egolf and other top Democrats called the allegations “serious and deeply troubling.”
Other sex allegations
Specific allegations of sexual misconduct have been levied against several current and former New Mexico lawmakers in recent years – including at least one accusation of a then-lawmaker seeking sex in exchange for a vote during the 2009 session.
One lawmaker said last year that female lobbyists, in particular, are frequent targets for harassment.
Top-ranking lawmakers adopted a revised anti-harassment policy before the start of this year’s 30-day session – the first time they had done so since 2008.
At least two claims have already been filed against sitting legislators under the new policy, but the Legislature’s administrative arm has declined to make the allegations and identities of the involved parties public, because a review found no cause to warrant formal charges of wrongdoing.
All 112 lawmakers were also required to undergo harassment training before the start of this year’s session. Legislators had last received such training in 2004.