ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s hard to imagine there’s a lawmaker out there who doesn’t know Racheal Gonzales or hasn’t heard what she has to say.
Because what she says is important and because she is just that persistent.
Gonzales, you may recall, is the woman behind the eponymous Racheal’s Law, which allows no-contact orders to be granted for any length of time, including permanently, as part of a rapist’s sentencing or after the offender’s release from prison. It also keeps survivors from having to face their abusers again by permitting them to be represented by attorneys rather than be present themselves at hearings on the orders.
Gonzales, raped at knifepoint as a child, sent thousands of emails, made hundreds of calls, shook hands, rubbed elbows and stayed in the faces of state senators and representatives and anybody else she could enlist to get her bill passed.
Finally, after three legislative sessions, the bill became law in 2016.
It was a lesson, she said, in civics, the civil way of speaking up and the power each citizen has to create change.
But it also taught her that some elected politicians are harder than others to reach – and some seem perfectly happy to be unreachable.
That, she said, isn’t cool.
“If someone cannot pick up the phone or return a call, they don’t deserve to sit in that seat and represent us,” she said. “They just don’t.”
Gonzales, who continues to advocate on behalf of children who are victims of sexual assault and abuse, wrote about her experiences in reaching out to candidates and incumbents during the just-concluded primary election season in an op-ed that ran in the Journal on June 2.
“While advocating as a volunteer for the thousands of voiceless abused children, domestic violence victims and sexual assault victims in the New Mexico capital for five years, I learned that some legislators have compassion for issues and some have their own agenda,” she wrote. “How did I come to this conclusion? Unreturned phone calls and emails from some N.M. lawmakers.”
Many candidates, she said, responded to her. But at least two candidates did not – including Patricia Roybal Caballero, the Democrat state representative from Gonzales’ district in the South Valley since 2013.
Roybal Caballero has not returned an email or call since the early days when Racheal’s Law was a budding idea, she said.
“Racheal’s Law and the advocacy I do for countless victims might have gone nowhere had I been discouraged with the response from Roybal Caballero and given up,” she said. “I wonder how many other constituents have tried to reach out to her and got nowhere and were not as persistent as I was.”
Before the primary election, Gonzales said she decided to reach out again to Roybal Caballero in the hopes of hearing an explanation for the silence. Maybe her emails never arrived. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. She posted comments – polite but pointed ones, she said – on Roybal Candelaria’s Adelante New Mexico page on Facebook.
Instead of an explanation, she was blocked.
“When Caballero blocked me, she took away my right to let other constituents know of my experience with her,” Gonzales said. “It was basically a slap in the face.”
On Thursday, Gonzales filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against Roybal Caballero and another candidate.
“Upon review of the Governmental Conduct Act, I hope that this situation will be taken seriously,” she wrote, referring to the state compliance guide that establishes parameters for ethical and legal conduct of public officers and employees at all levels of government.
Roybal Caballero initially said she would respond to Gonzales’ allegation, but later declined because of the Attorney General’s Office complaint.
“Upon review of the documents you sent, I have no choice but to refrain from a response, as I will have to confer with my attorney concerning the complaint you note was filed,” she wrote. “Thank you for your inquiry.”
Being blocked on social media has recently come under scrutiny after a federal judge ruled last month that President Trump violated the constitutional rights of Americans when he blocked people who criticized him. Some legal experts say the ruling, which Trump is appealing, sets a precedent that other public officials will be under pressure to follow.
But Gonzales said shortly after she filed her complaints, the Attorney General’s Office told her that there is no law in New Mexico yet that governs being blocked on social media.
And so that has inspired another reason for Gonzales to speak up, another bill to get behind.
“I think it’s time to get it introduced and passed,” she said.
Let’s hope when she and others call, our elected officials remember to be responsive to the people they serve.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.