Over the past several years, our country has experienced an historic change in the way sexual assaults against women have been considered and judged, sparking what is commonly referred to as the “Me Too movement.” This new willingness to empower the survivors of sexual violence and harassment has rightfully brought down many powerful people who abused their positions in life. It has also brought to the forefront important discussions about powerful people and the privileges they hold in our society.
Last month, it was reported Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham paid at least $62,500 from her campaign funds – cleverly marked as “legal expenses” – to a former employee who accused her of sexual assault. Specifically, he claimed the governor grabbed his crotch in front of several witnesses after pouring water on him.
A few things stand out to me: the victim claims this all happened in full view of several other people, while the governor denies this ever happened and calls the accusation an outright lie. Yet, why would anyone make up a false story when multiple people are in the room and who can quickly confirm or deny the event ever occurred? Second, the governor has been calling her accuser, a former campaign press spokesperson, a liar for more than a year, but what does that say about her own judgement and character if she hired “a liar” to help communicate her campaign message and win an election? This whole incident reeks of corruption and abuse of position.
The Me Too movement has set the standard in sexual assault cases that we must “believe all women.” However, if that is the standard, why do we not believe men when similar accusations are leveled against women in authority? Sexual assault is an egregious offense, whether perpetrated by a man or a woman.
The governor has continuously denied these accusations, yet she still felt compelled to pay off this former employee anyway in order to “avoid a costly court case.” This astonishing turn of events has received almost no critical comments from New Mexico’s political pundits whose job it is to scrutinize the actions of those in authority. This deafening silence is a classic example of the double standard applied to some powerful people and why it is so frustrating that these select few are given a free pass.
Women in powerful positions should be held to the same standard as men when it comes to inappropriate behavior, and the governor’s behavior falls way below that standard. The reality is that if a male governor were accused of what Gov. Lujan Grisham was accused of, there would have been immediate calls for that person to resign; compare the public outcry over the allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to the sound of crickets in Gov. Lujan Grisham’s case.
Key questions remain, and New Mexicans should ponder the following: 1) why is our current governor being held to a different standard, and 2) had you been accused of something as serious and troubling as what our governor was accused of, would you not defend your honor in a court of law if the charges were untrue, or would you hope the accusations would quietly go away by giving the accuser thousands of dollars to shut up?
There has never been a time in history where decisive leadership has been more needed, and yet so lacking. Lujan Grisham needs to be forthright and up front with New Mexicans and should show some personal integrity – be honest with the people of this state, own up to her mistakes, and be the leader New Mexico deserves.