Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Opening day of the next legislative session is in four months.
But it’s been quite a week in the New Mexico Senate – where a legal clash erupted over the handling of a sexual harassment complaint, the president pro tem called on a committee chairman to resign and the chairman reported her to the FBI.
At the center of the storm is Democrat Daniel Ivey-Soto, the Senate Rules Committee chairman who was accused by a lobbyist earlier this year of sexual harassment, which he denies.
He announced in a letter to the Journal this week that an investigation into the complaint against him had concluded without a recommendation of discipline.
Ivey-Soto also accused Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat, of threatening to leak a confidential report on the investigation unless he agreed to step down from his committee post – a charge she denies.
Ivey-Soto said Friday he reported Stewart to federal law enforcement earlier this week, sought out agents who handle public corruption and completed a 30-minute interview with the FBI.
“I believe clearly what she did was wrong,” Ivey-Soto said, “and it was so wrong that it very well could rise to being criminal.”
Stewart called it silly. She wants Ivey-Soto to resign as a committee chairman, she said, but only because some lawmakers and others say they aren’t comfortable participating in meetings he presides over, not because she’s trying to strike a deal.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Stewart said. “I didn’t threaten him.”
She acknowledged having passed on a message from a third-party to a colleague of Ivey-Soto stating that someone wanted him to step down or the report would be released.
But she said she was passing along a message as a sort of mediator, never had access to the report herself and didn’t release it.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Stewart said, “and, of course, I didn’t have any control over the report.”
In any case, she said, she plans to consult with colleagues about whether to remove him as chairman of Senate Rules or a second committee he presides over, the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee.
The FBI doesn’t confirm or deny investigations. Neither Ivey-Soto nor Stewart said they had heard from law enforcement since Ivey-Soto talked to an agent Thursday.
Ivey-Soto is one of the most prominent members of the Senate and is especially influential on election legislation.
In February, lobbyist Marianna Anaya released an open letter accusing Ivey-Soto of sexual harassment and abusive behavior as she sought his support for a voting rights bill before his committee. She also said he had groped her in 2015 when she was a young congressional staffer.
Ivey-Soto denied the allegations, and Anaya filed a complaint under the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy, triggering a confidential investigation and secrecy rule that prevents her from speaking about the case further.
Anaya this week filed a lawsuit challenging the confidentiality law. Her attorney, Levi Monagle, contends it abridges her free speech rights.
Meanwhile, Ivey-Soto’s announcement that the investigation was over turned out not to be the last word.
The Santa Fe Reporter, a weekly newspaper, obtained the confidential special counsel report, which recommended probable cause on two of Anaya’s allegations against Ivey-Soto. It also outlined a previously unreported incident in which he was accused of pinning a woman to a couch after a consensual encounter turned non-consensual.
Ivey-Soto called the allegation false. He also said the special counsel’s report left out material facts and its recommendations weren’t endorsed by the legislative subcommittee that evaluated it.
Democratic members of the Senate are set to meet privately later this month as a caucus.
Whether that deepens or helps resolve the clash isn’t clear.
“I’m sad that so much energy and oxygen have been spent on this issue,” Ivey-Soto said.
Stewart, in turn, said the Democratic caucus is healthy and ready to make wise decisions on how to handle the influx of state revenue amid an oil boom. Changes to the harassment policy and confidentiality law are also on the agenda.
“The caucus has been working together great,” Stewart said. “We have one or two rogue senators – that doesn’t mean the caucus isn’t working together.”