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SANTA FE – Facing efforts to force him out, state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto resigned on his own from a powerful committee post Thursday after meeting with the top two Democrats in the Senate.
His decision to step down as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee came as Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart this week accelerated the push to remove him, citing sexual harassment allegations and the need to maintain a safe environment at the Roundhouse.
In a one-page resignation letter, Ivey-Soto, a Democrat, thanked Stewart and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth for meeting with him earlier this week to discuss public service and “how we in the Senate may best serve the State of New Mexico.”
Ivey-Soto’s four-year term as a senator representing part of Albuquerque runs through the end of 2024, and he said serving the constituents of District 15 is his priority, not titles.
In the letter, Ivey-Soto said he didn’t want to be a distraction or harm the Senate as an institution.
“I know I still have much to learn about being a servant leader, and I commit myself to improvement in that area,” Ivey-Soto said. “The problems we face are too great, and we must all work together.”
A Senate committee meeting had been set later Thursday to weigh Stewart’s recommendation that Ivey-Soto be removed as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, a panel that vets elections and ethics legislation and holds confirmation hearings for executive appointees.
The meeting was canceled Thursday.
It isn’t clear who will replace Ivey-Soto. As president pro tem, Stewart has influence over the composition of Senate committees, but the chamber’s full approval is required for changes.
The next 60-day session of the Legislature is set to begin in January.
In a brief interview, Stewart said the makeup of Senate committees is like a jigsaw puzzle, and she hasn’t yet settled on a recommendation. It isn’t as simple as moving up the longest-serving member of the committee, she said.
“I’m just looking for the best person,” Stewart said. “I’m not going to be bound by seniority.”
As it stands now, the committee’s vice chairman is Democrat Leo Jaramillo of Española.
Shortly after this year’s legislative session, Ivey-Soto was accused by lobbyist Marianna Anaya of groping and pinching her in 2015, and of sexual harassment and abusive behavior this year. She levied the allegations in an open letter in February, called on Ivey-Soto to resign and filed a harassment complaint with the Legislature.
A month later, a coalition of advocacy groups accused Ivey-Soto of a pattern of abusive behavior against women.
Ivey-Soto has vigorously denied the allegations. Earlier this month, he said his attorney had been notified that the investigation into the harassment complaint had been suspended indefinitely – with no determination of probable cause by an investigative subcommittee that would trigger public hearings and potentially discipline.
The subcommittee’s decision has not extinguished calls for Ivey-Soto to be expelled from the Senate, as a coalition of progressive advocacy groups held a news conference outside the Roundhouse this week calling for his ouster and an overhaul of the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy.
Jessie Damazyn, a spokeswoman for the coalition, urged the Senate on Thursday to take broader steps “to fix the broken reporting and investigatory process and to ensure safety at the Roundhouse moving forward.”
She also said Ivey-Soto “doesn’t belong in elected office, period.”
Ivey-Soto, now in his 10th year in the Senate, has given no indication that he intends to leave before his term is up. All 42 senators are on the ballot in 2024.
Stewart said she appreciated Ivey-Soto for “taking the actions he has to ensure we can move forward together.”
“Our job,” she said in a written statement, “is complex and can be very difficult but it’s important that everyone feel equally included and able to engage in the process.”
Wirth, the majority leader, said Ivey-Soto made the right decision.
“Today marks a difficult but important step in the right direction for the State Senate and our caucus,” Wirth said.
A panel of high-ranking legislative leaders, the Legislative Council, began discussing a proposal this week to revise the anti-harassment policy. Lawmakers are also weighing plans to introduce legislation next year that would lift some of the secrecy provisions now built into the law.
Dan Boyd of the Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this article.