Representatives of eight organizations called for a powerful state senator to resign Monday or for his legislative colleagues to remove him from office if he didn’t leave, in an open letter containing new allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.
The accusations against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto come a month after a lobbyist for Progress Now New Mexico, Marianna Anaya, accused the Albuquerque Democrat of sexually harassing her. Seven of the eight people accusing Ivey-Soto on Monday in the open letter were not named but gave the organizations’ permission to share their experiences, the letter states.
After receiving Anaya’s complaint in February, legislative leaders opened an investigation into Ivey-Soto, adhering to a system where complaints against state lawmakers are kept confidential in a procedure overseen by other lawmakers.
Ivey-Soto told New Mexico In Depth on Monday that he “will participate” in that investigation, but declined to respond to the specific allegations listed in Monday’s three-page letter, sent to state Senate leadership and media organizations. He also declined to respond to the allegations leveled against him last month by Anaya.
One of the complainants in Monday’s open letter, Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, isn’t satisfied with the current process in which lawmakers police themselves, saying it doesn’t build an atmosphere of trust. “Right now, when victims file a complaint they are turning it over to friends and colleagues of the lawmaker,” she said. “It’s a conflict of interest.”
“It’s time for that space to be safe and professional for everyone,” Ferguson added, saying that anyone at the statehouse who abuses the power of their office should be held accountable. “We need wholesale cleanup.”
Ferguson would prefer to see the two-year-old independent state ethics commission investigate complaints against lawmakers accused of sexual harassment or bullying, she said. That would make the Roundhouse a safer space for women, particularly those working as lobbyists, Ferguson added.
The state ethics commission would have the authority to investigate lawmakers if the Legislature gave the agency its consent in the form of an agreement, said Raul Burciaga, the director of the Legislative Council Service.
So far, the Legislature has “not solicited our involvement,” Jeremy Farris, executive director of the New Mexico Ethics Commission, said.
In an interview, Ferguson said she and Viki Harrison, who is on national staff with Common Cause, represent one of the allegations included in Monday’s open letter in which Ivey-Soto is said to have “repeatedly referred to two female executive directors of one of the undersigned groups as “Lips and Hips.”
Ivey-Soto, when asked about the “lips and hips” allegation, declined to comment.
“We have a combined experience of 40 years up there,” Ferguson said about the track record of herself and Harrison at the Roundhouse. “It’s demeaning, and disrespectful to our professional experience and reputation.”
Ferguson said the broader issue is a toxic culture at the Roundhouse. She said she just hired two new lobbyists, and feels the need to tell them there are certain lawmakers they shouldn’t be alone with. In addition to sexual harassment, lobbyists are bullied she said. “They’ll get within inches of your face and scream at you,” she said. “It’s traumatizing. I had that experience in my first session in 2006.”
Monday’s letter alleges Ivey-Soto touched women inappropriately on three separate occasions.
Another allegation states that Ivey-Soto “screamed and cursed at multiple high-ranking female electoral officials, so loudly and aggressively in one instance that a nearby advocate inquired as to whether the official felt safe or required assistance.”
New Mexico In Depth inquired with the office of the state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, whether the allegation referred to her. Her communications director, Alex Curtas, said “We can’t comment while the legislative investigation is ongoing, but we will fully cooperate with that investigation if called upon to do so.”
The letter states that, “taken individually, each of the incidents described above are disturbing and worthy of formal investigation. Taken collectively, they are indisputably intolerable, and demonstrate that Senator Ivey-Soto has a long-standing and deeply engrained pattern of abusive behavior towards women.”
State Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, a Democrat from Albuquerque, on Monday swatted away the idea that the Legislature doesn’t have a zero tolerance policy against bullying and sexual harassment.
“I think it’s outrageous to think we don’t have a zero tolerance policy for bad behavior,” Stewart said. “It’s there in black and white, and we all sign that policy.”
“If you don’t like our policy, tell us what to change” in it, Stewart said.
The Legislature’s anti-harassment policy lays out how a lawmaker is investigated when accused of inappropriate behavior. Once an allegation is made, a sub-committee of lawmakers with the assistance of an attorney investigates that complaint.
The last complaint lodged against a sitting lawmaker happened in 2018 when a lobbyist accused a member of the House of Representatives of harassment, sparking an internal investigation by that chamber’s leadership. But the case ended without a definitive resolution after the woman refused to testify under oath. A few months later, the lawmaker accused of harassment lost a primary election, ending his bid for a new legislative term.
Editor’s note: In the original version of this story, New Mexico In Depth misspelled the last name of Jeremy Farris, the executive director of the New Mexico Ethics Commission. The story has been updated to correct the mistake.