New Mexico Senate Dems oust colleague from leadership post
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Majority Democrats in the New Mexico Senate on Saturday ousted one of their members from a leadership post amid controversy over past sexual harassment allegations.
The Senate Democratic caucus held a closed-door meeting Saturday and later released a statement saying a majority of Democratic senators voted “to vacate the position” of majority whip that had been held by Sen. Michael Padilla. The lawmakers didn’t immediately pick a replacement for the upcoming legislative session.
The second-term lawmaker from Albuquerque’s South Valley, once a rising figure, withdrew this month from the lieutenant governor’s race amid mounting concern over decade-old allegations that he harassed women at a prior job. Padilla has long denied the accusations.
The embattled politician issued a statement after the meeting saying he appreciated the opportunity to serve as majority whip.
“Tomorrow is another day, and I will work just as hard as I always do. I look forward to continued partnerships with my colleagues to get New Mexico moving in the right direction again,” Padilla said.
The Senate Democrats’ statement says the caucus will meet early in January to elect a new majority whip. The 30-day legislative session starts on Jan. 16.
The caucus’ statement included favorable remarks about Padilla from two other Senate Democratic leaders.
“Senator Padilla is a valued member of the New Mexico state Senate. We look forward to supporting his ongoing legislative efforts to create jobs and help New Mexico families,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said she appreciated Padilla’s accomplishments.
“He is a strong and compassionate advocate for the people of New Mexico,” she said.
Padilla is among numerous officeholders across the country who have faced accusations related to sexual misconduct.
The Legislature is in the process of overhauling sexual harassment rules and disciplinary procedures for lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists and others who visit or work in the Statehouse.
Padilla has long denied accusations in two prior federal lawsuits of harassing women while helping the city of Albuquerque overhaul a problem-plagued emergency call center in 2006. The city ended up settling claims of a sexually hostile work environment stemming from Padilla’s six-week tenure as a supervisor.
Three New Mexico youth groups allied with the Democratic Party have called on Padilla to resign from the Legislature.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a fellow Democrat and a candidate for governor, had urged Padilla to end his campaign that might have paired them together on the Democratic ticket in 2018.
The Senate Democrats’ statement said Saturday’s meeting also included discussion of budget priorities and other legislative topics.
Davenport reported from Phoenix.