The system protected Michael Padilla for too long. No more.

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COMMENTARY: I’ve known about state Sen. Michael Padilla’s troubling history for years. When he was tasked with overhauling Albuquerque’s 911 dispatch center a decade ago, before he was a senator, female employees accused him of repeatedly asking for dates despite objections, making sex jokes, and saying women belonged at home, having babies and making tortillas.

Padilla has always denied the accusations, saying he was “railroaded.” But these aren’t frivolous, unexamined claims.

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

A City of Albuquerque investigation validated some allegations. The city settled one lawsuit for $149,000. A jury sided with one of Padilla’s accusers in a second lawsuit, finding the city liable for subjecting the woman to a “sexually hostile work environment.” The city paid $1,200 to the woman and more than $101,000 in legal fees.

And a background check discovered Padilla faced “allegations of improper conduct and harassment” before he worked for the city, a legal document in one of those cases states.

I never got around to writing about Padilla’s troubling past during his successful Senate campaigns in 2012 and 2014, or when Senate Democrats elected him to their leadership team earlier this year, or when he announced his campaign for lieutenant governor months ago.

This journalist did nothing. The system that protects men did just that, and I played my part.

Then something astounding happened. A woman spoke up, and people listened.

My girlfriend, Sarah Silva, didn’t know about Padilla’s history until I mentioned it months ago – while toying around with the idea, once again, of doing a story I’d never get around to writing. Sarah complained on Facebook about Democrats allowing Padilla’s ascent. Other women asked her about it. She sent them information.

Sarah’s most powerful post came on Nov. 16. She said she wouldn’t vote for a Democratic ticket that included Padilla and tagged the frontrunner for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Associated Press interviewed Sarah about the situation, and Lujan Grisham too.

Lujan Grisham danced with Padilla weeks earlier at his annual matanza. But the day after Sarah’s Facebook post, she told the AP that Padilla should quit the lieutenant governor’s race.

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Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Joseph Cervantes – one of Padilla’s Senate colleagues – told the AP he believed Padilla’s accusers. Though Padilla’s history was known, Cervantes told Sarah on Facebook that too many of his colleagues “were nonetheless accepting. Some of us were not.”

State Rep. Angelica Rubio and Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara rescinded endorsements of Padilla in heartfelt Facebook posts. Gandara credited Sarah with making her aware of Padilla’s past.

Padilla remains in the race, but his days as a candidate are numbered. He’s also facing calls to resign from the Senate.

We’re in a reckoning. Men have exploited power to harass and assault women without consequence for too long. Recent events suggest that may be changing. I hope so.

To Sarah and other women who are speaking out: Thank you for your courage. I’m sorry I never wrote the article I intended. I’ll work to become a better journalist.

I’m grateful that you’re speaking, and that others are hearing you. I hear you. Please, keep it up.

Heath Haussamen is NMPolitics.net’s editor and publisher. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.

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