Disclosure: The author of this article has opined on this issue, and his girlfriend is among those who pushed for Padilla to leave the lieutenant governor’s race.
Even as he ended his bid for lieutenant governor on Monday, Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla continued denying allegations that he created a “sexually hostile” workplace while tasked with overhauling Albuquerque’s 911 dispatch center a decade ago.
Instead of apologizing to women who accused him of repeatedly asking for dates despite objections, making sex jokes, and saying women belonged at home having babies and making tortillas, Padilla said his mistake was enacting reform too quickly.
“I accept full responsibility for making too many changes too fast at the 911 communications center in Albuquerque in 2006, which made the work environment too stressful,” Padilla said in a statement released to the media on Monday. “If I had to do this again, I would have spent more time understanding the capabilities of the individuals, and used that information to develop a more cohesive implementation plan for all of the needed changes at the 911 communications center.”
Padilla’s statement stood in contrast to the apologies issued in recent weeks by many men across the nation who have been accused of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior toward women.
A City of Albuquerque investigation validated some allegations made against Padilla a decade ago. 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.
Instead of addressing that issue in the statement ending his campaign for lieutenant governor, Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said, “The topic of workplace harassment has a large spectrum of complicated, individual situations, and I do not want to be a distraction as we come together as New Mexicans to solve this unacceptable workplace issue.”
One question that remains unanswered, as many other men in politics, Hollywood, the news media and elsewhere have come under pressure to resign or been fired, is whether Padilla’s Democratic colleagues in the N.M. Senate will allow him to remain in leadership as their whip. Another question is whether he should remain in the Senate at all.
The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, helped force Padilla’s hand as it relates to the lieutenant governor’s race recently when she said he should drop out. “My position on sexual harassment is clear: it is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated by me or in my administration. Michael Padilla’s actions were wrong,” Lujan Grisham said. “There is no room for excuses and he should withdraw his candidacy for lieutenant governor.”
But Lujan Grisham has been silent on Padilla’s future in the Senate. Her campaign hasn’t responded to three emails from NMPolitics.net asking if she believes he should remain in the Senate and continue in his leadership position.
Republicans have hammered Lujan Grisham on that point. “If mistreatment and harassment means Padilla can’t run a political campaign, it certainly means he can’t serve in the New Mexico Senate,” Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi has said.
The Young Democrats of New Mexico have also asked for Padilla’s resignation from the Senate. “Senator Michael Padilla’s actions were unacceptable, and we ask that he hold himself accountable,” the group said in a statement.
The Legislature is working on an update to its harassment policy, but Senate Democratic leaders haven’t said much about Padilla’s future there. After Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, said it was shocking that Democratic senators put Padilla in a position of leadership, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said Padilla “did an excellent job as a whip.”
“We have the right to pick our people, just as she has the right to pick her people,” Papen was quoted by the Albuquerque Journal as saying.
And Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said he’s going to “wait and see” about Padilla’s future as whip.
“There’s going to be a discussion in the caucus,” Wirth, D-Santa Fe, was quoted by The Santa Fe New Mexican as saying. “… Any allegation of sexual harassment or creating a sexually hostile work environment is concerning to me.”
Lujan Grisham’s call for Padilla to leave the lieutenant governor’s race was widely praised in Democratic Party circles, but not universally. Another Democratic candidate for governor, Jeff Apodaca, was quoted by The New Mexican as saying her call for him to step aside was inappropriate and voters should decide Padilla’s future.
Some said they were torn by the situation. Lissa Knudsen, the board chair for the N.M. Breastfeeding Task Force, pointed out on Facebook that Padilla sponsored a bill in the last legislative session to enable incarcerated mothers to breastfeed their children.
“This bill was controversial and it required a sponsor who was willing to stand up against the norms on behalf of some of our state’s most vulnerable women,” Knudsen wrote.
She said Padilla should “face consequences,” but she’s “unclear about what level of atonement is appropriate.” And Knudsen called on the Legislature to “take a good hard look at the misogynistic culture they enable and support.”
“How can we both show compassion and ensure that it won’t happen again?” Knudsen asked.