Embattled Senate whip Padilla: ‘This is not who I am’

Michael Padilla

State Sen. Michael Padilla appeared unmoved Wednesday amid mounting calls for him to withdraw from the race for lieutenant governor over years-old harassment lawsuits.

A day after reports the Albuquerque Democrat was seeking the advice of family and friends on whether to continue his campaign, he sent a lengthy statement to reporters that sought to explain the allegations against him and started with a short declarative sentence: “Michael Padilla is a candidate for lieutenant governor.”

But some Democrats continued to distance themselves from their party’s Senate whip.

The Young Democrats of New Mexico issued a statement urging Padilla to drop out not only of the primary race but to resign from the state Senate, too.

The group said it will reject any candidate with allegations of harassment in their background.

“We need leaders who will fight to change the culture of systemic sexual harassment, assault and violence,” the group said in a statement also signed by the Bernalillo County Young Democrats and University of New Mexico College Democrats. “We stand with victims, and we are committed to promoting candidates who do the same.”

The allegations that Padilla harassed women stem from 2006, when the city of Albuquerque tasked him with overhauling its problem-plagued 911 center. Women working at the center later sued the city government, accusing Padilla of creating a sexually hostile work environment. The lawsuits charged Padilla asked women out on dates despite repeated rejections, was seen driving past one woman’s residence, asked about the boyfriends of female employees and suggested women belonged at home raising children and making tortillas.

The city government settled one case, and a jury in federal court sided with his accuser in another lawsuit after a trial, awarding her attorneys fees.

Padilla has strenuously denied the allegations.

“This is not who I am, and this is not a pattern,” the senator said in his statement Wednesday. “This was 11 years ago, and there has never been an accusation like this again.”

Padilla has been adamant, however, that he was not engaged in sexual misconduct, previously describing himself as “railroaded” by city employees frustrated with his work.

“Some individuals may be conflating two distinct matters,” the senator said in his statement, maintaining the allegations against him stem from “three managers working together during a stressful reorganization effort and are demonstratively different from the examples getting national attention.”

The allegations were not news to anyone who has closely followed New Mexico politics. Democrats even raised the cases when he entered the primary race for state Senate in 2012.

But amid growing scrutiny of sexual harassment nationally, particularly in politics and the media, the allegations appeared to become a particular liability.

In a statement to The Associated Press last week, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Padilla should withdraw from the race.

Lujan Grisham’s remarks rankled some Democrats.

While the Albuquerque congresswoman has sought to position herself as her party’s nominee presumptive nominee, Jeff Apodaca, another Democratic candidate for governor, said Wednesday he believes her remarks were inappropriate.

It should be up to Democratic Party primary voters to decide whether Padilla is their nominee for lieutenant governor, he said.

The episode has presented a quandary for the party, with one of Padilla’s potential running mates denouncing him months before the primary election in June.

The controversy, as well as national outrage surrounding what seem to be new scandals each day involving men in power harassing or assaulting women, has in the meantime spurred new scrutiny on the state Legislature’s policies regarding sexual misconduct.

The Legislature’s two-page policy, last revised in 2008, tasks staff directors or legislative clerks with investigating allegations of misconduct internally and confidentially.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the last time lawmakers underwent specific training for sexual misconduct was 2004.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque, told The Associated Press she doesn’t believe there is a simple enough process for women lawmakers and aides to file sexual harassment complaints. That keeps many from coming forward at the Capitol, she said.

If the New Mexico House and Senate adopt a simpler process, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you start seeing more women come forward,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said earlier this week he wants legislators to consider updating the policy and adopt new training.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced her office would provide sexual harassment awareness training for lobbyists.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.

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