Advocacy groups continue to ramp up the pressure on state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, pushing lawmakers to remove the Albuquerque Democrat — accused of sexual harassment and bullying — from the Legislature.
“Senator Ivey-Soto is dangerous,” Lan Sena, policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, said during a news conference held outside the state Capitol on Monday. “He should not be allowed in this building.”
Contacted Monday, Ivey-Soto said he was informed “further action on that complaint was postponed indefinitely” and questioned his critics’ challenges to his fitness for office.
“They want me to be expelled from the Senate on the basis of one complaint on which no probable cause was found,” he said. “That’s an interesting form of justice they have.”
Sena and others at the event also called for the creation of an independent body separate from the Legislature to investigate claims and reports of bullying and other inappropriate behavior rather than let state lawmakers conduct such inquiries, as is the case now.
Pressure on Ivey-Soto increased Monday as members of the Legislative Council convened to discuss revising the Legislature’s anti-harassment guidelines, two days after Ivey-Soto was stripped of one committee chairmanship.
Though the Legislative Council, a 16-member body of lawmakers charged with administering legislative policies and procedures, did not conduct any formal votes on the issue, it did discuss adding a fifth member to the two four-person legislative ethics commissions — one charged with investigating sexual harassment complaints against legislators; the other charged with holding hearings on them if the first committee finds probable cause to continue.
A fifth member would not be a member of the Legislature, said Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, who proposed the addition. He said a fifth member would break any 2-2 tie votes that basically stall the process without any resolution.
As such, the complaint “just sits there,” Ely said. “It’s not good for the complainant, it’s not good for the respondent and it’s not good for the public … who has no idea what’s going on. It just sits there in a vacuum.”
Sena said after the council meeting that even the addition of a fifth member “doesn’t go far toward creating a completely independent body to review” such complaints.
“It’s still troubling if they [members of the Legislature] think they can police themselves,” she said.
Ely said during the council meeting the Legislature will have to wait until its next scheduled session in January to change some of the statute-driven guidelines in the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy, so ideas such as removing lawmakers from the investigative process or prohibiting participants in the process from speaking publicly about it cannot be immediately implemented.
Critics say confidentiality policies prohibit participants from sharing information such as the complaint itself or the behind-the-scenes procedures to interview and collect data for investigative reports.
Several advocates for change who spoke at the news conference said it’s neither fair nor transparent to have legislative colleagues and friends involved in the investigatory arm of such complaints.
Some lawmakers saw it differently.
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said during the council meeting she has confidence the Legislature can police itself. But others on the council said it’s clear the public has little if any confidence in its anti-harassment procedures.
Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the process is “broken” and needs fixing. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said, “it is very clear to me that the public does not have faith in this process.”
Other lawmakers, including Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said the public, the complainant and the accused all need “closure.”
Whether the Legislature can do more to make such investigations more open remains unclear and was barely touched upon in the afternoon meeting. It’s also unclear where the legislative investigation of Ivey-Soto stands. Chris Nordstrum, spokesman for Senate Democrats, declined comment on the matter Monday.
When Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said during the meeting there appeared to be a resolution to the Ivey-Soto case, Stewart cut him off and said the Legislature cannot discuss that because of confidentiality requirements.
Nordstrum said it is within the Senate’s power to reprimand, censure or expel a sitting member. He said any such action would happen only after an investigation into that member’s behavior was complete and said it would require a two-thirds vote of the 42-member Senate to support such a move.
Monday’s events came more than a week after the Santa Fe Reporter published a confidential report that said an attorney the state hired to look into allegations against Ivey-Soto by lobbyist Marianna Anaya found probable cause to pursue the investigation further.
Ivey-Soto told The New Mexican earlier this month he contacted the FBI to report what he said was an extortion attempt by Stewart — an allegation Stewart called “a ridiculous charge” in a Monday interview.
Asked if the investigation into Ivey-Soto was ongoing, Stewart said “the interim ethics committee process has ended with no resolution. And that’s what we’re trying to fix in the Legislative Council — to try to do a little massaging of the process so we don’t just stop and throw up our hands and not do anything.”
Meanwhile, Anaya filed a lawsuit this month seeking to overturn the law that restricts her from speaking publicly about the matter, claiming it violates First Amendment rights.
On Saturday, after Senate Democrats voted to nominate Stewart as president pro tem, a position she has held since 2021, the Albuquerque Democrat announced she was stripping Ivey-Soto of his chairmanship of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee.
The Senate will convene a meeting of the Senate Committees' Committee, which oversees and appoints legislative committee assignments, on Thursday to consider removing Ivey-Soto from his position as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.
Stewart said the Legislative Council is scheduled to convene again on Oct. 11 to review Ely’s recommendation and possibly vote on it — which the council can do without waiting for the next legislative session.
Correction: The original version of this story said Senate Democrats plan to caucus Thursday to discuss removing Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto from his position as chair of the Senate Rules Committee. It's actually the Senate Committees' Committee that will convene Thursday for this action.