“I will not yield.”

Those are the words I finally said to my fellow Democratic State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto during the Senate Floor debate over House Bill 20, the Healthy Workplaces Act, during the final days of the 2021 legislative session.

Since then, I have received so much support from Senate and House members, as well as advocates and voters. I’ve also received a healthy dose of attack from current and former lawmakers, saying “you can’t take the heat,” “you’ve done the same thing to others,” and remarkably, “you better get out if you can’t stand up and take it like a man.”

A little background is in order.

As the Senate co-sponsor of HB 20, I opened the debate on the Senate floor on this groundbreaking legislation to provide earned sick time to hundreds of thousands of New Mexico workers. This legislation, like many bills that make it out alive, was hotly contested. We had businesses versus labor, Republicans versus Democrats, and even splits among Democratic lawmakers over the details of this bill.

We’ve seen good and honest debate in the past over other important bills, such as forming a State Ethics Commission, updating the Public Employees Bargaining Act, the education moonshot in 2019, and the Energy Transition Act.

I know because I’ve sponsored these big bills. I served in the New Mexico House of Representatives for 20 years and have served in the state Senate for seven years now. This year, my colleagues in the Senate elected me president of the Senate, an honor for which I am so thankful and proud. Debate is common. Debate is good. That’s how we create durable policy. Throughout, I’ve never shied away from carrying important and, therefore, controversial bills. And I would put up my track record on these bills against anyone’s.

What happened during the HB 20 debate was not debate. It was an attack. That is why I refused to yield the floor any further to Ivey-Soto. Two of my colleagues, State Sens. Liz Stefanics and Michael Padilla, rose at the same time to halt the proceedings, which is unprecedented in the Senate. They saw what I saw.

Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who was running the House floor at the same time and was kept informed by representatives and his staff, took the wholly unprecedented step of stopping the House floor debate to comment on what was happening in the Senate chamber. He heard what I heard. I have never seen similar actions taken in my 26 years of service as a state lawmaker.

When I was growing up, my sisters and I were physically, verbally and sexually abused by the man my mother married after my father died. I was orphaned as a teenager. Believe me, I know the difference between regular debate and abusive behavior.

I know the House and the Senate pretty well. There are so many good and principled lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers. I also know that the culture of the state Legislature needs to change.

For those who want to tell me to “get out if you can’t stand up and take it like a man,” I have a better idea. How about we get rid of that culture and replace it with one of respect, and collegiality? We can and should have serious debate over our differences, but crossing the line into abusive behavior is not acceptable in our homes, our workplaces, or in our government.

I will never yield to that behavior.

New Mexico Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart is a retired educator from Albuquerque, serving Senate District 17 since 2015. Prior to serving in the Senate, Stewart was a member of the state House of Representatives.

(6) comments

Gene Hill

I was reading this going to find out the details of this attack and see nothing. It would have helped of the senator clued is in here as to what actually happened, it was it just too vicious to repeat? Guess I'll have to look elsewhere.

Sascha Anderson

Thank you, Senator Stewart, for standing up for what is right!

Cynthia Paxton

Interesting commentary by the President Pro Tem who said nothing when she was shushed by the Chair and Vice Chair of Judiciary during the session. She probably was fed up with the nonsense...but she has taken aim at the wrong person. Why was she so offended at the idea that public employees deserve the “life saving” paid sick leave, anyway?

Mike Johnson

Exactly, it shows she played the gender card to stop all debate and critique of her ideas, it is not about gender, it is about her ideas, she wants to cover that fact up.

Beverly Garcia

Any reasonable person who heard the debate would understand why Senator Stewart stopped yielding to the absurd line of questioning. It was not only rude and abusive, but loaded with personal ad hominems that served no purpose but to publicly harass and humiliate. I’ve heard thousands of legislative debates and don’t recall hearing similar bullying tactics used against a male legislator.

Mike Johnson

Sorry lady, you need to deal with that giant oppression chip on your shoulder and get rid of the deck of gender cards you regularly play to stop any critique or discussion of your ideas and opinions and do your job for your constituents. Everything is not always about you. Get over it or get used to it.

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