“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.