The topic of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and other predatory behavior by men against women recently has been a hot topic in the Roundhouse — as it has been across American in the realms of entertainment, media and politics.
Late last month, Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Las Lunas, wrote an open letter calling for a complete overhaul of the Legislature’s harassment policy and saying she’s not only been a victim of harassment but is personally aware of “sickening quid pro quo propositions where legislators offered political support in exchange for sexual favors.” Just last week, leaders of both parties in the House and Senate released a statement saying they plan to overhaul the New Mexico Legislature’s policy on harassment by the end of January.
I hope it works.
But, as longtime Roundhouse watchers know, sexual harassment and general bad attitudes toward women have existed for a long time. Let’s look at two examples of state senators behaving badly.
Former state Sen. Eddie Barboa — a South Valley Democrat who was in the Senate between 1971 and 1978, and in the House for two years in the mid ’60s — never was accused of sexual harassment per se. But a series of indecent proposals to women got him in legal hot water during his last year in office.
In May 1978, according to news accounts, the senator and two associates were arrested and charged with three counts of trying to induce women into prostitution.
According to a United Press International story, Barboa approached a woman and asked “if she would like to go to work at the ranch of a friend near Grants ‘doing what comes naturally.’ ”
The woman he approached happened to be the daughter of Albuquerque’s police chief at the time.
The cops then had two undercover police women contact Barboa, who made them a similar offer. The senator and his two cohorts were arrested when they went to a motel to talk to the women.
But Eddie beat that rap.
Gilbert Sanchez, a magistrate judge in Belen, who presided over a nonjury trial, found Barboa innocent, saying the state failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Voters had already punished Barboa, who was defeated in the Democratic primary just a few weeks after his arrest. But chances are the prostitution charges were not the only factor in that race.
Before that arrest, he’d already been charged in federal court for selling heroin. Federal prosecutors said that Barboa tried to set up a large sale of heroin with a man he thought was a New York underworld figure but who was actually an undercover agent. Barboa claimed that he was trying to stop drug traffic in Albuquerque’s South Valley when he met the agent. Two trials ended in hung juries. After the second trial, the government decided not to retry him.
The government finally nailed Barboa in 1982 when a jury convicted him of six counts of buying food stamps from U.S. Department of Agriculture agents. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Barboa died in 1989.
Perhaps the most serious sexual predator case to come out of the Legislature — at least the most serious case to go public — was a rape case involving former Sen. Francisco “El Comanche” Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos. In 1985, the last year of his single term in the Senate, a Santa Fe jury found Gonzales guilty of second-degree rape.
The victim was a woman from Grants who worked for another senator during the 1985 legislative session. She’d invited Comanche to her motel room to watch TV. Another senator had told her that he was a “nice person.” On the witness stand, she vehemently denied agreeing to have sex with the senator and said she resisted throughout the incident.
“I wasn’t expecting this to happen,” she testified. “He was a senator.”
Gonzales’ first trial ended in a hung jury. In the second one, the jury found him guilty. He resigned his Senate seat on June 28, 1985.
But he didn’t stay guilty for long. After the verdict, then-state District Judge Tony Scarborough said that prosecutors had improperly referred to misdeeds committed by other politicians, which Scarborough said had unfairly linked Gonzales to Watergate and former President Richard Nixon. So Scarborough threw out the conviction. The state Court of Appeals later upheld Scarborough’s action.
In October 1987, on the eve of a third trial, Gonzales pleaded to a lesser offense, false imprisonment. State District Judge Bruce Kaufman gave him a suspended 18-month sentence. Kaufman said some sort of psychological therapy for the former lawmaker was “indicated strongly.”
One report said the victim in the case “was seen crying after she rushed from the courtroom at the end of the hearing.”
I wonder how many tears have been shed by women since then in cases of Roundhouse abuses that never were reported.