Letter outlines more allegations of sexual harassment and bullying from Sen. Ivey-Soto

Lawmakers are investigating one of their own, former state Senator points out

By: - March 22, 2022 5:05 am

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Getty Images)

Demands for Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto’s resignation are growing, as are the allegations of misconduct against him.

In a letter to New Mexico Senate leadership Monday, Ivey-Soto is accused of eight more incidents where he acted inappropriately with women working as lobbyists in Santa Fe, creating a “larger pattern,” according to the letter’s signatories.

The letter is signed by nine people representing various organizations that work with lawmakers to pass legislation. It follows and affirms support for Marianna Anaya, who filed an official complaint against Ivey-Soto with the Legislature at the end of February. Her accusations are being investigated under the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy.

I should never have to counsel my staff in advance of a legislative session as to who they should avoid being alone with.

– Heather Ferguson, Common Cause New Mexico

Heather Ferguson with Common Cause New Mexico said the coalition of organizations sent the letter because several people came forward with similar experiences as news broke that Anaya was stepping forward. She said several of the people sharing experiences in the letter also plan to file formal complaints against the state senator from Albuquerque.

“All of our organizations were being deluged with phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook posts of reports of other individuals who also had stories that they felt were important to get out there and wanted to attest that they had been empowered by Marianna filing her complaint and wanted to help support her complaints,” Ferguson said.

Common Cause New Mexico is just one of the organizations that signed the letter sent to lawmakers, which states, “our organizations have been contacted by many other women who have suffered sexual harassment, gender-based bullying, or inappropriate advances from Senator Ivey-Soto.”

Olé, Equality New Mexico, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, NM Native Vote, NAVA Education Project, The Center for Civic Action and The Center for Civic Policy also signed the letter.

Sen. Ivey-Soto accused of sexual misconduct by voting rights lobbyist

Anaya responded to the letter in a tweet, saying “Thank you to every courageous woman for sharing your story about Ivey-Soto’s disgusting behavior toward you. I see you and I’m with you. Together, we can shoulder the burden so it’s not so heavy on any one of us. Thank you for speaking out.”

Anaya said Ivey-Soto groped her during an event years ago and continued to speak with her inappropriately as she turned him down repeatedly. She said her dismissal of his advances led to retaliation by hindering legislation she was trying to advance, including an expansive voting rights package during the 2022 regular legislative session.

In an interview with Source New Mexico shortly after the Anaya complaint was initially filed, Ivey-Soto denied retaliation and said he apologized to her.

Calls to Ivey-Soto were unreturned before this story was published. We will update this post if he responds.

The allegations do not name specific people but the details of the behavior are along the lines of the experiences Anaya said she faced.

Alcohol, specifically Ivey-Soto’s use, is a consistent presence.

“While drinking at the Bull Ring, Senator Ivey-Soto began rubbing the knee of a female
lobbyist – then began aggressively rubbing his hand up the inside of her thigh,” the letter states.

During a night drinking at the Rio Chama, Ivey Soto asked a 24-year-old lobbyist, “a number of inappropriate personal questions before inviting her to ‘meet privately with [him] in [his] office,” according to the letter.

This incident was reported to Senate leadership, the letter states, but it’s unclear if any action was taken to investigate the matter or reprimand Ivey-Soto. Ferguson said nothing was done.

Transparency on these matters is limited.

The Legislature’s anti-harassment policy has barriers to block public access to the investigation. The decision to proceed with the investigation is done in secret by Ivey-Soto’s Senate colleagues.

“This is the fox guarding the hen house here,” said former state Sen. Dede Feldman.

Feldman served in the state Senate from 1997-2013 and still works with organizations such as Common Cause during legislative sessions.

“Shouldn’t there really be an independent investigation of this rather than legislators themselves sitting in judgment of one of their peers, one of the people whose vote they need to pass their legislation, whose willingness to hear their bill is important to them?” she said.

Feldman and Ferguson said the anti-harassment policy should be changed to allow for an independent body like the New Mexico Ethic Commission, which was adopted into the state constitution by voters in 2018 to investigate these claims.

Feldman said the anti-harassment policy does not include language allowing for a independent investigation “because legislators didn’t want it included. So that’s something that could be remedied.”

Ferguson said the Legislature’s process could be harmful for people who file complaints, since the investigators can be “the colleagues and sometimes friends of the individuals that are being accused.” That can also cause distrust of the very system created to help, she added.

“The issue is that our process right now is so flawed that so many individuals who have been victims up there feared retaliation,” Ferguson said. “We don’t have any whistleblower protections built into this.”

Any changes to the anti-harassment policy require a process similar to passing a bill, so legislators would ultimately have to agree to an independent body investigating complaints against the other legislators.

Legislators are shielded by the policy barring people from speaking specifically about the case. The same goes for the Legislative Counsel Services, which oversees the matter.

“They can’t confirm the special counsel has been hired. They can’t confirm once probable cause is actually found. And so the public is just left wondering constantly,” Ferguson said.

The public only knows about specifics of the allegations and that the investigation is ongoing from the parties involved. And even then, the parties are advised to stay tight-lipped on the process.

Sexual misconduct allegation against Sen. Ivey-Soto to be investigated

At some point members of the Senate Ethic Committee will receive a report from counsel hired to investigate the claims against Ivey-Soto. What happens from there is another red flag, Ferguson said.

“The policy is unclear as to whether or not one’s probable cause is determined by this ethics subcommittee by the special counsel that they hired.”

Attempts to reach members of that subcommittee were also unsuccessful before this article was published.

Ultimately, Feldman and Ferguson said a safe workplace environment is key.

“I should never have to counsel my staff in advance of a legislative session as to who they should avoid being alone with,” Ferguson said.

“It’s possible that he’s innocent, and that these are overblown charges. But, you know, we keep getting people calling us. We even had another person call today,” Feldman said. “The New Mexico Senate needs to be a safe and friendly place. I know it can be that. It ought to be a place where no one is afraid to be alone with a senator in a room, and that fear is what I’m getting from prorating these statements.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.