Lawmakers meet in the Roundhouse on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, to weigh changes to the anti-harassment policy in the wake of misconduct allegations and an investigation about state Sen. Daniel Ivey Soto. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
Fallout from a harassment complaint filed against New Mexico Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto has now affected his position of power as a lawmaker in Santa Fe.
Wednesday night, Ivey-Soto submitted a letter resigning from his chair position on the Senate Rules Committee.
Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) is still in office, and for now, he will retain a seat on the 11-member committee that is vital in determining policy priorities and procedures for the part-time Legislature.
His resignation comes as lawmakers were preparing to meet Thursday to discuss Senate Rules assignments, indicating that a committee of legislators were going to begin the process to remove Ivey-Soto from the position anyway.
That process would’ve led to a full vote by Ivey-Soto’s colleagues in the Senate when the Legislature meets for a 60-day session in January. The meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday was canceled, as is Ivey-Soto’s chairman role with Senate Rules.
His resignation as chair, which takes effect immediately, also shields lawmakers from having to take a public position on Ivey-Soto’s behavior in the Roundhouse. The meeting this week would have been the first public discussion and vote by lawmakers about Ivey-Soto after an investigation about the allegations conducted in secret.
This all began in the spring when Ivey-Soto was accused of sexual harassment and misconduct by a lobbyist working with him on voting-rights legislation. The Roundhouse anti-harassment policy allowed for the lobbyist’s complaint to be consider in private, shrouded by confidentiality laws that lawmakers are talking about changing.
A leaked copy of an independent report shows sufficient evidence in two instances that Ivey-Soto is said to have violated the anti-harassment policy, but a panel of lawmakers convened to weigh the case were unable to proceed with the matter, and it’s seemingly over.
In his resignation letter, Ivey-Soto said his prominence in leadership positions has “become a distraction,” and he expressed concern “about the impact this has on the Senate as an institution.”
In response, Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) said she appreciates Ivey-Soto’s decision “for recognizing the needs of our state and taking the actions he has to ensure we can move forward together.”
Senate Floor Leader Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) echoed the statement.
“Sen. Ivey-Soto has done the right thing. Now we move forward, continuing the important policy work voters sent us here to do. When we work together we can accomplish much for our state,” Wirth said.
A coalition of organizations brought forward multiple people who said Ivey-Soto harassed, bullied and assaulted them. Some are calling for Ivey-Soto to be removed from the Senate altogether.
Senate leadership will have to reconcile how to work with those organizations that lobby on behalf of many shared priorities. Jessie Damazyn, a spokesperson for a group of lobbyists that work with Democratic leadership but who also have experienced Ivey-Soto’s abuse, said her colleagues still want him out of office.
“Daniel Ivey-Soto saw the writing on the wall. His colleagues were about to strip away his chairmanship, and he stepped down in order to save face. But that’s not enough,” Damazyn said. “He doesn’t belong in elected office, period. The Senate should expel him.”
While the Senate hasn’t indicated they will remove Ivey-Soto from office, and any effort to do so wouldn’t likely begin until the regular session in 2023, senators are considering changes to the anti-harassment policy that could create greater transparency, accountability and established timelines for how these matters proceed.
These changes have support from Senate leadership. Ivey-Soto himself has said broadly he supports reform of the process, too, though he hasn’t yet specified what changes he thinks need to be made.
This could be that first step in rebuilding the trust between lawmakers, lobbyists and the public in Santa Fe.
“Women have courageously come forward to share their stories and ask for justice, and the special counsel found credible evidence of sexual harassment,” Damazyn said. “The Senate must take steps to fix the broken reporting and investigatory process, and to ensure safety at the Roundhouse moving forward.”
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