With a couple pictures on Facebook, I told a story that got some laughs this week. First I posted a meme image of a billboard reading “WINE. Now cheaper than gas. Drink. Don’t Drive,” including the caption, “…feel this could engender spirited debate at the Roundhouse for all the wrong reasons.” (See what I did there?!)
And sure, I am known for my fondness of potent potables, as are plenty of my friends. Here’s the part that’s the gut punch: It describes the 2022 legislative session here kind of perfectly. Humor is far more effective when it’s true.
During the 2022 session, the Democrat supermajority killed no fewer than four hydrogen energy bills because, fossil fuels. While happily building out a record-level spending plan almost entirely based on record oil and gas revenues. And at the same time the state’s largest public utility warned of rolling blackouts this summer because of the impending closure of a coal plant with no replacement in place.
Fortunately, New Mexico is also a wine and liquor producing state. Because according to an open letter released to the media last month, apparently legislative leadership is also drinking in the Capitol during the legislative day. I can’t make this up, y’all.
Lobbyist Marianna Anaya published an open letter days after the 2022 session ended accusing Senate Rules chairman Daniel Ivey-Soto of sexually harassing her (again) during the session. She first describes a meeting in the senator’s Capitol office where he is drinking wine during the workday and pouring her a glass, “forcefully” telling her to drink it. During this wildly inappropriate meeting, Anaya brings up a 2015 harassment experience at his hands and according to her account, Ivey-Soto does not deny it, but merely mansplains it away.
The following week, she requested a dinner meeting to discuss pending legislation. In Anaya’s account of the meeting, as he creepily encourages her to sit closer, Ivey-Soto tells her he “had been drinking since 2,” i.e., in the Capitol, i.e., during the workday, i.e., doing the people’s business.
Anaya is clear in her complaint that she does not want financial compensation; she wants Ivey-Soto held accountable for his actions. Her attorney has been notified that the complaint has been forwarded for review by a special subcommittee of the Legislature. All of these proceedings are secret.
(Having adjudicated my fair share of harassment complaints in my career, allow me to offer some advice should you find yourself the subject of a complaint like that against Senator Ivey-Soto. Noting that the complainant is gay does not excuse your behavior. Also, think twice before issuing this statement in your defense: “There’s nothing sexual between her and I.” First, it’s never a good idea to repeat a negative allegation. Second, that statement is abysmal grammar and journalists will remember and hold it against you.)
Ivey-Soto also drew ire during the 2021 session over his treatment of women when he belligerently debated the President Pro Tem of the Senate (essentially his own caucus leader), Senator Mimi Stewart, in the closing hours of the session over a point of contention. Senator Stewart called him on his inappropriate behavior on the spot. Ivey-Soto’s poor treatment and condescension toward Stewart on the Senate floor even earned him censure from his House colleagues. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf stopped the House proceedings during the same period to excoriate Ivey-Soto over his treatment of Stewart.
One wonders if Ivey-Soto was sober at the time.
And of course, it would hardly be a legislative session worth mentioning unless a legislator got a DUI. This year, Representative Georgene Louis (D-26) was arrested in the early hours of Feb. 13, after measuring more than twice the legal limit for intoxication on a breathalyzer. Despite pleading not guilty, Louis will not seek re-election. But by finishing her latest term which began in 2020, the five-term state representative will qualify for a retirement pension.
On social media, I love me a quick one-liner. But my off-the-cuff post about booze suddenly being cheaper than gas hits so many nerves for New Mexicans. Like how we are awash in raw materials but remain one of the poorest states in the country. Like how we are fueling the entire planet but may actually go dark ourselves this summer. Like how our Legislature concentrates power in the hands of a few committee chairmen who apparently think it’s perfectly fine to drink in their offices, abuse women and ignore good governance legislation (Ivey-Soto is the enemy of independent redistricting, open primaries and ethics bills).
In the U.S. military a DUI is a career ender, and something leadership wishes to eliminate. A popular tactic is to erect motivational signs on military bases emblazoned with the number of days since the last alcohol-related misconduct incident. I feel such a sign would be a fine idea, with tasteful landscaping, in front of the Roundhouse.
The vast majority of us who drink alcohol understand that it is not a workplace activity. We understand that operating a motor vehicle when impaired is not legal or safe. Should we push for a ban on alcohol in the Capitol, or simply decline to elect people who abuse it?
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.