A boss walks into a female employee’s office when she’s alone, locks the door and sits on her lap while shaking his butt.
An elected official lashes out on social media, implying that a woman’s mom offered him sexual favors and calling the woman “ghetto.” No, we’re not talking about President Donald Trump. We’re talking about powerful men in Doña Ana County government.
Sheriff Kiki Vigil, a Democrat, recently sustained a complaint from a female employee that Undersheriff Ken Roberts assaulted her with the unwanted lap dance. Roberts isn’t just a male in a position of authority over his victim. He’s a supervisor with a gun and a badge, which makes him even more intimidating.
But Vigil didn’t fire Roberts. He suspended the undersheriff without pay for 10 days and required him to apologize and go through anti-harassment training—as if Robert’s sin was harassment, not assault.
Roberts’ behavior is unconscionable. Vigil’s decision to keep him in his job is outrageous.
Then there’s County Commissioner John Vasquez, a Democrat. He’s repeatedly harassed people on social media—mostly women, but also men, including me. (Full disclosure: Vasquez also berated my girlfriend Sarah Silva last year.)
Vasquez’s most horrific conduct yet came in January, when he went after Johana Bencomo, who works for the community organizing group NM CAFé.
Vasquez, who has endorsed Jeff Apodaca in the Democratic primary for governor, denounced political endorsements one evening on Facebook. Bencomo asked, wait, didn’t you endorse Apodaca?
Vasquez lashed out, alleging Bencomo’s mother had sought his endorsement and sent him “a private message asking for really wierd (sic) favors.” He called Bencomo “ghetto.” He made clear that he wanted a fight: “If you want to keep going… let’s start,” he posted.
Some have demanded Vasquez’s resignation. He’s defended his conduct by saying Bencomo and CAFé are, after all, ghetto, and he has a right to speak his mind. Of course he does. As does Trump.
But that doesn’t make it right. Our society is built on the hope that people can engage each other with civility and respect to find compromise and move forward. That’s why we have legislative chambers where, hopefully, deliberation leads to better policy.
Trump might exemplify on a national scale the conduct that threatens that ideal. In Doña Ana County, Vasquez gets that disgraceful award.
A functional society also requires that people be treated with dignity. Roberts violated a woman’s rights. He and Vigil have brought dishonor to the sheriff’s department.
What now? All the county commission could do in 2016, when then-Treasurer David Gutierrez tried to pay one of his female employees for sex, was call on him to resign. Gutierrez balked. It took action by the district attorney and a conviction on charges of public corruption and gross immorality to remove Gutierrez from public office.
Getting rid of Roberts apparently requires unseating Vigil, who’s seeking re-election this year. There’s a recall provision in the N.M. Constitution if people don’t want to wait that long.
Vasquez could simply knock it off. But there’s no indication he intends to do that. In the meantime, there’s enough evidence to argue to a judge that a recall effort should proceed on the grounds that Vasquez has violated his oath of office.
Some, including prominent Republicans, are defending Vasquez. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. Vasquez, Roberts and Vigil should also be ashamed.
People deserve to be treated better than this. Our county and nation depend on it.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.