Democratic student organizations from across the state came together to demand State Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, to withdraw from the 2018 election for lieutenant governor due to recent allegations of sexual harassment.
University of New Mexico College Democrats, Young Democrats of New Mexico and Bernalillo County Young Democrats released a written statement Tuesday night condemning the senator. They requested that, along with withdrawing from the lieutenant governor race, Padilla resign from his senate seat, which he has held since 2013.
“We reject any candidate who has prior instances of sexual harassment, assault or violence,” said the organizations in a combined statement released to the media.
The organizations began collaborating on an official statement once the allegations against Padilla came to light.
The allegations stem from a 2010 lawsuit filed against The City of Albuquerque before he was a state senator, stating that Padilla created a “sexually hostile working environment.” The case was later settled out of court. Padilla has maintained his innocence.
“Our organizations coordinated once these issues became known to us,” said Jackie Luchini, president of UNM College Democrats, in a written statement to the Daily Lobo. “We worked on what would be an appropriate response and then made a decision.”
The condemnation comes at a time in which allegations of sexual harassment and assault have been reported in a variety of professions, including two politicians — Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and a Republican Senate candidate for the Alabama seat, Roy Moore.
“We will not allow scandals like (Padilla’s) be ignored,” Luchini said.
Such cases of sexual assault are especially prevalent on college campuses, where 11 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students experience rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. One in four college females is a victim of sexual assault or rape.
“This is relatable for any student who’s been on that front,” said Zack Quintero, the president of Young Democrats of New Mexico and a student at the UNM School of Law.
Padilla also received condemnation from 2018 gubernatorial candidate UNM alum and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham — last week, she called on the state senator to drop out of the lieutenant governor race.
“There is no room for excuses, and he should withdraw his candidacy for lieutenant governor,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Padilla recently said he would not end his campaign and has repeatedly denied committing any acts of sexual harassment.
Leaders of the student groups expressed a need for student involvement in order to create change.
“It is important that the UNM student population (has) a voice in fighting for change,” Luchini said.
The young people who released the statement said they are also hopeful that their words, along with various sexual assault and harassment scandals in the news, will ultimately shift how society treats victims of such crimes.
“We hope it changes the culture,” Quintero said. “This is about holding people in positions of power accountable.”
Election day for lieutenant governor is not until the fall of 2018. All organizations did not state who they would like to see fill that role due to their bylaws that forbid endorsing specific candidates during primaries.
Kyle Land is a news editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.