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New Mexico Dem Party hit by misconduct claims

Feb 13, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Democratic Party of New Mexico vice chairwoman says she has been the target of unwanted sexual advances by an elected Democratic official who also is active in the party in southern New Mexico. In a letter dated Monday, Neomi Martinez-Parra wrote that she's been a victim of inappropriate sexual misconduct by Dona Ana County Commissioner and Dona Ana County Central Committee member John Vasquez. "As you are well aware, Mr. Vasquez has been accused of various inappropriate behavior(s) (toward) females," Martinez-Parra wrote in a letter to New Mexico Democratic Party chairman Richard Ellenberg. "I too have been a victim of Mr. Vasquez's inappropriate sexual misconduct, which I will address separately through my legal counsel." Vasquez drew condemnation last month for Facebook posts directed at a female community activist where he attacked her mother and suggested the activist had asked him for "favors." "They say you can take a girl out of the ghetto..." Vasquez wrote in a dig at New Mexico Comunidades en Accion y de Fe organizer Johana Bencomo. Vasquez didn't respond to emails from The Associated Press and his voicemail was full. Martinez-Parra also wrote that she strongly disagreed with a proposal from Ellenberg that she not pursue a complaint in exchange for Vasquez stepping down from a post as chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Veterans' Caucus. Vasquez resigned this month as Veterans' Caucus chair "in response to allegations of inappropriate behavior, including egregious and disrespectful posts on Facebook," Ellenberg said in a statement. Ellenberg told The AP he didn't mean to suggest Martinez-Parra should drop her claim and apologized for conveying that's what he wanted. "That was not my intention," Ellenberg said. Still, Ellenberg said there was little the state party could do to sanction Vasquez since it's up to the Dona Ana County Democratic Party to remove Vasquez. The party also can't force Vasquez to resign from his commissioner's post and isn't up for re-election until 2020, Ellenberg said. Ellenberg said party officials were scheduled to hold a conference call with Martinez-Parra late Tuesday to discuss options. The flap comes the Democratic-led New Mexico Legislature recently overhauled its policies against sexual misconduct and harassment. Female lobbyists and elected officials have said sexual harassment at the Capitol has gone unchecked under procedures last updated in 2008. Democratic state Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque was ousted in December as majority whip and ended his campaign for lieutenant governor amid allegations that he harassed women at a previous job a decade ago. He has repeatedly denied the allegations. ___ Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras