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Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, left, chats with Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth on the Senate floor during the 2024 legislative session.
Justin Horwath
New Mexico In Depth
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, left, chats with Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth on the Senate floor during the 2024 legislative session.

This story was originally published by New Mexico In Depth

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure and sever ties with him over sexual harassment and assault allegations, many of which were made by advocates of liberal causes.

A spokesperson for the party confirmed last week the party has continued to bar Ivey-Soto from participating in its internal activities, a position first made public last August. But the party has stopped short of calling for him to resign.

However, senior Democratic senators – including some of the most liberal – have thrown Ivey-Soto a lifeline in his contest with Heather Berghmans with big campaign contributions even as changing mores of the #MeToo era test the gender dynamics in the Roundhouse.

Some of those senators say they support Ivey-Soto in the June 4 primary election because of his open mind and attention to detail in lawmaking and parliamentary procedure. The accusations, made public in February 2022 when progressive advocate and lobbyist Marianna Anaya issued an open letter saying Ivey-Soto groped her at a teachers union reception at a downtown Santa Fe hotel in 2015, humbled the Albuquerque attorney who is known to toss invective in legislative debates, they say.

Ivey-Soto has denied Anaya’s allegation — as well as another that he held up a voting rights bill Anaya lobbied for in January 2022 after she refused his advances over drinks at a downtown Santa Fe restaurant.

But Anaya’s accusations set off cascading events that have Ivey-Soto scrambling to retain his Senate District 15 seat to represent Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights.

An attorney retained by a Senate ethics subcommittee to investigate a formal complaint by Anaya concluded in 2022 that probable cause existed in two of the three allegations to trigger a public hearing by the full Senate ethics committee. But the subcommittee — composed of four of his fellow senators — instead closed the case. It’s unclear what other information they considered. The two Democratic senators on that subcommittee have donated to Ivey-Soto’s campaign this year – Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo.

The special counsel report was leaked to the public, and Ivey-Soto shortly after resigned his chairmanship of the Senate Rules Committee.

That committee is now chaired by Sen. Katy Duhigg of Albuquerque, who is among several women named in the special counsel’s report as alleging Ivey-Soto harassed or assaulted them. Duhigg claimed that a consensual encounter in Ivey-Soto’s Senate office in 2019 — before she was a state lawmaker — turned non-consensual when Ivey did not heed her requests to stop during a struggle.

“Given the nature of the allegation, if she believed her own statement to be true, she should have filed a complaint,” Ivey-Soto said in an interview about Duhigg’s allegation.

Ivey-Soto points to a recent decision by the State Ethics Commission to dismiss a complaint made against him — which included the allegations — as evidence of his exoneration. However, some of the alleged incidents occurred outside the agency’s statute of limitations, prohibiting the ethics commission from investigating further.

Support from Senators

“My focus in the first primary report was to let people know that if I get reelected, there’s a body of people that I can work with,” Ivey-Soto said of his fundraising strategy in late 2023. “And so I’m very humbled and touched by the response of half of the Senate Democratic caucus who have weighed in favorably.”

New Mexico In Depth counts 10 of 27 Democratic senators who have given Ivey-Soto a total of $12,800. That’s about a third of the current Democratic caucus, rather than half.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth’s campaign committee gave Ivey-Soto a total of $2,000. Wirth did not return several messages from New Mexico In Depth. But approached at his downtown Santa Fe law office May 15, Wirth said he contributes the same amount to all incumbents in the Senate’s Democratic caucus. Asked about the allegations against Ivey-Soto, Wirth said it is up to the voters of District 15 to determine the outcome of the race.

“I support all incumbents across the board,” Wirth said, noting that Democratic Speaker of the House Javier Martinez does the same. “I don’t get into who’s progressive, who’s more conservative. These are all Democrats [and] my job is to unify and bring us together.”

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat who ranks among the chamber’s most liberal members, said Ivey-Soto asked her for a donation. Sedillo Lopez was one of Ivey-Soto’s University of New Mexico law school professors. She said she has been able to count on Ivey-Soto to not subvert even her most progressive bills. She gave his campaign $500 in April.

“Whatever happened — and I believe something did — I think he learned from it,” she said of the allegations. “And I’ve been impressed since then; he just seems to have been humbled and he’s just not as arrogant as before.”

Outgoing Albuquerque Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino said he gave Ivey-Soto $250 in November because “there’s no one — in the Senate at least — who works as hard as he does going through the bills and making sure the language is right.”

“He’s basically been relegated to the back bench of the Legislature,” Ortiz y Pino said. “A man with his seniority and experience should not have been punished that way.”

Ivey-Soto also received $5,000 from Sen. Leo Jaramillo, $3,500 from Sen. Joseph Cervantes, $500 from Sen. Benny Shendo, $500 from Sen. Bill Tallman, and smaller donations from Sen. Linda Lopez, Sen. Liz Stefanics, and Sen. Brenda McKenna. Tallman and McKenna are not running for re-election.

Tallman and McKenna also donated to Berghmans.

Ivey-Soto’s headwind

Ivey-Soto’s opponent, Heather Berghmans, has outstripped him in fundraising by almost 3 to 1, forcing Ivey-Soto to draw down from his balance saved from prior election cycles. About 20% of her donations come from sitting lawmakers, mostly members of the House where she was a fundraiser for the Democratic caucus under two Democratic House speakers, for whom she also served as a policy analyst during legislative sessions. (Now a self-employed consultant, she would not disclose to New Mexico In Depth her current client list.)

Her contributions include $5,500 from Speaker of the House Javier Martinez and $1,000 from Brian Egolf, the former Democratic Speaker of the House. She received $2,000 from the Lobo Leadership Fund, a PAC aligned with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, and $5,500 from Duhigg.

Anaya, who is running for the House District 18 seat to represent an area that includes the University of New Mexico, donated $1,000 to Berghmans’ campaign in October.

In the wake of Anaya’s allegations in 2022, members of eight different advocacy groups released a public letter outlining other instances of alleged mistreatment of women by Ivey-Soto. (Ivey-Soto said those women should have filed complaints with the Legislature. The special counsel found the witnesses against Ivey-Soto to be credible but many women were hesitant to speak publicly because “their careers would suffer or that their colleagues would deem them untrustworthy.”).

Representatives for the Center for Civic Policy, a progressive advocacy group, and its political arm, the Center for Civic Action, signed the letter. The Center for Civic Policy created a website with the goal to “stop” Ivey-Soto. The Center for Civic Action contributed $1,000 to Berghmans’ campaign in September.

In March, Steve Lipscomb, a Santa Fe lawyer who is the founder of the World Series of Poker, donated $2,500 to Berghmans’ campaign. Lipscomb is married to Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, and one of the women who made allegations about Ivey-Soto to the special counsel, saying he screamed and cursed at her during a 2017 encounter in the Roundhouse.

Ivey-Soto said he did not want to litigate the various allegations against him in the media.

“The fact that this person continues to be a part of our Legislature and is running again is so morally repugnant that I hope everyone will do everything they possibly can … to say, ‘It’s not ok, it’s not ok to abuse women in the Roundhouse where government conducts business in our state,’” Lipscomb said in an interview.

The current composition of the Senate is 11 women to 31 men. In an interview she drew few policy contrasts with Ivey-Soto, but said there exists a “difference in how we treat people and the way Senator Ivey-Soto conducts himself in the Roundhouse.”

“The Senate tends to skew older and more male, so I’d like to change that gender demographic,” Berghmans said.

“I do think there’s a big issue difference,” between Berghmans and Ivey-Soto, Lan Sena, policy director of the Center for Civic Policy, said when asked about the policy differences between the candidates. “I mean, if he truly supported bodily autonomy, he would have resigned.”

Ivey-Soto argued there is no liberal cause that he does not support and that he has been an advocate on women’s issues. Asked why he pressed on as the allegations against him eroded his political support, Ivey-Soto said, “My experience is there aren’t a lot of people [in the Roundhouse] who are fixated on caring for people who don’t have power.” Fighting for such people “is more important to me than my personal dignity.”