A longtime New Mexico lobbyist said Friday that on the eve of a high-profile vote on a controversial bill eight years ago, a state legislator from Northern New Mexico offered to vote for the measure in exchange for sex.
In an account first reported Friday (Dec. 8) in The New York Times, Vanessa Alarid said that in 2009, then-Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, not only offered her his vote in exchange for sex, but forced a kiss on her and touched her breasts at a downtown Santa Fe hotel.
Garcia called Alarid's story a "complete fabrication."
Alarid's decision to make the allegations public comes at a time when sexual harassment stories involving alleged abuses by prominent men are dominating national headlines.
In New Mexico, state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, said she was aware of quid pro quo propositions in which lawmakers offered sex for votes. Though she didn't name any specific legislators, she wrote that "female lobbyists are frequent targets of harassment."
Alarid is married to Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, though at the time of the alleged incident she was single. Through the years she has represented a variety of clients with interest in bills before the Legislature.
At the time of the alleged incident, Alarid was representing a company called SunCal, which was seeking tax breaks for a proposed development on Albuquerque's west side. Alarid said that the night before the final vote on the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, she was having drinks and discussing the bill with Garcia at the Inn at Loretto.
Alarid told The New Mexican that when she asked Garcia if she could count on his vote, he said yes - if she'd have sex with him.
Immediately after that, she said, Garcia jumped on her. "He put both hands on my breasts and gave me an open-mouth kiss, moving his tongue over my lips." Alarid, who was 32 at the time, said Garcia told her that his wife has the same first name as her, so it wouldn't matter if he shouted "Vanessa" during sex.
"It was very crass and disgusting," she said.
The next night the SunCal bill failed to pass after a tie vote in the House.
Garcia, who earlier had supported the legislation in committee votes, voted against it on the House floor. Alarid, who was watching the floor session from the House Gallery, said Garcia looked up and her, shrugged and "blew me a kiss."
Vanessa said she was afraid to go public with her accusations against Garcia. "I was afraid of retribution," she said. "I was afraid I'd lose clients." She said she confided with a female legislator the next day. "And I started bawling."
Previously an aide to then-Congressman Tom Udall, Garcia was appointed to the House in 2006 by Gov. Bill Richardson after the district's previous representative, Hector Balderas, won election as state auditor.
In a telephone interview Friday, Garcia - who left the House in 2012 to make an unsuccessful campaign for a state Senate seat - said that the House Business and Industry Committee, of which he was vice-chairman, heard the the SunCal bill only about four hours before the full House voted on it.
There wouldn't have been time to have gone for drinks with Alarid or anyone else, he said.
However, according to legislative records and news accounts at the time, the Business and Industry Committee voted on the bill Thursday, March 19, 2009. The floor vote came after 11 p.m. Friday, March 20 - the last night of the session.
Asked why he supported the bill in committee but changed his vote when it got to the House floor, Garcia said, "On that bill there were a lot of concerns."
Asked why Alarid might fabricate such a story about him, Garcia said it could have something to do with the fact that he has been considering running for his old seat against incumbent Rep. Tomas Salazar, D-Las Vegas.
Alarid said Friday that after hearing months ago that Garcia is considering running, she told Salazar about the incident with Garcia. If Garcia does run, she said, she offered to follow him around the district during next year's campaign and tell her story. "Thomas Garcia should not be back in the Legislature," she said.
Alarid said she first decided to go public Sunday night. Early this week, she said, she contacted four women - two lobbyists and two legislators, all from out of state - who recently had gone public with similar accounts in national news stories about sexual harassment. All of them, she said, encouraged her to go public.
Legislative leaders on Friday expressed shock about Alarid's charges.
"Every woman should be safe at work and able to do her job free from harassment, assault and unwanted advances," House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said on Twitter. "This article is shocking and describes appalling conduct that will not be tolerated in the [New Mexico] Legislature."
"I am shocked and angry to hear this account of sexual harassment by a former member of the Legislature," Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement. "We cannot and will not tolerate actions or behaviors that compromise any person's well-being, or prevent them from doing their job effectively. It is imperative that we have a comprehensive harassment policy in place that leaves no room for misinterpretation, protects victims and provides them with a clear and safe means of reporting incidents."
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, described the allegations as "disgusting and completely unacceptable," adding "It should never be tolerated in the state legislature, or anywhere in society."
Maestas on Facebook praised his wife's decision to go public. "So proud of my wife, Vanessa Alarid, for standing up as a leader in the movement to end sexual harassment," he wrote. "All 50 Legislatures, not just the Roundhouse, will be changed forever because of your bravery."
Alarid said Friday (Dec. 8), "There are a lot of good men in Santa Fe, but there are a few predators. We need to shine a light on them. This is an abuse of power."
She said that while she hopes the behavior as she described will end, she hopes that men and women can still embrace each other and that men won't start feeling they have to handle women "with kid gloves."
Reporter Andrew Oxford contributed to this report.
Contact Steve Terrell at (505) 986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at santafenewmexican.com/roundhouse_roundup. This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.