This legislative session began with historic gains. We welcomed the most diverse legislature in the history of New Mexico, and for the first time, a majority of NM House members are women. We also welcomed our first African American Senator and a historic number of openly LGBTQ legislators. In addition, New Mexico’s delegation to Congress is now comprised of all women of color. Although there is still a long way to go before we have a truly representative legislature, we were thrilled to see progress toward that goal.
Unfortunately, the same forces that have long created barriers to proportional representation became apparent through acts of racism, anti-LGBTQ language, transphobia, misogyny, and white supremacy throughout the NM Legislative Session. These acts, both subtle and overt, have persisted and increased with frequency as we come into the frenzied last few days of the session. These acts of oppression have largely gone unchecked. Southwest Women’s Law Center stands in support of our queer-, woman-, and BIPOC-identifying legislators and ask that leadership acknowledge and address the acts that have been perpetrated against them.
Early on, one Senator questioned a Cabinet Secretary-designee’s ability to do her job because of her race. In another incident, a Representative called the police during a Committee hearing because she took offense to a comment made by an African American expert witness. More recently, another Republican Senator referred to some colleagues as “female dogs” after a lobbyist was caught on a hot mic using profanity to disparage Democratic Committee members.
More subtle instances have also been on display. Women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC legislators have been denied time to present their bills in certain influential committees. Those who have been allowed to present have been belittled, demeaned, and treated disrespectfully by the committees. We saw these behaviors spill over in a dramatic way onto the Senate floor during the debate of HB 20 on Thursday night, shining a more public light on what has been transpiring in committees throughout the session.
Though usually less obvious, the persistent bullying of some legislators by others demonstrates the ways in which the legislative process itself has been designed to reinforce power dynamics and allow a few members disproportionate control over what does and does not pass through the legislature. When a group of long-time legislators, mostly straight CIS men, utilize the structures of the legislature to berate and ignore legislators from diverse backgrounds, we see the system being used to silence certain voices. When diverse legislators are denied the opportunity to advance bills intended to promote equity, we see how those in power use these structures to maintain the status quo.
The people of New Mexico elected a historically diverse legislature, but legislative leaders have not done the work necessary to address the systems of oppression that have previously led to non-representative electoral bodies. As a result, a historically large number of marginalized people are facing oppression and violence embedded within the structures of those systems. It is beyond the time that we name these acts, address the structures that perpetuate them, and stand in solidarity with those who have been harmed, harassed, and mistreated while working without pay to serve and represent their communities.
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