Native lawmaker calls for immediate removal of state official accused of making racist remarks

·3 min read

Jul. 23—A Native American lawmaker is calling for the "immediate removal" of a state education official accused of making derogatory comments about Indigenous people — the latest effort to oust the controversial administrator.

"This has to rise to a higher level of accountability," Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said in a statement Thursday. "We cannot just sweep this under the rug and hope that it fixes itself. More needs to happen, including terminating Ms. [Rachel] Gudgel's employment with the state."

Gudgel, director of the Legislative Education Study Committee, has been under fire over allegations she made racist remarks about Native Americans and created a hostile work environment.

Despite continued calls for her removal, Gudgel, who has the backing of several prominent lawmakers, including Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, has managed to keep her $131,000-a-year job.

But the pressure is mounting with Lente leading the latest charge.

One of the 10 voting members of the Legislative Education Study Committee allowed to read an investigative report into Gudgel's actions, Lente said in a news release there is "an overwhelming need to raise the issue of Ms. Gudgel's racist comments to a higher level of accountability that is now compounded by the LESC's inaction."

Earlier this week, the committee met behind closed doors to discuss Gudgel's employment and deadlocked 5-5 over whether or not to let her go.

In addition to reading the report, Lente was among the select group of lawmakers with voting power on the committee to hear directly from the private investigator who conducted the investigation.

"I was alarmed by the allegations when they appeared in print and social media. And now, after reading the report, all I can say is that it's worse than I imagined," Lente said in his statement.

The investigative report has been shielded from public disclosure.

But Lente said the time has come to pull back the curtain.

"On behalf of my constituency, I can no longer accept the continued support for someone who maintains implicit bias towards the diversity of New Mexico," he said in the statement. "As lawmakers, we have breached our responsibility to protect our children's constitutional rights to receive a sufficient education. We cannot have separate standards when racism guides education policymaking for Native Americans and in the same breath expecting us to implement the recently passed Civil Rights Act and uphold the state's Human Rights Act. This double standard has to end."

In the news release, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, which previously had called for Gudgel's removal, expressed "disappointment" that Gudgel hadn't been fired. The 20 pueblo governors on the council voted unanimously Thursday in support of Lente's call for Gudgel's immediate removal, the news release states.

"We will not tolerate such despicable attitudes and behaviors by a key and very influential legislative position," council Chairman Wilfred Herrera Jr., who serves as governor of Laguna Pueblo, said in a statement. "We have a sacred trust to stand up and protect our children and our people. We will consider all measures politically and legally."

Earlier this week, another Native American lawmaker, Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-Tohatchi, said in a statement she has "experienced nothing but professionalism and respect" from Gudgel.

"I have faith in the actions taken by the committee and its members when this first came up and now ask that we move forward exercising forgiveness and respect, engaged and more unified in our purpose," Pinto said in a statement.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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