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Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

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The Legislative Education Study Committee is one of the most powerful committees in the New Mexico Legislature, and its leadership has been in hot water and the media glare for the past month. The committee has faced backlash from voting and non-voting members of one of the most powerful committees in the Legislature to terminate Rachel Gudgel, staff director of the Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC). Sen. William Soules (D-Dona Ana), who is chair of the LESC, called a closed meeting of voting-only members on July 20 to discuss personnel issues concerning allegations against Gudgel of racism, homophobia and sexism. In 2020, a private attorney was hired at the behest of a few Senate leaders in the LESC to investigate the claims. The report was never given to any other voting or nonvoting members on the board.

In addition to committee requests for transparency in the investigation and its results, Native American organizations have also come forward calling for transparency and the termination of Gudgel.

“If racism or bias has infected the LESC, then our minority youth will suffer throughout every district in the state.  If the LESC director holds racist views and the leadership of the LESC fails to act, we will never be able to pull ourselves from the bottom of every educational list and solve the vast challenges of Yazzie Martinez,” said Isaac Dakota Casados, member of the Navajo Nation and Chair of the Native American Democratic Caucus. “On behalf of the nearly 72,000 registered native voters we represent and standing in solidarity with our Tribal governor, presidents and governments, the Native American Democratic Caucus (NADCNM) demands that LESC director Rachel Gudgel be removed from her position and the LESC provide transparency to the voters in relation to this case,” he said.

The request issued just minutes prior to the meeting appeared to fall on deaf ears. Sources within the closed-door meeting say that the vote to terminate Gudgel was a tie 5-5, which means that no action was taken, and Gudgel retains her position for now.

Sources also tell The Paper. that one outcome of the meeting was all voting members of the LESC would be able to individually read the private report concerning Gudgel’s alleged behavior.

Rep. Derek Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) who is one of 10 voting members of the committee sent a statement that didn’t mince words. “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,” said Lente. “This has to rise to a higher level of accountability. We cannot just sweep this under the rug and hope that it fixes itself. More needs to happen including terminating Ms. Gudgel’s employment with the state.”

Rep. Christine Trujillo is also a voting member of the board. After leaving the meeting, she told The Paper. “The meeting was very emotional, and I am very disappointed in the outcome.”

The All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) in their meeting today expressed disappointment with the LESC’s retention of Gudgel. The 20 Pueblo governors unanimously voted in support of Lente in his call for removal of Gudgel by the LESC. APCG Chairman Wilfred Herrera Jr. stated, “We will not tolerate such despicable attitudes and behaviors by a key and very influential legislative position. We have a sacred trust to stand up and protect our children and our people. We will consider all measures politically and legally.”

The LESC will convene in Shiprock, NM next week for a three-day conference July 28-30.

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