New Mexicans need a governor who cannot be bought, especially by foreign powers. We currently have a president who pals around with foreign governments and tests the emoluments clause on a regular basis. Do want that sort of behavior to be normalized by New Mexico’s chief executive?
In 2013, the newly elected House Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham traveled to the former Soviet of Republic of Azerbaijan, which was sponsored by their state oil company. According to Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijan has had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community and it is currently arresting and torturing men who are believed to be gay as well as transgender women. Visiting countries without speaking out against their horrific policies may be viewed as at least indifference to the plight of the international LGBTQ+ community. Lujan-Grisham has not been vocal in denouncing Azerbaijan and the silence is deafening.
In our post Citizens United environment, our politicians have been inundated with dark money. At least in this circumstance, there were clear ethics rules in place, although that did not dissuade the members of Congress who attended this trip to not violate those rules. The main question this episode brings up is one of integrity. If reporters had not discovered the details of the Azerbaijan trip, would the expensive rugs and gifts still be decorating the representative’s office in D.C. and her home there as well?
The rules regarding gifts given to members of the House of Representatives states they cannot accept gifts from foreign governments over $350 in value otherwise they must refuse the gift, pay the market value, or submit to the House clerk for disposal. I would hope our members of Congress are briefed on the House ethics rules before they are sworn in and before they leave on foreign trips as representatives of the American people.
Of all the members of Congress attending the Azerbaijan trip, Rep. Lujan-Grisham received the most items. When Rep. Lujan-Grisham commented on the violations of the rules she feigned ignorance to the value of a large hand-woven rug by stating it was not worth anything because she did not find it to be attractive. It’s disingenuous to state a hand-woven rug is worth less than $350, just by the sheer amount of labor required to make such an item. If she found the rug to not be up to her taste, why didn’t she dispose of it earlier?
The American people deserve to hear Rep. Lujan-Grisham provide a real apology for this behavior and she needs to pledge to never accept gifts from anyone, especially foreign governments looking to change policies in Washington. Finally, members of the LGBTQ+ community of Azerbaijan are currently being rounded for torture and a worse fate may wait for them if there is no one in a position of power is willing to speak out against the government there. We need a voice in Congress willing to put together a sanctions bill against Azerbaijan if the government there doesn’t stop these horrendous policies.