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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at her office in Santa Fe, N.M. Photo: Steven St John/Bloomberg via Getty Images

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's gubernatorial campaign has reached a settlement with a former campaign staffer who accused the Democrat of unwanted sexual behavior during her 2018 run for governor.

Why it matters: Lujan Grisham is the chair of the Democratic Governors Association and a former member of Congress. This development comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, also a Democrat, battles searing sexual harassment allegations.

Driving the news: The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office shows five monthly payments of $12,500 — beginning last November — from Lujan Grisham's campaign to an Atlanta-based law firm representing James Hallinan, a former campaign spokesperson.

  • The collective cash payments of $62,500 were first reported by the Albuquerque Journal.
  • Jared Leopold, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham, told the paper that the governor and campaign team "strenuously deny" Hallinan's claims but that the settlement was reached to avoid the distraction and cost of litigation over "numerous dubious and disputed potential claims."
  • The DGA did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Axios. Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham's press secretary, told Axios: "The state doesn’t have any comment as this is not official state business. Our office maintains there is no merit to the allegations."
  • A spokesperson for the Republican Governors Association, Will Reinert, told Axios in an emailed statement that settlement payments "certainly suggest that there must be some truth" to the claims and called on Lujan Grisham to publicly apologize.

Don't forget: Lujan Grisham, only the second elected Latina governor in U.S. history, was mentioned as a candidate to lead the Department of Health and Human Services under President Joe Biden.

  • Biden later named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to the Cabinet post.
  • Hallinan, who now runs his own communications firm and advises Democrats, declined to comment about the settlement on Tuesday.

The intrigue: Lujan Grisham signed a bipartisan measure last year that limited the use of nondisclosure agreements in sexual misconduct cases.

Flashback: Hallinan spoke with both the Albuquerque Journal and me in late 2019 before I joined Axios, sharing allegations about Grisham's behavior, which he said included unwanted groping in the presence of others.

  • Hallinan said he had considered quitting and going to law enforcement but decided not to after being urged by a fellow campaign staffer to stick it out.
  • The governor's office strongly denied and denounced Hallinan's accusations at the time.

Go deeper

New Mexico legalizes recreational marijuana for people over 21

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on Monday signed a bill that will legalize recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21.

The state of play: Lujan Grisham said in a statement following the state legislature's passage of the bill, "This is a significant victory for New Mexico. Workers will benefit from the opportunity to build careers in this new economy."

2 hours ago - Health

Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific COVID vaccine

A health worker in Palestine preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 24. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they have started clinical trials for a reformulated vaccine to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Why it matters: The rise of the Omicron variant has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.