Anything a candidate says on the campaign trail can be used as ammunition in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
Even one word.
After Republican state Sen. Mark Moores said at a forum Tuesday that water access has been an issue “since we first civilized the Southwest,” the Democratic Party of New Mexico accused the 1st Congressional District candidate of spewing racist language.
The word “civilized” has different connotations for different people, at least in the political sphere.
“Moores’ statement that the Southwest was ‘uncivilized’ before colonizers arrived echoes racist rhetoric used against Native Americans for decades,” Democratic Party spokeswoman Miranda van Dijk wrote in an email. “He has been criticized by Indigenous leaders for his racist language that devalues the contributions that Native American civilizations have made to New Mexico, the Southwest, and our nation as a whole.”
Moores said the Democratic Party was twisting his words.
“What an exhausting, woke joke,” he said. “You have got to be kidding.”
Moores, who has been highlighting his family roots in Northern New Mexico as he campaigns for the vacant congressional seat in a special election June 1, said he is the only person in the race “with both Hispanic and Indigenous blood that dates back to New Mexico well past hundreds of years.”
“Their notion that the Chacoan culture and Pueblo culture and Mesa Verde and all the other wonderful cultures in the Southwest didn’t exist before the Spanish shows their ignorance to our history in the Southwest and the beneficial use of water that predates any European colonization,” he said. “I’m offended of their ignorance of New Mexico history.”
It’s not the first time a candidate in the 1st Congressional District has been ensnared by comments deemed racist by some.
In March, Republican Whip Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington accused Rep. Melanie Stansbury, an Albuquerque Democrat who is running against Moores, of making “racially insensitive comments” during the 60-day legislative session.
During discussion and debate on a bill that would, among other things, establish deadlines for the state to achieve specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Montoya asked Stansbury, who sponsored the legislation, what people employed by the oil and gas industry would do for work.
“What do they do to provide for their families when their jobs go away?” he asked.
“If you’re in a rural Diné community, that could be selling your art or your wool using the internet,” she responded at one point.
“Why were these comments not plastered all over social media or in local news?” Montoya wrote in a letter to leaders of both parties. “I can only surmise that her comments were ignored because she is a ‘well-meaning,’ white, progressive Democrat who is running for Congress.”
Rep. Derrick Lente, a Sandia Pueblo Democrat who is Native American, said there’s no comparison between what Stansbury said at a legislative committee meeting in February and what Moores said at Tuesday’s forum. He said Stansbury’s comments are rooted in reality.
“It’s a fact that many of our community members, our Indigenous community members, that’s how they sustain themselves,” he said, referring to Stansbury’s remarks. “That’s their livelihood, is their art and their craft. … I wasn’t offended in regards to those comments at all.”
On the other hand, Lente said he found Moores’ comments beyond offensive.
“I am appalled at the type of rhetoric that is spewed in this day and age with as much as we’ve gone through with Black Lives Matter, George Floyd and within our own state,” he said, adding he found Moores’ remarks upsetting.
“When he talks about ‘since we first civilized the Southwest,’ you know, it makes us take 10 steps back,” Lente said.
If Moores’ comments were taken out of context as Moores claims, Lente said, “then perhaps he should learn how to articulate his positions a little bit better,” not only as a sitting state senator but as a candidate for a congressional district that covers a diverse part of New Mexico.