Democrats are incensed and calling on New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce to apologize after the state GOP sent an email to supporters Friday morning urging them to help “change the complexion of our Congressional delegation.”
All of New Mexico’s U.S. representatives are people of color.
The email begins with a criticism of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the highest-ranking Hispanic lawmaker in Congress, for voting Wednesday night to impeach President Donald Trump instead of working to “address poverty, child hunger and lack of healthcare in his home state of New Mexico.”
It continues: “Rep. Lujan is simply unfit to serve in Washington. This is why we must work hard to change the complexion of our Congressional delegation.”
New Mexico Republican Party spokesman Mike Curtis called the uproar over the email “a misinterpretation” and said the party meant to express its wish to change the “complexion” of the congressional delegation “from blue to red.”
Curtis continued: “Everybody’s making a big thing out of that word. They’re just misinterpreting it.”
Luján responded with a statement sent by the New Mexico Democratic Party on Friday afternoon criticizing the GOP email and calling on Republican Party operatives to refrain from such language .
“As a Hispanic representative of a majority-minority state, I have a responsibility to speak out forcefully when racism and dog whistles are used to further political attacks against people who look like me,” Luján said.
“New Mexico is represented by three people of color in the U.S. House of Representatives. There is no ambiguity in the meaning of that statement. This is right out of the playbook of Stephen Miller and is deeply offensive to all New Mexicans,” he continued.
Luján called on the party “to forgo any future race-based attacks in political campaigns.” Luján later said in a tweet that the GOP email was “unambiguously racist.”
The state Republican Party responded hours later with a statement that accused Luján of “playing political games with this just like he is with impeachment.
“That’s why New Mexico is going to change from blue to red in the next election,” the statement continued. “Blue to red is the only ‘complexion’ that was referred to.”
The statement added that the party’s officers include “a black woman, Hispanic men and women, and a Native American woman,” and said some of its candidates for national offices include “Native American men and women, Hispanic men and women” and that the party and its candidates “are diverse and represent the traditional values of New Mexico.”
But Gavin Clarkson, a Republican candidate in New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race, also criticized his party’s email. “As an enrolled tribal member married to a Latina, I find this kind of careless word choice unfortunate to say the least,” Clarkson said on Twitter.
Luján spokeswoman Lauren French and state Democratic Party Chair Marg Elliston also demanded an apology over the complexion reference.
“The Republican Party of New Mexico seems to have missed the message that nearly a thousand New Mexicans sent when President Trump came to Albuquerque: hate has no place in our state or in our politics,” Elliston said in a statement Friday. “Instead, Republicans in New Mexico are following in the footsteps of President Trump, singling out people of color and using racist dog-whistles to attack our elected officials.”
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who is Native American, in a tweet thanked Luján for responding to the situation and called the GOP statement racist.
“As one of the first Native American women elected to Congress in our country’s history, some folks have waited a long time to have a seat at the table.” Haaland said. “Yes, it’s racist. If all Reps are brown, and the GOP wants to change the complexion — do the math.”