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Recalling Custer: Email Stirs Pot

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A June email from Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers to Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff appears to suggest the governor “dishonored Col. Custer” by attending a summit with state tribal leaders.

Rogers, an Albuquerque lawyer and longtime Republican Party of New Mexico activist, told the Journal on Friday that his email was meant to be humorous.

“I made a poor attempt at humor in a private email, and it’s being twisted by a partisan group,” Rogers said. “I certainly intended no offense, but I do apologize.”

The email was acquired by the Democratic-leaning group ProgressNow New Mexico and made public Friday.

“Quislings, French surrender monkeys. … The state is going to hell,” Rogers’ email began.

Continuing with a reference to Martinez’s 2010 gubernatorial primary election opponent, retired Marine Corps Col. Allen Weh, the email said: “Col. Weh would not have dishonored Col. Custer in this manner.”

The email referenced a news report about the governor’s participation in a tribal-state summit in Mescalero in June, an annual meeting the New Mexico governor has been required by law to attend since 2009.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said the governor, who is scheduled to address the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week, “doesn’t agree with the comments in the email, and is proud of the work that has been done to cultivate a strong relationship with New Mexico’s tribes.”

Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, called Rogers’ reference to 19th century U.S. cavalry officer and Indian fighter George Armstrong Custer, who is reviled by many Native Americans, insensitive.

“It’s definitely something that is just insensitive and careless to even remotely joke about that in this day and age,” said Zah, who noted that Martinez has maintained a positive relationship with the Navajo Nation, the state’s largest tribe.

“It’s unfortunate that any leader within a political party, which has such a large influence on government in general, would not take in consideration or recognize the historical trauma displaced upon Native Americans,” Zah said.

Samuel Winder, a Native American lawyer who serves as a state district judge in Albuquerque and who previously worked with Rogers in private practice, said Friday that he has never heard Rogers make a racist remark. Winder emphasized that his comments were personal and that he was not speaking from the bench.

“I do not believe that Pat has any racist attitudes toward anyone. … I understand that Pat has apologized for his statement, and I can see how some Native Americans may take offense if they didn’t know who Pat was,” Winder said.

Rogers’ reference to “quislings” was apparently to a World War II word meaning traitors. “French surrender monkeys” is a phrase implying cowardice from the TV show “The Simpsons.”

Rogers’ email was addressed to the governor’s lawyers, Jessica Hernandez and Paul Kennedy; chief of staff Keith Gardner; deputy chief of staff Ryan Cangiolosi; and the governor’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey.

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