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GOP Official's Comments Ignite Calls for His Removal

By Jeff Jones
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Politics Writer

          Top New Mexico Republicans — including the state's senior senator — are calling for the immediate resignation of Bernalillo County Republican Party Chairman Fernando C de Baca over racially charged comments attributed to him in an international news story.
        "The truth is that Hispanics came here as conquerors," C de Baca was quoted as saying in a story that appeared late last week on a BBC News blog. "African-Americans came here as slaves. Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won't vote for a black president."
        C de Baca, a former assistant to Presidents Nixon and Ford and a former state Cabinet secretary who once served as national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, did not return several Journal messages Monday. He told a local reporter over the weekend that his comments were taken out of context and were in reference to some in past generations.
        A BBC spokeswoman said C de Baca's comments were accurately reported.
        Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., joined state Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh and others in the GOP in asking C de Baca to step down.
        "Fernando C de Baca should resign," Domenici said in a Journal telephone interview early Monday evening after he tried to reach C de Baca for an explanation.
        "The Republican Party cannot let a high-ranking official remain in an active position having made this kind of statement," Domenici said. "It's a wrong statement to make. That's not what Republicans believe."
        Weh also was unyielding. "There's an overwhelming consensus in the Republican Party at large that he should step aside," he said. "It has become ... an unfair distraction to every issue that should be focused on in this election."
        Elaine Miller, a vice chairwoman of the Bernalillo County Republican Party, said C de Baca is scheduled to meet this morning with members of the county party's executive board.
        Stepping down "would be in his best interest, so we could get it behind us. So it doesn't affect the election," said Miller, who under party rules would become county chairwoman if C de Baca leaves.
        A busload of BBC radio, TV and online reporters rolled though New Mexico last week on a coast-to-coast trip in the lead-up to the Nov. 4 presidential election. The bus stopped on Thursday at the state fair, where BBC blogger Jon Kelly spoke with Hispanic voters — and C de Baca — about the election.
        "The chairman of Bernalillo County Republicans argued that the Latino emphasis on hard work and family values, plus the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion, made the community naturally conservative," Kelly wrote in his Friday "Talking America" blog posting.
        "He offered another, blunter, reason why he believed John McCain would do well in New Mexico," Kelly wrote before quoting C de Baca as saying Hispanics consider themselves superior to blacks.
        The story was picked up on local Internet sites, and the response from politicos on both sides of the aisle was sharp and quick.
        The New Mexico arm of McCain's presidential bid called the comments as reported "extremely offensive and insulting." Darren White, the Republican candidate in the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District, called them "reprehensible, ignorant, and completely unacceptable," adding that, "Someone who holds these beliefs has no business holding a leadership position in any political party."
        His opponent, Democrat Martin Heinrich, joined the call for C de Baca's departure.
        State House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said the comments are "an insult to the Hispanic community and to all of the voters of New Mexico."
        C de Baca, in a weekend interview with KKOB-AM radio's Peter St. Cyr, apologized for any "misunderstanding" the comments created but said they were taken out of context.
        "They were my grandfathers' words," C de Baca said. "I was ... trying to show (the reporter) the generational difference between those who were born before the civil rights movement, or during the civil rights movement, and those who were born way after the civil rights movement."
        BBC Global News spokeswoman Patricia Lodge said the British news giant stands by its reporting.
        "Jon Kelly accurately reported what Fernando C de Baca said to him about Hispanic perceptions toward African Americans," Lodge said in an e-mail to the Journal. "The BBC has not received any complaints about the report from Mr. (C de Baca) or the Republican Party."
        C de Baca told St. Cyr he was "prepared to step aside if that is, in fact, going to be beneficial to everyone concerned" but said he first wanted to meet with his county party's executive board.