Capitol Report in New Mexico brings us news of an unfortunate racial outburst from a state legislator. Fortunately, she’s a Democrat, so it’s no big deal. For a spot of morning entertainment, try imagining the party affiliation for everyone involved is reversed, and how that would affect both national media coverage and the career of Rep. Sheryl Stapleton, who is not only a member of the state legislature, but the Majority Whip.
During a break in Wednesday’s Legislative Education Study Committee, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Albuquerque) angrily confronted Rep.Nora Espinoza (R-Roswell), shouting “Don’t mess with me” and accusing Espinoza of “carrying the Mexican’s water on the fourth floor,” referring to Gov. Susana Martinez.
(Emphasis mine.) What prompted Stapleton to unleash this heavy racial artillery?
Back on Oct. 28, KRQE-TV aired an investigative piece from Larry Barker that said Stapleton did not take leave from her job as an administrator at the Albuquerque Public Schools system and received pay while attending legislative sessions. (You can click here to see that story.)
“I’m pissed,” Stapleton said as she confronted Espinoza during a lunch break at the committee meeting, “I’ve been waiting for you.” Espinoza got a few words in before Stapleton said, “You said I’m corrupt. Prove it!”
“I’ve been falsely and biasly [sic] accused,” Stapleton told reporters a few minutes later. “It was a biased story and my colleague added to it by saying I committed corruption.”
I probably shouldn’t have dropped [sic] in there. If an administrator of the Albuquerque Public School system says “biasly” is a word, during a formal statement to the press, then it’s got to be a word.
Funny thing is, Espinoza does not accuse Stapleton of anything in the KRQE investigative report, which you can watch below. She very specifically refers to Winston Brooks, the Albuquerque Public School superintendant. Like all school administrators, he apparently spends a good deal of time telling the legislature that his district is underfunded and needs more money, but he’s also cool with letting a big-bucks administrator collect her salary while she’s off taking care of politics. According to Capitol Report, Stapleton raked in $167,000 from the school system while breaking the rules in this way.
Stapleton is nevertheless convinced the investigation into this rather blatant abuse of taxpayer money is some kind of nefarious plot orchestrated by The Mexi… er, make that Governor Martinez. Also, it’s OK for her to talk about the Governor that way, because she’s part Spanish.
Stapleton said she believes Espinoza was set up by people in the governor’s office to criticize Stapleton because she has resisted many of the governor’s educational reform bills. “From what I’ve heard from the blogs across the state,” Stapleton said, “the fourth floor [where the governor’s office is located] is behind it.”
When asked about the comment, “carrying the Mexican’s water,” and how some people could consider that offensive, Stapleton said, “If it is, I didn’t mean it to be inflammatory,” adding that she is part Spanish.
Stapleton elaborated on her racial theories to the Albuquerque Journal:
“If I offended anyone, I apologize,” Stapleton told the Journal in a telephone interview later. “That was not my intent.”
Referring to someone as a “Mexican” in New Mexico – where many residents pride themselves on Hispanic, or European, ancestry – has often been construed to be an ethnic slur. Martinez’s paternal grandparents were from Mexico. Martinez, born in El Paso, is the nation’s first elected Hispanic female governor.
“I would never say anything derogatory,” said Stapleton, who in 1994 became the first black woman elected to the New Mexico Legislature.
Stapleton, who was born in the Virgin Islands, said she had grandparents who were Cuban and Puerto Rican and that she considers herself at least partly Latina. She said she told Espinoza in Spanish that, “I have a lot of respect for you because you are a Latina, like I am.”
Well, her political DNA is going to trump everything else, but she’s not doing herself any favors with this “drop of Latina blood makes it okay” stuff. To make your “reverse the parties” thought experiment even more entertaining, imagine Stapleton is an elderly white Republican male who tells reporters it’s not a major insult for him to dismiss the female Democrat governor with grandparents from south of the border as “the Mexican” because he has grandparents from Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Incidentally, Stapleton has been on Capitol Report’s radar screen for a long time. They did a piece in 2010 called “Monuments to Me” that talked about how many public buildings in the area just happen to be named after sitting state legislators. The story was prompted by a reader photograph of… the Sheryl M. Williams Stapelton African American Performing Arts Center and Exhibit Hall. Speaking as a distant observer, I’m not sensing a lot of statesmanship, humility, or fiscal responsibility emanating from certain quarters of Albuquerque.