The top-ranking Republican within the state Senate has come beneath hearth for what some stated was an undercurrent of racism throughout his questioning of a Black lady who heads the Department of Veterans Services.
The encounter occurred Friday throughout a affirmation listening to for Secretary-designate Sonya Smith, when Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, requested Smith if she felt “comfortable adequately representing” New Mexico’s numerous races and ethnicities, together with Hispanic, white and Black residents.
The query adopted some interaction between Smith and Baca about the necessity to talk with all cultures about completely different points, together with the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine for the virus.
“That really isn’t what I’m — I mean that is an immutable trait, as I’m a Hispanic man, so I guess what we do in our everyday life we do as that,” Baca stated, telling Smith she might reply the query as she wished.
“Are you asking do I feel comfortable representing the Department of Veterans Services as a Black woman? Is that what you are asking?” Smith requested Baca.
“Yes, you’re right, it is immutable,” she responded. “I am who I am. And I don’t think that when Gov. [Michelle] Lujan Grisham tapped me for this position she was concerned about my color. I think she was looking at my skill set and my ability to be the best person foremost.”
Smith added her profession achievements — together with a stint as a medical technician within the Gulf War whereas serving as a U.S. Air Force reservist — got here “not because I am Black but because I am highly qualified to do what I do.”
After Smith elaborated somewhat longer, Baca, a U.S. Navy veteran, stated: “I appreciate your answer. I apologize, I must have not put my question correctly, but I’ll leave it at that.”
The back-and-forth happened within the Senate Rules Committee, which finally gave Smith a “do pass” advice. Her nomination subsequent will go to the Senate flooring.
Smith, appointed to the place by the governor in October, heads an company that oversees a quantity of divisions serving the state’s veterans.
Baca’s query drew the ire of Lujan Grisham, who wrote Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque and the committee chairman, a letter on Friday to precise her displeasure.
“That Senator Baca would question Secretary-Designate Smith’s qualifications on the basis of her race is abhorrent to me and, I am sure, to all New Mexicans who understand and value not only diverse representation in leadership but the multicultural fabric of our great state,” Lujan Grisham wrote.
“The senator’s line of inquiry — in which he asked the secretary-designate whether she, a black woman, would be ‘comfortable adequately representing’ New Mexicans — was inexcusable.”
The governor requested the Senate to carry Baca accountable.
“I believe it would be appropriate for your committee or the Senate as a body to censure or otherwise acknowledge the highly inappropriate and offensive nature of the senator’s question,” she wrote. “And to establish a new framework under which an inappropriate or racially motivated line of questioning may be expeditiously stopped and rectified in the moment as a means of ensuring this does not happen again.”
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a member of the committee who launched Smith firstly of the assembly, stated Friday night he had not but seen the letter. But, he stated, he “absolutely” discovered Baca’s query inappropriate.
“I was thinking, ‘What are you trying to get at here? Do you really mean to say this?’ ” he stated. “What he was asking her was, ‘Can you as an African American who has been in the state for just seven years really respond to the needs of Hispanics in the state?’ “
He stated he thought Smith dealt with the query nicely, and that her response left Baca “pretty chastised. He seemed deeply, deeply embarrassed.”
In an announcement, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, stated Baca owed Smith an apology.
“I find this line of questioning by Sen. Baca to be borderline racism and completely disrespectful,” wrote Stapleton, who’s Black. “Questioning a qualified professional because of her race has no place in this Legislature.”
Baca, 49, is a lawyer who served aboard the USS Nimitz in the course of the Gulf War. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2016. Late final 12 months his social gathering elected him as minority chief. Democrats outnumber Republicans 27-15 within the Senate.
In an announcement issued Friday afternoon, Baca stopped quick of apologizing however stated he applauds Smith’s “commitment to minority inclusion in her role as Secretary of Veterans Services. In my line of questioning to her during her confirmation hearing, I hope I was clear that as a minority veteran myself, I view this role as one that must consider every facet of our diverse culture in New Mexico.”
Baca added he supposed to vote for Smith’s affirmation.
“Secretary-Designate Smith’s comments today underscored her qualifications to lead this important department,” he stated within the assertion. “I voted to recommend her confirmation to the full Senate and I look forward to supporting her final confirmation next week.”
A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Services declined to touch upon the listening to, however stated Smith “feels her testimony today speaks for itself … and thanks the committee for the opportunity to go before the members today.”
Smith, 56, is a local of Norfolk, Va. She beforehand served because the particular tasks coordinator for the state Department of Health.