ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The Republican Party of New Mexico is facing criticism from Democrats and at least one Republican for urging supporters to change the “complexion” of the state's congressional delegation.
But state GOP officials say they were referring to changing the state from blue to red, not people of color to white.
In an email Friday, the party pleaded with supporters “to work hard to change the complexion of our Congressional delegation” after Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján voted to impeach President Donald Trump.
“We must all work together to get Republicans in the House and Senate so issues will be solved and our values will be upheld,” the party said.
Luján is Hispanic and is running for the Senate. He is currently one of the state's three House members who make up the nation's only majority delegation of people of color. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is Mexican American and Rep. Deb Haaland is a Laguna Pueblo member.
The state's two senators are white men.
Luján said the GOP email was influenced by racism. “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,” Luján said. He called on the Republican Party "to forgo any future race-based attacks in political campaigns.”
Democratic Party of New Mexico chair Marg Elliston said state Republicans were following Trump in “singling out people of color and using racist dog-whistles to attack our elected officials.”
Republican Senate hopeful Gavin Clarkson, a member of the Choctaw Nation, also criticized the email. "As an enrolled tribal member married to a Latina, I find this kind of careless word choice unfortunate to say the least. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ‘complexion’ of our Congressional delegation.”
Clarkson said the Democratic congressional delegation could be fairly attacked for their “Socialist policies” and anger toward Trump.
Republican Party of New Mexico spokesman Mike Curtis said critics were relying on a misinterpretation of the word “complexion.”
“People in New Mexico are sick of these political games. That’s why New Mexico is going to change from blue to red in the next election,” Curtis said. “Blue to red is the only ‘complexion' that was referred to.”
Republicans in the state are running one of their most diverse slate of candidates in primaries for federal offices. Former state lawmaker Yvette Herrell, who is Cherokee, is seeking the GOP nomination to face Torres Small.
Karen Bedonie, a member of the Navajo Nation, is running for the GOP nomination for an open House seat in northern New Mexico.
And Elisa Martinez, a Latina and member of the Navajo Nation, is seeking the GOP nomination to face Luján in the Senate race.
Luján is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press' race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/russcontreras