A Democratic state legislator in New Mexico lashed out at a Republican colleague, attacking her as acting as a minion of the state’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, and referring to the governor in questionable terms.
Calling Martinez “the Mexican,” Democratic state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton reportedly shouted at Republican state Rep. Nora Espinoza.
The source of the dispute was an investigative news report that suggested Stapleton had behaved unethically. The piece aired on KRQE-TV in October, reporting that “for years, Stapleton did not take leave from her job as an administrator at the Albuquerque Public Schools system and received pay while attending legislative sessions.” Espinoza commented in the report.
Stapleton shouted at Espinoza during a committee break, according to Capitol Report New Mexico, and accused her of “carrying the Mexican’s water.”
Stapleton told Espinoza that she had been waiting for her and said, “I’m pissed,” later adding, “You said I’m corrupt. Prove it!”
“I’ve been falsely and biasly accused,” Stapleton told reporters afterward. “It was a biased story and my colleague added to it by saying I committed corruption.”
Stapleton said that the piece was planted by the governor’s office. “From what I’ve heard from the blogs across the state, the fourth floor is behind it,” she said, referring to the floor on which the governor has her office.
She claimed the language she used about “carrying the Mexican’s water” wasn’t meant to be “inflammatory.” The phrase is generally considered to be derogatory, referring to an underling who does someone else’s bidding. News Taco, a Latino blog, characterized the statement as “really random and strange, but also kind of racist.” Stapleton said that she herself is part Spanish and part black.
Stapleton said she felt she had been “civil” to her colleague, and said that it was “not personal.”
“It caught me by surprise,” Espinoza told Capitol Report after the confronation. “I was shocked when she came and attacked me. She doesn’t feel that she did but … everyone there could see it, the loudness of her voice … That’s an ethics violation, first of all, being a legislator. That is wrong, that is totally wrong.”
Espinoza denied mentioning her colleague in the television report. She added that she found the “Mexican” comment offensive.
“That’s something that just doesn’t come into the conversation, and should not come into the conversation at all,” Espinoza said.
Scott Darnell, a spokesman for the governor, told Capitol Report that “we certainly view her statement as sad and disappointing.”