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Racial Bigotry Comes Out of the Closet in New Mexico

A column by Harold Monteau about the recent comment by Patrick Rogers about General Custer.

What in the present atmosphere of the Anglo American existence makes it acceptable for someone to ridicule, demean and dehumanize non-Anglo people and then try to justify what they have said as “humor”? This humor, at the expense of blacks, Jews, gays, Indians, Muslims, Catholics, Irish, Hispanics, Asians or just about anyone who is different, seems to be a legacy passed from generation to generation that is so ingrained that it slips off the tongue or the keyboard lubricated by the notion that one’s race gives privilege to demean and dehumanize others.

Patrick Rogers, a National Republican Committeeman, and a partner in the New Mexico based law firm of Modrall Sperling, (a firm high up on the Republican food chain on a state and national basis.) thought that it would be appropriate to send out an Email blast expressing his opinion that New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez (Republican) violated the sacred memory of General George Armstrong Custer by meeting with the New Mexico Tribes. He was referring to a recent Tribal Summit which Governor Martinez attended (as required by New Mexico law, by the way) on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The e-mail came to light in a recent investigation of the alleged misuse of state Email for political rather than governmental purposes. The Rogers Email did not appear to be made in the context of humor but rather in the context of sour grapes in that the Republican primary candidate that the firm had supported, Retired Marine Corps Col. Allen Weh, “would not have dishonored Col. Custer in this manner” and, in Mr. Rogers’ opinion, “The state is going to hell."

Patrick Rogers attempted to explain away the e-mail as an attempt at humor by his use of what can be viewed, at the least, as an ethnically insensitive remark, or, at the worst, a demonstration of racially bigoted disdain for the Native American segment of New Mexico’s rather diverse populace. His excuse of poor judgment in his expression of “humor” was defended by the State Republican Committee Chairman and several other persons in the Republican hierarchy.

The Modrall Sperling Firm often represent clients that are on the opposite side of Tribal interests, in business related matters and litigation in which the firm represents companies that argue against Tribal regulatory, taxation, employment and environmental authority, especially regarding commercial activities on or near the reservations. They represent the Oklahoma Tax Commission that litigates against Tribes at the drop of a cigarette butt or drop of gas. The firm has about 80 attorneys according to their website. The partners and lawyers in the firm are primarily Anglo males, with about half a dozen attorneys with Hispanic surnames and no attorneys with biographical info indicating Native American heritage.

The one Native American in the firm left last spring to become a District Judge, having been appointed to the vacancy by the Republican Governor, Susana Martinez. The judge quickly came to the defense of Patrick Rogers in a public statement indicating that he did not believe Mr. Rogers was racially prejudice. (Until now, I guess.)

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Predictably, Tribal leaders were incensed and the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC) Chairman Chandler Sanchez, in a statement published in the Albuquerque Journal, condemned the use of the “racist in tone” remarks. They demanded that Rogers step down from his seat as a National Republican Committee member. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez also condemned the language used by Mr. Rogers but stopped short of calling for his resignation from his national seat in the GOP. Ironically, Governor Martinez appeared to take the brunt of the Tribal leaders’ wrath when the AIPC Chairman was quoted by the Albuquerque Journal as saying that the NRC’s statements “sadly make you wonder if the Republican Party and those who represent Governor Martinez share his view and attitudes toward the Native populations of this state.” James Rivera, Governor of Pojoaque Pueblo came to her defense stating that the AIPC Chairman’s statements “unfairly shift blame for Rogers’ comments to the governor and her staff”, who he said “have been supportive of the state’s native communities” and “should not be categorized as being accomplices in the writing of that”, referring to Rogers’ Email.

Governor Martinez had been mentioned as a potential running mate to Mitt Romney, but she was not favored by the far right segment of the GOP. This was probably fortunate for her because she appears to fit the mold of the moderate conservative of the past GOP persona. With any luck she will move onto the national political stage in a future manifestation of the “Party of Lincoln” once the far right zealots who seem to be in momentary control of the party are moved aside in favor of more center-right leadership. One can only hope.

Racial bigotry can lie latent until an incident like this brings it out from the behind- closed-doors culture that perpetuates America’s corporate and political environment. Of course, people like Rogers always claim, or have someone of the minority persuasion claim, that they are not racially prejudiced or bigoted.

Mr. Rogers should think about what in his upbringing and the environment in which he works and lives would urge him to believe that use of such remarks is appropriate, even in attempts at humor. Hopefully such reflection would prevent him from passing his attitudes on to the next generation.

The scary thing is that members of his firm frequently teach courses to University of New Mexico students, particularly the next generation of lawyers who will practice in New Mexico. Unfortunately, this may insure that the behind-closed-doors culture that tolerates and perpetuates such bigoted attitudes will be passed on to future generations. Bigotry is learned, it is not just happenstance. Res ipsa loquitur—the thing speaks for itself.

Harold Monteau is a Chippewa Cree attorney and an Indian gaming and economic development consultant. He is former chairman of the NIGC. He has been a visiting professor of federal Indian law at the University of New Mexico School of Law. He is an advocate for Buy Native and Indian Preference in Contracting, Hiring and Procurement.