A group of Republican lawmakers want a Catholic Church official reprimanded for calling them racist for their opposition to funding programs for poor children.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, took part Feb. 14 in a candlelight vigil outside the state Capitol in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to increase funding for early childhood programs, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican.
“We feel there’s an element of racism here,” Sanchez said at the demonstration. “If you look at the footage of the hearings around this proposal, the opposition came from people with power and wealth. They don’t understand what is going on in our communities with poverty.”
The Catholic Church officially backed the proposed measure, but a group of 33 GOP lawmakers sent a letter of complaint asking for action against Sanchez, the newspaper reported.
“The political debate is divisive enough in this country and this state without unwarranted accusations of racism being thrown about without evidence,” said the letter addressed to Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester. “The fact that this accusation was levied [sic] by a representative of the Catholic Church only makes it more troubling.”
“As leader of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe do you condone this type of political debate?” lawmakers asked Wester. “Are you comfortable with the Catholic Church being represented in this manner? Does the Church wish to set the example that the political ends justify the rhetorical means?”
The constitutional amendment, which would have taken an additional 1 percent from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for the programs, passed 36-33 in the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee.
Committee chairman John Arthur Smith, a Democratic state senator from Deming, refused to hold a vote because he said it would not pass — and Sanchez blamed racism by the bill’s opponents.
“I don’t see (Smith) having a personal racial bias,” Sanchez last month. “But his decision reflected an institutional racism.”
Most of the bill’s opponents were Republicans, including several Hispanic lawmakers, and one of the two Democrats to vote against the amendment was also Hispanic.
A 2012 report by the state Public Education Department found Hispanic students made up 82 percent of the total number of students enrolled in the state’s pre-kindergarten programs.