No one disputes that state Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton referred to fellow state Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs as “half Latino” the other day at a gathering away from the Capitol. It’s on video. But was it an attempt to discredit Williams in the eyes of other Latinos by implying he’s less than the real deal? Or, was it the opposite — an insinuation Williams is betraying his heritage with his hardline views against illegal immigration?
The Republican Williams — who has infuriated House Democrats with his legislation on the subject — believes it is the former, and he took to the House floor this morning to decry Salazar’s remark. Without naming names, per House rules, Williams told fellow House members, in part:
“One of our members referred to me a as a ‘half-Latino,’ and this term was used as a means to diminish my standing on this (immigration) policy issue and to lessen my credibility within the Latino community. These tactics are disgraceful and in poor taste. I’m sorry that my surname doesn’t match my ethnicity or my heritage, but I’m proud of who I am and where I come from. I get the partisanship of this place, and I understand the need for both sides to score political points from time to time, but this crossed the line. This was disrespectful to me and to my family. The very implication that my voice on matters concerning the Latino community doesn’t count because I’m not full-blooded, this is something that should not be tolerated.”
Williams then went on to recap how he had sought admission to the Colorado Latino Caucus, an informal legislative body consisting of Latino members. He said he was turned down.
“Initially, I chalked it up to mere partisanship, but now, I can’t help but wonder if there’s another reason,” he told his colleagues.
Salazar, reached later today for comment, says Williams’s authenticity as a Latino voice was the furthest thing from his mind when he made the comment.
“It’s not for me to judge his Latino-ness,” Salazar said.
“That’s how he identified himself to us when I first met him. He said, ‘I’m half Latino…When I was at the Colorado Latino Forum I needed to provide those forum participants some context that this guy is half Latino and this is what he’s doing to Latino communities.”
As for Williams’ request to be a part of the caucus, Salazar said Williams’s ethnic status had nothing to do with that, either.
“It’s called the Democratic Latino Caucus. They can certainly start their (own) caucus if they want,” Salazar said, referring to Latino Republicans in the Colorado legislature.
Salazar is a Bernie Sanders Democrat with gubernatorial ambitions. Williams is a member of the GOP’s get-tough-on-illegal-immigration wing; he has made national news with his bill holding elected leaders liable in civil and criminal courts for crimes committed by undocumented residents. The two lawmakers are poles apart on immigration and probably most other issues.
Perhaps it’s no surprise they would read the same remark opposite ways.
ColoradoPolitics.com’s Peter Marcus contributed to this report