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Santa Ana's Sanchez quits Hispanic caucus amid rift

She says that Rep. Baca violated voting rules to become chairman, and that he is demeaning to her and other women.

February 02, 2007|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Congressional Hispanic Caucus was thrown into turmoil Thursday after Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) resigned her membership amid accusations that its chairman, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto), had been demeaning to women.

Two of the remaining five women in the 21-member caucus expressed concerns about how the group treated them, but did not resign.

Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte) complained about the "lack of respect afforded to women members of the Hispanic Caucus."

And Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Lakewood) stood by her sister and fellow congresswoman, saying: "I am waiting to see whether the Hispanic Caucus leadership will make good on its promise to be more fair and inclusive of Latina members."

"Latinas are the fastestgrowing segment of the minority population," the Lakewood congresswoman said. "And their perspective deserves to be represented, not denigrated."

On Wednesday, Loretta Sanchez told the Politico, a new Capitol Hill newspaper, that Baca had called her a "whore." She has not responded to requests for an interview since then.

Baca denied the charges Thursday, saying, "These accusations are categorically untrue."

The Orange County congresswoman's resignation comes after six caucus members last year cut their ties to the group's political action committee after it made campaign contributions to relatives of caucus members -- including Baca's sons Joe Jr. and Jeremy, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate and Assembly, respectively.

"At a time when the public is crying out for a more ethical government, we should be taking every step to avoid any appearance of preferential treatment for relatives," Solis said in a statement Thursday.

Some female caucus members also complained earlier this year that Baca's election as chairman was not conducted by secret ballot as required.

In her resignation announcement Wednesday, Sanchez cited her concern about the election as her only reason. "I and other members of the caucus voiced our strong opposition to Mr. Baca's chairmanship due to a violation of election rules," she said.

Baca dismissed these complaints Thursday, noting: "These issues have been discussed, reported, and laid to rest."

Sanchez told the Politico that she heard Baca had made the demeaning remark about her to California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

But at a news conference Thursday in Sacramento, Nunez said, "I have no recollection of any conversation with anybody about a dispute between Congressman Baca and Congresswoman Sanchez."

He added that he would "rather not be dragged into the mud" of a congressional fight.

Sanchez also told the Politico that when the caucus had approached her earlier this year to pay her contribution to support the caucus staff, she asked to be removed from the list of members.

"There's a big rift here," she told the newspaper. Using a vulgarity to describe how Baca treated women, she concluded, "I have no use for him."

Baca, in a statement Wednesday, called Sanchez's resignation "unfortunate." But in his statement Thursday, he implicitly criticized her, saying: "This 'controversy' is of the most disrespectful nature to our constituents and to our colleagues in the House because it is based on untruths."

A congressional staffer, who was not authorized to speak on the matter and requested anonymity, said that some of the male members of the caucus were often disrespectful of the women -- talking, laughing or making jokes while they were trying to speak at caucus meetings.

"This is a serious rift; it's bad for the community," the aide said. "If other women follow her lead, it looks bad" for the caucus. "They let internal bickering override what they can do as a key bloc in Congress."

richard.simon@latimes.com

Times staff writers Nicole Gaouette in Washington and Ashley Powers and Robert Salladay in California contributed to this report.

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