Women Of Hispanic Caucus Angry Over Insult

California Democratic Rep. Joe Baca, left and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
AP Photo/The San Bernardino Sun
Three female members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus accused the organization's male leaders Thursday of treating women unfairly. Rep. Loretta Sanchez said the caucus chairman called her a "whore."

Rep. Joe Baca denied uttering the insult, which Sanchez cited among grievances that led her to announce this week she was quitting the group.

"Let me be clear: Her comments are categorically untrue," said Baca, who like Sanchez is a California Democrat.

"He said it. For him to deny it is just a silly thing," Sanchez said in an interview.

Sanchez told the Orange County Register Thursday that if the caucus had "a legal election and elected somebody who would be worthy of that chairmanship, of course I'll be back and working with them."

She and Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., said Baca made the comment at an event in Sacramento, Calif., over the summer and that it was repeated to them by people they declined to identify.

"Name-calling never helps anything," said Sanchez, adding she confronted Baca about the comment. "He just shook for awhile and then he said, 'That's a lie."'

The controversy, which became public with a report Wednesday on the Web site politico.com about the "whore" comment, was the latest evidence of conflict between men in the growing caucus and a smaller, mostly female contingent.

Politico.com said it was California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez who heard the comment from Baca and repeated it to Sanchez. Nunez said Thursday he had no recollection of either event. Sanchez said later Thursday she did not raise Nunez's name with politico.com.

Baca was supported by only one of six women in the 21-member caucus when he was elected chairman in November. Solis, Loretta Sanchez and her sister, Linda — the three who raised concerns in comments Thursday about treatment of women in the caucus — along with Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York subsequently disputed the election procedure and asked for a new secret-ballot vote. All caucus members are Democrats.

Other concerns include Baca's decision to use money from the caucus' political action committee to fund his sons' unsuccessful campaigns for state office in California last year. That led Solis, the Sanchez sisters and three other lawmakers to sever ties with the fundraising group.

There also is a perception among female caucus members that their concerns are given short shrift in a caucus that — like the Congress as a whole — remains overwhelmingly male, despite high-profile advances by women in Congress.

"I think there tends to be the sentiment that there has to be more work done to improve relationships in the caucus and the treatment of women in the caucus," Solis said in an interview.

"I am waiting to see if the Hispanic Caucus leadership will make good on its promise to be more fair and inclusive of its Latina members," said Linda Sanchez, whose district is near her older sister's in Southern California.

Thursday night, Baca released a second statement that was lengthier than his initial denials. He didn't directly address the accusations of lack of respect toward women, instead reiterating that the controversy was "based on untruths."

"A months-old internal Hispanic Caucus discussion has been repackaged into accusations with sexual overtones through irresponsible reporting and inflammatory headline-writing," he said.