Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

In a political climate where voters and fellow candidates are hyper-attentive, a candidate’s choice of words means everything, especially when they carry a racist narrative.

During a Congressional debate on May 11 hosted by the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, Republican State Senator Mark Moores referred to the Southwest as being uncivilized before his ancestors moved in.

In a question posed by moderator and Farm Bureau board member Matt Martinez, “In times of critical drought, how will you make sure water gets to our farmers and ranchers?” Moores responded by saying “Obviously water is a critical issue and has been since we first civilized the Southwest.” Moores was referring to European colonizers who moved west and north and “civilized” the Indigenous people who lived here.

Watch Moores Comments

Moores, who is running for a seat vacated by interior secretary and Laguna Pueblo native Deb Haaland, told The Santa Fe New Mexican the backlash to his comments were “An exhausting, woke joke.” In past debates, he has highlighted Latino family ties dating back to the region’s Spanish colonial period.

State Rep. Derek Lente (D-Rio Arriba, San Juan, Sandoval) is a Pueblo native of both Laguna and Sandia. He says Moores comments perpetuate a racist narrative of Native peoples in the Southwest. “As an Indigenous Pueblo native and serving in the state House of Representatives, I cannot stand for this. When people refer to the Southwest as being “uncivilized” before they came here, it goes against my people and the Native people of New Mexico,” he said. “After many years of oppression, this just perpetuates the racist language of colonizers and oppressors.”

Lente says Moores statements echo how many in the Republican party feel, which was made acceptable by Donald Trump. “As a sitting senator and running for a Congressional seat which would represent my Pueblo of Sandia, this is unacceptable,” Lente said.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress, alongside Deb Haaland. She said Moores comments highlight his ignorance about Native American history and culture. “This is the very reason why having Deb Haaland in that seat was so important. Not just for Indian Country, but for everyone.”

Moores has a history of ignoring the communities of color during his Congressional campaign. In April, Moores was the only candidate to skip the first candidate forum sponsored by the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative. On April 29, The Paper. featured questions and answers from the CD 1 candidates. Moores was ultimately the only candidate not to respond.

Moores, who has been ranked the state’s most conservative legislator, has served as state senator for Bernalillo County since 2013. The last time a Republican served the 1st Congressional District was in 2009 when Heather Wilson left office to run for Senate against Steve Pearce and lost the primary.

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Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

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