Mullins: Few 'white faces' at Indian ceremony

By Tim Korte
Albuqueque, New Mexico (AP) July 2010

A Republican congressional candidate in New Mexico who last month was criticized for suggesting the United States could mine the Mexican border, is taking heat again over a comment about Native Americans.

Petroleum engineer Tom Mullins of Farmington, the challenger for the 3rd Congressional District seat, attended a religious ceremony at Kewa Pueblo in January and later told a radio interviewer: “There weren't too many white faces there in the room.”

Supporters of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., publicized the remark. Lujan's campaign manager, Aaron Trujillo, called it insensitive and accused Mullins of trying to divide New Mexico residents “with inflammatory language and extreme policy ideas, like land-mining the border.”

Laura Harris, executive director of an Albuquerque-based nonpartisan group called Americans for Indian Opportunity, said she was “extremely offended” by the remark.

“I don't know what he was expecting,” said Harris, who attended the Jan. 25 event. “They're having a religious ceremony. It stands to reason it would be full of Native Americans, especially from that pueblo. When someone makes a statement like that, you wonder what in the heck he's talking about.”

Mullins, who is white, told The Associated Press he doesn't recall making the comment and accused the Lujan campaign of “playing the race card” against him.

“I'm not even sure what that was about,” Mullins said. “I'm disappointed that they're playing the race card. They're going through every single little word people have said over the last eight months and trying to turn it into a racial issue.”

A spokesman for Lujan's campaign had no immediate comment on Mullins' allegation.

According to 2000 census data, Native Americans make up 19 percent of the population in the northern New Mexico congressional district, which includes 14 pueblos, a large area of the Navajo Nation and the Jicarilla Apache reservation.

The remarks came when Mullins appeared Jan. 26 on a radio show on KENN-AM in Farmington.

In June, he attracted national attention over comments during a radio program in Las Vegas, N.M., where Mullins suggested land mines as a possible way to improve security on the Mexican border. He emphasized he wasn't advocating doing so, just sharing something he'd heard while campaigning.

The context in that instance, Mullins explained, was that someone had complained there was nothing that could be done to improve border security.

Kewa Pueblo, midway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, was formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo.