- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico Democratic lawmaker’s unusual election to the board of the nation’s oldest and most storied Latino civil rights group is drawing concerns over partisanship and possible bylaw violations.

Last week, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, became national treasurer for the League of United Latin American Citizens at the group’s convention in Salt Lake City - a move some members say goes against the association’s nonpartisan tradition.

LULAC’s bylaws prohibit elected officials from serving on the national board if they receive “wage compensation or enumeration.”

The Albuquerque Democrat is a member of the New Mexico House but receives no annual salary. However, she receives per diems and is eligible for a pension.

Former New Mexico LULAC state director Pablo Martinez said allowing Caballero to serve sets a dangerous precedent and that she should resign.

“That provision in the bylaws was to allow nonpartisan school board members to serve on LULAC’s national board, not partisan elected officials,” Martinez said.

Martinez said other LULAC members who served on the state and national board resigned after they were elected to public office. “Others seem to respect (the bylaws), except her,” Martinez said.

Former LULAC national president Enrique “Rick” Dovalina said he and other LULAC members intend to challenge Caballero’s election and believed her pension counts as income. “She shouldn’t have been allowed to run in the first place, but that’s Patricia,” said Dovalina, a Houston lawyer.

In an email to The Associated Press, Caballero said she was in meetings all day and could not respond.

Paloma Zuleta, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based LULAC, said Caballero’s pension and per diems don’t count. “Our lead council has reviewed her case and said it was fit for her to run for the position,” Zuleta said.

Caballero also previously served as LULAC’s national parliamentarian despite objections.

Viewed as one of the most liberal members of the New Mexico House, Caballero was a source of controversy during the last legislative session.

For example, during a tense, January committee hearing to repeal a New Mexico law that allows immigrants who are in the country illegally access to driver’s licenses, Caballero said any repeal and participation in federal Real ID Act was akin to the deportation of Jews to concentration camps under Nazi Germany.

“It reminds me of stories we heard about the Holocaust,” she said.

Caballero later apologized.

A month later, Caballero sparked a heated exchange in another committee meeting and provoked the GOP chair to adjourn before members could vote on a highly anticipated solitary confinement reform proposal. Caballero said she questioned why anyone would oppose a bill that called for banning the use of solitary confinement on juveniles and inmates suffering from mental illness - even though the measure had wide support.

The outburst stalled the legislation out of committee, and it eventually died before it could go for a full vote. Advocates blamed Caballero for unnecessarily provoking Republican lawmakers and killing the bill.

Pat Garrett, Republican Party of New Mexico spokesman, said Caballero is one of the most partisan and controversial lawmakers in the state.

“Her tenure tarnishes any attempt by LULAC at being a non-partisan organization,” Garrett said.

Caballero’s election comes after the Latino civil rights group has seen internal squabbling in recent years over a canceled election, a disputed real estate deal and fights over who’s eligible to run for the board.

The group was founded in 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas largely by Mexican-American World War I veterans who sought to fight discrimination.

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Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras

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