California Focus: Cautionary tale of 2 Bustamantes

California has recently cemented its reputation as the most politically correct state in the nation, and possibly the most humorless. Those with doubts on that score might compare the cases of Carlos Bustamante and Cruz Bustamante.

U.S. Air Force veteran Carlos Bustamante is a city councilman in Santa Ana and in January was appointed to the state Fair Employment and Housing Commission. He won’t be getting that position, the governor’s office indicated in a letter July 7, nor a post with the California Council on Criminal Justice, all because of a joke.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently opted for Sandra Hutchens as county sheriff, instead of Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters. Carlos Bustamante joked at the supervisors meeting that perhaps Walters should have got “some implants or a water bra.”

Reporters heard the joke, and the news reached the Senate Rules Committee, where Alex Padilla, a Pacoima Democrat, assailed Bustamante, a Republican who also directs the administration of the Orange County Public Works Department. Some bloggers wondered if Bustamante might have therefore violated workplace rules.

Rachel Cameron, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, told the Los Angeles Times that “We want to make clear that we hold all of our appointees to the highest standard of professional conduct.” That makes it pretty clear that he was rejected – over a joke, more of a quip, which may not have been very funny but was certainly topical.

Compare this incident with one involving Cruz Bustamante when he was lieutenant governor under Gray Davis. In February 2001, Bustamante, a Fresno Democrat, was addressing a group of African American trade unionists in Oakland when he used the “N-word.” He said it was a slip of the tongue and so on, but many in the audience didn’t think so because they got up and walked out.

Lt. Gov. Bustamante apologized but not because of charges of racism and insensitivity. There weren’t any, at least from the corridors of power. Indeed, politicos rushed to his defense. The California Legislature did not resound with calls for Bustamante to resign.

The storm quickly passed and Cruz Bustamante remained a heartbeat away from being governor of California until January 2007.

Here is how the calculus of California political correctness breaks down: An elected official such as Cruz Bustamante may use one of the most prominent racial slurs, in public, in the presence of the group it most offends. This may cause the official momentary embarrassment, but no calls for resignation.

On the other hand, for an innocuous joke, with no ethnic connotations and containing no insult, Carlos Bustamante gets booted from a state post for which he still needed to be confirmed. Party affiliation doubtless has a lot to do with it, though one notes that Republican Schwarzenegger did not bring up Cruz Bustamante’s party affiliation.

The remarks of Alex Padilla to the Los Angeles Times indicate that hypersensitivity also seems to be in play. “Not only were the remarks [by Carlos Bustamante]extremely insensitive, in my opinion, but in a year when we came within a hair of nominating the first woman presidential candidate of a political party, to hear that not only this kind of thinking still exists but that someone would say it publicly is unconscionable.”

Even if a joke about implants is “doubleplusungood” in the politically correct lexicon, it can hardly be construed as “extremely insensitive.” It is this kind of political correctness which makes for a hostile environment. Those who have lost their sense of humor might try to have one implanted. That will make for a more civil society in California.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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