I am impressed that a columnist from the LA Times, usually slavishly pro La Raza Demunists, called him on it.
Nuñez went on Univision's Spanish-language political program "Voz y Voto" and lashed out at reports in The Times that he had spent lavishly from his campaign funds on foreign travel and luxury goods. As you may recall, last fall this paper's Sacramento bureau reported that Nuñez had spent nearly $50,000 donated by "friends" on air travel to Europe and Argentina. He spent $5,149 for "a meeting" in the cellar of a Bordeaux wine shop. More than $2,500 went to buy "gifts" at Louis Vuitton in Paris.
One of the more interesting extravagances was the $8,745 tab the then-speaker ran up at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain. The bill included the services of a "translator." Although nobody expects the speaker of the California Assembly to speak Catalan, and although not all Catalonians speak English, they all speak Spanish, just like Nuñez. (Actually, the apogee -- or nadir, if you will -- of the former speaker's generosity was the $2,701 handmade belt buckle Nuñez bought as a gift for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The zillionaire former movie star returned it as "too lavish.")
Now that he's no longer speaker, Nuñez addressed the subject head-on this week. "Everyone's done it like this," he told his interviewer. "The difference is there are some in politics who want to judge me in a certain manner. Because of the fact I am Mexican, they think I have to sleep under a cactus and eat from taco stands. ... The only thing that really results out of this is that groups that don't like Latinos use this as a weapon to inflame anti-Mexican, anti-Latino politics."
Really? Over the last 10 years, there have been six speakers of the Assembly. Three have been Latinos -- including Antonio Villaraigosa, the current mayor of Los Angeles -- two have been African Americans and one was a white male. None of them required the services of a Catalan translator or felt the need to hold meetings surrounded by aging barrels of Bordeaux. Nuñez's attempt to attribute any objections about his thoroughly objectionable conduct to his ethnicity is a perverse moral reductionism -- a mirror image, in fact, of the sort of racist view that categorically denied a person's achievements because of his race.
People criticized Nuñez's extravagance for a simple reason: They resent seeing public office used like a personal ATM, no matter what language their parents spoke at home. Moreover, they find this sort of conduct particularly hard to accept when the elected official comes out of the labor movement, as the former speaker proudly does, and belongs to a party that claims to represent the interests of working people.