Hispanic Democrats set to oust Baca as CHC chairman

Civil war within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus appeared to reach its climax Wednesday night as rebellious members sought to overthrow their chairman, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.).

The move, which is still unfolding and could be averted at the eleventh hour, is an effort to end many months of turmoil over the allocation of funds to election campaigns involving Baca’s sons and the accusation that the reviled chairman insulted one colleague, calling her a "whore."

The sequence of events Wednesday remains unclear but it appears that the coup, if it goes ahead, will be effected by a face-saving mechanism in which all members of the caucus leadership resign Thursday.

What was clear late Wednesday was that members wanted to replace Baca as CHC chairman with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), while Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) would take charge of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), a non-profit foundation, said Democratic sources. Normally both posts are held by a single lawmaker.

As part of a package of changes, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the CHC’s first vice president, would leave the leadership too. The sweep was conceived to allow Baca to claim that he has not been singled out for rejection but, rather, an entirely new leadership slate is being installed.

Gutierrez and Roybal-Allard are not part of Baca’s leadership team.

At least one member tried to protect Baca, sources said, citing the CHC’s by-laws that require two-thirds of the members to vote to impeach the chairman if he is to be ousted. Other CHC members dismissed this reasoning.

Ironically, Baca sent out a press release earlier Wednesday saying he had just been elected by the CHCI board to serve as chairman. This meant little because the vote was by CHCI’s donors, but Baca’s statement said, "I look forward to leading CHCI as we approach our 30th anniversary next year…I will work hard to expand CHCI's services so we can get more youth involved in public service and civic life."

By evening, members of the CHC had agreed to strip Baca of his post at the foundation, and they chose Roybal-Allard to replace him. Many members gave their proxy vote to Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.).

Amid the squabbling, many Hispanic lawmakers and their staff attended the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) dinner in honor of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). They were unreachable for comment.

Sources said there would be another vote on Thursday, when the CHC holds its weekly business meeting, to oust Baca formally. As chairman he is expected to run this meeting, the caucus’s first in weeks. The caucus is expect to elect Gutierrez, who serves as chairman of the CHC’s task force on immigration.

It is almost unprecedented that a leader of a caucus, committee or formal congressional organization is replaced in the middle of his or her term unless under the threat of indictment or sentencing, and sometimes not even for that.

Baca has allegedly shown disrespect to some of the female lawmakers in the CHC but he denies the allegation that he called Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) a "whore." Sanchez, who raised questions about whether Baca was properly elected to the post last year, has quit the CHC.

CHC members were also upset by Baca’s decision to steer money from the CHC’s PAC to his two sons. They ran losing bids in 2006 for the California state Assembly and Senate. Sanchez, her sister, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Grijalva (Ariz.), and Solis quit the PAC.