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"Pinata" Remark Stirs Ire

Debate over this year's medical malpractice bills turned ugly in the House Judiciary Committee late Tuesday night when a lobbyist chose an unfortunate metaphor while addressing Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez.

Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) had been grilling lobbyist Joseph A. Schwartz III on why his client, the association of doctors known as Med Chi, was not doing more to ask the insurance company Medical Mutual to alleviate the malpractice rate problem.

Schwartz fired back, "I know it's popular to make Med Mutual the pinata of your Mexican party."

The words hung in the air for a beat. One member of the committee shook his head and said, "Ouch." Then an outraged Gutierrez stormed out of the committee room, with a sheepish Schwartz chasing after her.

A day later, Gutierrez, who immigrated from El Salvador, was still steamed. She said that after enduring numerous comments about illegal aliens and immigrant bashing, the remark was the "drop of water that made the glass spill over."

"It's gotten to be okay to just attack Hispanics," said Gutierrez, who is one of two Hispanics in the 188-member General Assmbly. "I just think someone has to say, 'Enough is enough.'"

Matt Mosk

Schwartz sent a written apology and visted Gutierrez in person yesterday. But she's undecided about what to do next.

"I'm considering what would be an appropriate next step," she said.

Another blow-up at the meeting, over a lobbyist's aide who was taping the meeting, could have provided Gutierrez with lasting evidence of Schwartz's misstep. But the committee does not allow outsiders to record their meetings. After the aide to lobbyist John Stierhoff received a stern lecture from Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's), Stierhoff agreed to destroy the tape.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  March 15, 2006; 5:49 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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Story doesn't say the nature of the "grilling" Gutierrez was doing... her own unprofessional conduct maybe. Just wondering.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2006 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Anon, one person's bad behavior does not justify another's. Even if she had been grilling him excessively, that doesn't give him the right to act so poorly.

Posted by: Mr. K | March 15, 2006 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Notice to all company's that hire lobbyists: Don't hire Mr. Schwartz if you have a bill that needs to pass the Judiciary Committee in the next couple of years.

Dude needs to understand who has the power.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 15, 2006 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Storming out of a hearing in reaction to a tactless remark by a witness suggests that the Delegate's taste for drama trumped the significance of the issues being discussed.

If I were one of her constituents, I'd suggest she develop a thicker skin and concentrate on the people's business, instead of pretending to be Rosa Parks.

Posted by: Bill M. | March 16, 2006 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Bill, lets have someone make a derogatory comment about your ethnicity in a tense situation in front of a room full of people and see how well you respond.

Posted by: Mr. K | March 16, 2006 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Politicians storming out of hearings is a time honored tradition when they are upset, so there's nothing really unusual about Ms. Gutierrez's actions.

Considering the money to be made in lobbying, the more questionable and outlandish behavior I see from lobbyists, really makes me think I'm in the wrong business. I can't imagine it's hard to shine around dim ones like Schwartz around.

Posted by: corbett | March 16, 2006 12:14 PM | Report abuse

What happened to freedom of speech, which the Democrats love to embrace when it comes to what there crazies say?

Posted by: Franklin M. Ward | March 16, 2006 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I have no sympathy and give no accolades to Gutierrez. Nothing is easier, and, in my opinion, more stupid, than to play the old "race card". Stop the nonsense and do your job Delegate!

Posted by: Al Crandall | March 16, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I wrote "there" when I meant "their." But, then again, I am a product of public education.

Posted by: Franklin M. Ward | March 16, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Mr. K above is spot on. To borrow a phrase from e. e. cummings, Gutierrez simply decided there was some shit she would not eat.

Ward: your freedom of speech does not imply my obligation to stay in the same room while you exercise it.

Crandall: who played the race card first? Clearly that jerk of a lobbyist with what he evidently thought was a joke about a pinata.

In the good old days, Gutierrez would have suggested that Schwartz name his friends--if any.

Posted by: Kakuzan | March 16, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Right on Kukuzan. Freedom of speech does not mean that any comment uttered is appropriate, or innocent. Schwartz' comment was hurtful and rude, and any normal person would be expected to react. Reacting to rudeness does not equal "playing the race card". Gutierez made no comment about Schwartz ethnicity. She removed herself from the situation, perhaps to calm down and consider a reasonable response, which is just what she has said.

Posted by: a | March 16, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see a little more information on this. I could see someone who was taking a drubbing that he felt like a pinata. That's certainly not racist. If Schwartz was simply saying that, then it's no big deal. If he were trying to make a point about the Delegate's ethnicity, however, then that's another.

A remark that references ethnicity is not, in and of itself, racist. It's not as if Schwartz said he was "trying to Jew someone down" or referred to someone as a "squaw" (where I used to live there is a legislator who regularly used these phrases, unfortunately). He said he didn't want his organization to be the pinata of a Mexican party. That is not a derogatory comment on Mexicans. It's not an attack on Mexicans. On its face it is, at most, an unfortunate choice of analogy. If Schwartz was intending to use it as a racial attack, then it's more, but I don't see any evidence that he was.

People need to chill out with the hurt feelings. Gutierrez needs to scale back the grandstanding.

Posted by: MK | March 16, 2006 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Why isn't anyone commenting on another interesting part of this story: that Gutierrez thinks "It's gotten to be okay to just attack Hispanics."? That is absolutely what I see in Oregon, where I live.

Posted by: Kevin | March 16, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse

If what he meant was that only Mexicans are hitting up his client for excessive benefits/goodies, then I would say it wasn't a bigoted and innsensitive insult. It's likely though, that the remark didn't reflect his client's concerns. And it's possible that the demoralizing statement was a strategic ploy meant to derail the hearing that was exposing a legitimate shortcoming damaging to his client (but I feel that I'm giving the lobbyist more credit than is due). When all is said and done, maybe you have to be Mexican to feel the sting of that remark. Oh wait...she's not Mexican! Does that mean he thinks they all look alike so they won't mind if you make someone from El Salvador a Mexican? (Brings to mind a scene from the best movie of the year, Crash.)

Posted by: Mimi | March 16, 2006 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Ms. Gutierrez is a member of the Democratic party. I don't believe there is a "Mexican party." I would assume Mr. Schwartz was trying to gain support for his position by aligning himself with the racial majority and against the racial minority with his "Mexican party" comment.

Posted by: Brenda | March 17, 2006 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Brenda, I think you are reading way too much into it. He said he didn't want his company to be the pinata at a Mexican party. Obviously "party" in this context has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with a gathering of people for a good time. And, traditionally, pinatas are most prevalent at Mexican parties.

Posted by: MK | March 17, 2006 12:09 PM | Report abuse

MK, you do have a point. However, he did not say "a" Mexican party. He did say "your" Mexican party, at least as quoted in the article. I am from Texas and have frequently had pinatas at my children's birthday parties, so I am well aware of the tradition.

Posted by: Brenda | March 17, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Had I being present his head would have probably become the Pinata. As a lobbyist he sure as hell is not getting the goodies inside the pinata, instead he would have to settle for white sour bread.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 17, 2006 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Welcome to America

Posted by: John | March 23, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

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