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Attacks flying in Coachella Valley congressional race

October 19, 2012 |  7:17 pm

Mary Bono MackRepublican Rep. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs has sharpened her attacks against her Democratic challenger, emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz, in a race that’s attracting money and attention from across the country.Raul Ruiz
Representatives of Bono Mack’s campaign on Thursday released a 1999 audio recording that they said captured Ruiz reading a letter written by a Zapatista rebel leader from Chiapas, Mexico, in support of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  

It was Bono Mack’s latest attack on Ruiz for taking part in Native American protests while he was a Harvard University medical student in the 1990s, as the race for the 36th Congressional District grows tighter and more contentious by the day.

The recording came from a pro-Native American protest at Plymouth Rock, Bono Mack’s  campaign representatives said. The week before, Bono Mack called Ruiz a “radical” for taking part in a similar protest two years before and being arrested.  The charges were later dropped. Ruiz said he had been taken into custody because he was protecting a tribal elder from being beaten by police

Bono Mack's attacks on Friday drew a sharp rebuke from the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. The coalition of nine Southern California tribes includes the politically influential Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in Highland and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Temecula.

“We were deeply hurt and offended by your attack against your congressional opponent on the basis that he stood with tribal people to protest the deplorable historic treatment of American Indians and the dual, arguably controversial, symbolism of Plymouth Rock," Tribal Alliance’s leaders said in a letter to the representative. “We resent the suggestion that choosing to respect Indian heritage and giving voice to Indian issues is “un American” and “radical.”

Ruiz released a contrite statement about the recording on Friday evening.

"I've always been passionate about standing up for people -- that was true then, and it's true now.  I shouldn't have read that letter, I was wrong -- I believe anyone who is convicted of killing FBI agents should be punished to the full extent of the law," the statement said. “Congresswoman Bono Mack is launching desperate personal attacks because she's down in the polls and losing this race -- voters are appalled by her record on the issues that matter to them like voting to end Medicare and failing to create jobs."

Marc Troast, the political director for Bono Mack’s campaign, earlier had criticized Ruiz for initially saying he did not recall reading the letter.

“Raul Ruiz has deceived the voters of  the 36th Congressional District, and the evidence is crystal clear," Troast said.


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--Phil Willon in Riverside

Photos: Democrat Raul Ruiz, Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack. Source: Candidate campaigns.