A group of Democratic lawmakers are criticizing the Utah governor for using a Spanish phrase when discussing medicinal marijuana bills earlier this week.
Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, was holding a monthly news conference on the local ABC affiliate, KUED, and the topic of a bill legalizing medical marijuana came up.
The governor said the topic was “a common sense thing” that ought to be debated, the Deseret News reported. “I’m not interested in having Dr. Feelgood out there say, ‘Yeah, yeah, que pasa? You know, here’s your doobie for the day, and you’ll feel better.’ That’s probably not where I want to go.”
According to Fox13 in Salt Lake City, there was a negative response on social media, with the popular governor being accused of having made a racist comment suggesting that “Spanish speakers are the only ones who will misuse marijuana in Utah,” as one tweeter put it.
— ray sanchez (@realraysanchez) January 23, 2016
"That's super racist," another comment read.
Several lawmakers – including state representatives Mark Wheatley, Angela Romero and Sandra Hollins, along with state senator Luz Escamilla – released a statement on Friday that was more measured, stopping short of calling the Utah governor racist but saying he should more carefully choose his words.
"It's out of character for the governor to say things like that," Wheatley said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. He also said that he and other lawmakers had received calls from constituents who thought Herbert was "stereotyping" Latinos as potheads.
Romero called the governor’s comment insensitive.
Herbert's spokesman Jon Cox said in a statement that the governor was trying to do an impersonation of comedian George Carlin and didn't mean to offend anybody.
"The governor's impersonation of George Carlin and his character 'The Hippy Dippy Weatherman' certainly fell flat, including the character's tag line, 'Que pasa?,'” Cox was quoted by the Tribune as saying. “In the future, we'll have the governor stick to policy and avoid dated pop culture references. No offense intended."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.