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Official’s ‘implant’ joke costs him state positions

Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante has quietly resigned from two state commissions he was appointed to by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, after his published remarks last month suggesting a candidate for Orange County sheriff could’ve gotten the job if he had breast implants.

Bustamante, a Republican, was appointed in January to the state Fair Employment and Housing Commission, but his nomination had yet to be confirmed by the Senate. He’d also been appointed to the California Council on Criminal Justice.

In a letter Monday to the Senate Rules Committee, the governor’s office said Bustamante’s nomination to the fair employment board was being withdrawn. The commission is charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws and hears complaints regarding employment and housing discrimination.

Bustamante, a 43-year-old Air Force veteran and former state alcohol control agent, has been regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party -- particularly valued as a candidate with whom the party could make in-roads among Latino voters.

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He was elected to the City Council in 2004 and last year was the local Republican establishment’s favored candidate for an open seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, though he finished third in the contest.

After the June 10 meeting at which the supervisors appointed Sandra Hutchens over Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters as the county’s sheriff, Bustamante joked in the presence of a Los Angeles Times reporter and an Internet blogger during a conversation at the Hall of Administration: “I kept telling the chief [Walters]: ‘Maybe we should get you some implants. Or a water bra.’ ”

In the Times article, Bustamante denied making the remark, but the account was confirmed by blogger Matt Cunningham, editor of the OC Blog, a conservative site about Orange County politics and government.

“When these remarks were brought to our attention, it seriously undermined any consideration he would’ve gotten,” said state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), a member of the Senate Rules Committee, which weighs appointments. “Not only were the remarks extremely insensitive, in my opinion, but in a year when we came within a hair of nominating the first woman presidential candidate of a political party, to hear that not only this kind of thinking still exists but that someone would say it publicly is unconscionable.”

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The comment also outraged some political bloggers, who began a letter-writing campaign to state senators in an effort to block his appointment, and to the county, where Bustamante is the director of administration for the Public Works Department, about whether he was on county time when the remark was made and if it violated workplace codes of conduct.

“When he’s making these kind of remarks, how in the world could they put Mr. Bustamante into a body where he’s handling these kind of complaints?” said Art Pedroza, the founder and editor of the political blog Orange Juice.

“Part of their work involves civil rights and complaints about this kind of behavior.”

As of Thursday, mention of Bustamante’s gubernatorial appointments had not yet been removed from his biography on the Santa Ana website. He submitted a resignation letter to John Cruz, Schwarzenegger’s appointments secretary, that took effect Monday.

Citing a recent promotion at work, he said he no longer had enough time to fulfill the duties of the two commissions he had been appointed to serve on.

It was not clear whether the governor’s office asked Bustamante to step down, but Rachel Cameron, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, confirmed that the administration conferred with Bustamante before his resignation was submitted. She said she could not reveal the nature of the exchange, but added: “We want to make clear that we hold all of our appointees to the highest standard of professional conduct.”

Bustamante declined to comment when reached on his cellphone Thursday.

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christian.berthelsen@ latimes.com

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Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.


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