Muslim campaign aide creates controversy


A Muslim spokeswoman for Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar abruptly took some time off after comments she made provided campaign ammunition for Republicans.

At least one political expert said Nayyera Haq’s departure should be permanent, but Salazar campaign manager Sal Pace said Haq "will return to the campaign shortly" and is taking "a few days off to spend some personal time with her family."

Salazar will continue to have no comment on the angry exchange about Islam between Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and the 24-year-old Haq that flared last week, Pace said Monday.

"As a young staffer devoted to public service, the last few days have been difficult for (Haq), given the unwarranted attention about her faith," Pace wrote. "She is a patriotic American who loves her country and is upset by the attacks against her."

But Haq’s impassioned defense of her Islamic faith while representing Salazar, who is Catholic, may have unintentionally harmed his political career, despite her insistence that she was speaking personally and not as Salazar’s aide.

"She’s behaved in a way that put her employer at political risk, and a good political press person does not do that," said Kathleen Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which researches issues involving the news media, political communication and public policy.

"The first rule is, do no harm to your employer," Jamieson said. "If she cares about (Salazar’s) political future, she should resign and get another job where she can articulate her strong convictions on this issue. She’s put her employer in an untenable position, and if I were she, I would leave."

The controversy erupted last week after Tancredo wrote Pope Benedict XVI, urging him to stand his ground and "resist calls to apologize" for remarks he made on holy war that incensed Muslims.

In a personal e-mail last week, Haq, who said she was speaking for herself and an organization of Muslim aides on Capitol Hill, criticized Tancredo’s letter and castigated him as a person who "has always been articulate in expressing his hatred of Islam and immigrants."

Salazar’s Republican opponent in the 3rd Congressional District, Cortez businessman Scott Tipton, picked up the issue, calling for Salazar to "rein in" his spokeswoman.

Tipton also said Salazar and Haq should apologize to Tancredo.

On Monday, Tipton continued criticizing Salazar, saying, "I would have taken action on this. I would have let my person go, or I would have given them a stern talking to."

He did not, however, call for his opponent to fire Haq, a New Yorker who earlier worked for Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

In explaining Salazar’s decision not to speak with the Rocky Mountain News in defense of Haq, Pace wrote Monday: "Relative to a request to respond to gutter-level campaign tactics designed to invoke racist fears toward Hispanics and Muslims, the congressman respectfully declines to bring his campaign to levels that others are seeking to bring to the campaign."

Jamieson said Salazar’s silence may be politically golden.

"For him to say he will have no comment is actually the smart thing for him to do," she said. "He didn’t say it, and he didn’t endorse what she said. Republican attempts to tie him to this are tenuous, at this point."

(Contact Joe Garner of the Rocky Mountain News at