Friday, October 17, 2008

English Only, bitte...

Governor Matt Blunt is again touting this support for the "English Only" amendment passed by the legislature and that goes before the voters this November.

Although the Governor's statement on the subject refer to English as Missouri's "common language" the amendment would make it mandatory that all official government proceedings be held in english only.

I must admit to a mix of bafflement and suspicion in response to these efforts. It is fairly clear that there is no wave of government meetings being held in Spanish, Bosnian or Swahili, so why the need to amend the state constitution to address a non-existent problem?

In border states such as Texas, New Mexico or Alaska there may be legitimate debates over the desire of non-english speaking citizens to have state-level meetings held in their native tongue. Those are the likeliest places with the critical mass of non-english speakers that would need to address state issues.

However, here in Missouri that simply isn't the case. Even if it were, would it need to rise to the level of a constitutional amendment? The only advantage to the effort could be the ability to avoid any constitutional challenges at the state level. That or it would allow the state to begin refusing to provide resources in any language other than English, as in no translated government documents or even to refuse to cover the cost of translators in court.

Barring those goals it seems the only real benefit to such an effort is its potential as a get-out-the-vote tool for the more conservative factions of the Republican party. Even as far back as 2007, when the original bill was passed, the Republican "brand" was not really drumming up the troops.

It is a time-honored tradition to put controversial issues on the ballot in the hopes of bringing out a particular constituency. Yet as the worst recession in memory looms and individuals watch their savings vanish in the markets' spasms, do these cultural wedge issues gain any traction?

- Murphy

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