New Mexico Democrats are trying to put U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici on the spot since Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas — whom Domenici is supporting for president — called for an end to most bilingual education and for proclaiming English the official language of the United States.
“Dole’s position is a rebuke of the Hispanics, Native Americans and other New Mexicans who still find value in their native language,” State Sen. Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque, said in a prepared statement.
“We hope that Domenici, as a chair of Dole’s campaign, speaks against this and serves New Mexico properly,” said Bianca Ortiz y Wertheim, co-president of MANA de Albuquerque, the local chapter of the Mexican-American National Women’s Association.
Domenici, western regional chairman for Dole’s presidential bid, responded with his own written statement, saying that he has consistently supported bilingual education “and the multi-lingual heritage that is so unique to New Mexico.”
“So-called ‘English only’ initiatives are not what New Mexicans want, and I’ve joined them in this view,” Domenici said. “I am not in a position to have Sen. Dole accept all my views on this and he knows that I do not agree with him on this issue.”
And Domenici noted that President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed an English-only bill while governor of Arkansas. “It’s like, if they’re going to associate me with what Bob Dole says on this issue, why aren’t Democrats accountable for their candidate’s signing a law that did the same thing?”‘ Domenici spokesman Chris Gallegos said.
The Democrats noted that Domenici has voted against measures to assert the primacy of English or roll back bilingual programs that Dole, the U.S. Senate majority leader, has supported. Domenici “can’t have it both ways,” Earl Potter, the state Democratic chairman, said. “This is a major policy statement by Dole that is so antithetical to everything this state stands for.”
Bilingualism is enshrined in parts of the New Mexico Constitution, such as a provision calling for teachers to be proficient in both English and Spanish.
“The idea of ‘English-only’ or ‘English-first’ at the national level is an affront to New Mexico,” Potter said. He said he wasn’t familiar with the English-only measure Clinton signed as Arkansas governor.
Domenici, who will be on the ballot for re-election in 1996, said, “I think it is a long stretch for Democratic leaders like Manny Aragon, who know me and who have worked with me, to try to attribute Sen. Dole’s English as a national language policy to me because of my support of his campaign.”