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Governor candidates
spar in Spanish

Possibly reflecting the region’s rising Hispanic population, a pair of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Texas have verbally sparred in Spanish during one of their debates.

Dan Morales and Tony Sanchez, both vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination, exchanged heated words over affirmative action, their Latino heritage and their past records in business and government, the Dallas Morning News reported.

According to the paper, the candidates initially limited themselves to English only during their debate on Friday, but eventually clashed in Spanish during the pair of hour-long contests that were televised throughout the state.

“I think that [Morales is] embarrassed and ashamed to be Hispanic,” Sanchez charged at one point. “He has never shown the pride that we have to be Hispanic.”

Morales disagreed, though he pointed out that debating in English was most important because it was the state’s primary language. He did say, however, that he would agree to one debate in Spanish.

“I am proud that I’m Hispanic. I’m proud of my heritage. But I’m prouder that I am a Texan and I’m an American,” he told reporters following the exchange.

The event was historic, as it was the first time in U.S. history that gubernatorial candidates of any state had a formal political debate in a language other than English, the paper said. In all, 231 languages are spoken in the United States.

Texas’ population consists of about 35 percent Hispanics, compared to 20 percent nationally. The Democratic winner faces Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is unopposed for his party’s nomination.

A Spanish-only debate sets a poor precedent, says Jim Boulet Jr., executive director of English First, a non-partisan group.

“Inevitably, there will one day be ‘advocates’ for the Vietnamese community in Houston, themselves fluent English speakers, demanding a candidates’ debate be conducted entirely in Vietnamese,” he told WorldNetDaily.

“The Republican Party must be kicking itself for not having come up with this ‘Spanish-only’ debate style first,” he said, because of an “item that came out of the [party’s] winter meeting in Austin.”

Boulet said party elders decided to send themselves “to Spanish class to undergo intensive language immersion so they can do outreach.”

“Given the problems we already have holding politicians accountable for campaign promises made in English, opening the door to yet another excuse – ‘the translator made a mistake’ – seems hardly likely to improve matters,” Boulet added, in comments published by National Review Online.

John Wahala, a spokesman and researcher for the Center for Immigration Studies, says that while the Spanish-language debate isn’t an immigration issue per se, it is “symptomatic” of “massive immigration in Texas” and a “fundamental change in the way immigrants are received and expected to assimilate.”

“In the past,” he said, “where you had areas of immigration enclaves, [there] was a desire on the part of the immigrants to speak English and almost to be shamed into learning the language of the country where they immigrated to.” That seems to be missing these days.

“It’s like a radical multiculturalism has taken hold, making it” acceptable for “U.S. candidates in Texas [to] speak Spanish to the immigrant population,” he added.

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