Tennessee: Nashville's English-only measure defeated

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Jan 24 14:51:08 UTC 2009

Nashville's English-only measure defeated

By Chris Echegaray

Nashville listened to its leaders — the governor, the mayor, and a
vast coalition of churches, businesses and universities — and defeated
an English-only measure by nearly 10,000 votes in Thursday's special
election. No one predicted the massive turnout on the special
election, one that inspired strong emotion from voters on either side.
Ultimately, opponents said, the message that diversity is a good thing
came through. "With the defeat of this amendment, the citizens of
Nashville tell the rest of the country that we are an incredibly warm
city with an entrepreneurial spirit," said Tom Oreck, a vacuum cleaner
company owner who worked to defeat the measure.

The final was 32,144 for English only and 41,752 against — at about 19
percent, the largest turnout for a special election in a decade.
Opponents were well ahead when early voting totals came out just after
the polls closed at 7 p.m. and never trailed. The measure would have
forced all Metro Nashville government business to be done in English,
with the council allowed to vote on exceptions. The city's legal
department contended early on that conflicts with federal law would
enmesh Nashville in litigation for years to come. By defeating the
measure, Nashville will not be the largest city in the nation with an
English-only rule in its charter despite dogged efforts by Metro
Councilman Eric Crafton, who spearheaded the amendment. The city's
size attracted the attention of national media.

Crafton's arguments

Crafton and his Nashville English First group argued that the city
would save money in translation services and become unified as the
result of more immigrants learning English. But even Crafton said he
is glad the special election is over. He has been trying to get the
charter amended for two years, first failing after former Mayor Bill
Purcell vetoed a council vote on the issue and then failing to get it
on the November ballot over a technicality in timing.

"Like Roberto Duran said after his fight, 'No mas,'" Crafton said. "I
think our community benefited from this debate, and I'm glad to have
it behind us. We may have been on different sides, but we have to work
to improve the education system, work through the budget crisis. Now,
we have to be cooperative and work together."

After the final tallies, Mayor Karl Dean also called for the city to
move on from this chapter.

"The results of this special election reaffirm Nashville's identity as
a welcoming and friendly city and our ability to come together as a
community — from all walks of life and perspectives — to work together
for a common cause for the good of our city," he said.

Election costs

Even some who voted for the measure complained about the expense of
holding a special election for it — nearly $280,000. Others didn't
like the expense or the measure.

"This is a waste of taxpayer money," said Ruth Hall, who voted at
DuPont Tyler Middle School. "It's wrong, and I voted against it.

"If I travel somewhere, I don't want the government telling me what I
should be speaking and when."

But those who went to the polls had ideas as diverse as Nashville
itself. Julie Lopez, who is married to a Cuban immigrant and adopted a
daughter from Colombia, voted in favor of the measure.

"I just feel that it's fine to have government business to be in one
language, an official language," said Lopez, who voted at the Central
Pike Church of Christ. "I think, with changing demographics, there
should be changing policies."

Overall, the "one country, one language" sentiment pushed by Crafton
to galvanize voters didn't resonate because Nashville is becoming
cosmopolitan and comfortable with its diversity, said University of
Illinois professor Dennis Baron, who has written extensively on
English-only measures.

"Nashville refused to be alarmed by unwarranted language
endangerment," he said. "This is a good sign. As I've said, these
things tend to pass. The forces against the measure worked very hard."

Baron said English-only measures are often veiled attempts against
immigrants and non-English speaking groups. The argument over
English-only found itself framed around Latinos and illegal
immigration, but it also would have affected the thousands of refugees
the federal government resettles in Nashville.

The defeat of English-only is a sign that voters recognize bad policy,
said Maria Rodriguez, director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition who
has fought against similar measures in that state.

"Voters are not duped anymore," she said. "They know when they see bad
policy that is going to be costly and that's not progressive. … I
guess brown can stick around in Nashville."


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