Colorado Lawmaker Calls Mexican Workers 'Illiterate Peasants'
Monday , April 21, 2008 (Associated Press)
DENVER — A Colorado legislator known for kicking a photographer was ordered to leave the podium of the state House of Representatives on Monday because he called Mexican workers "illiterate peasants."
State Rep. Douglas Bruce, who has a history of provoking controversy, made the comment during debate on a bill that would allow the state to help immigrant workers get temporary federal visas. The measure is intended to ease a shortage of farm workers in the state.
"I would like to have the opportunity to state at the microphone why I don't think we need 5,000 more illiterate peasants in Colorado," Bruce said.
His outburst drew an audible gasp from the House.
"How dare you," said state Rep. Kathleen Curry, a Democrat who was serving as chairwoman during the debate. She told the Republican lawmaker he was no longer recognized to speak.
House Minority Leader Mike May, head of the GOP caucus, said legislative leaders were trying to determine what action to take against Bruce.
Rep. Terrance Carroll, a Democrat, said the remark could result in a formal ethics complaint that would require a hearing and possible suspension, censure or expulsion.
Bruce later defended his remarks.
“I looked up ’illiterate’ in the dictionary and it means somebody who is lacking in formal education or is unable to read and write,” he said. “I don’t think these people who are planning to come over here and pick potatoes or peaches are likely to have much of a formal education.
I looked up the word ’peasant.’ The word ’peasant’ means a person who works in agricultural fields.
"These people, most of them, don’t speak English. Most of them haven’t had any formal education, that’s why they’re coming over here. I don’t blame them for trying, but I don’t think we should pave the way for more aliens to come here,” he said.
He became the first Colorado lawmaker censured by the House after he kicked a newspaper photographer for taking his picture during a prayer.
Republicans later removed him from the powerful State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee because he refused to co-sponsor a resolution honoring military veterans. Bruce said he believed resolutions were a waste of time because they have no legal effect.
Like it or not, this man is entitled to express his opinion, which has more than a faint whiff of truth to it, as a legislator and as a participant in the free marketplace of ideas in this country.
Those of you who live in a border state, you know what it's like when you turn in to the parking lot of Home Depot and see the huddled groups looking for day labor, (and some of whom have been known to "accidentally" jump in front of oncoming cars in an attempt to win the gringo insurance lottery), casting furtive glances to see if anyone looks interested. It is a real, complex problem with no easy answers. Outright amnesty is not going to work. We simply can't absorb the numbers. Aiding and abetting (that's you, Cdl. Mahoney, that's you, Mexican Government providing food and water stops along the way north) sure as hell ain't right.
The fact that the Democratic Chair cut him off and did not allow him to complete his thought or explain his reasoning bothers me more than what he said. When "free" speech is limited or unilaterally stifled by one member of the ruling party in the very seat of government, we have a serious problem.
Some people, like this guy Bruce, act as lightening rods. They thrive on sparking controversy by the use of invective. The words he used make you think about the issue. These are not "fighting words" akin to Don Imus' "nappy headed ho" remarks, nor are they as inflammatory as referring to the Mexican illegal farm workers as "modern day slaves." I found Obama's "clinging to guns and religion" remarks far more demeaning to middle class America than Bruce's words used to describe people who violate our laws to come here and who do so not purely out of the noble desire to feed and clothe their families back in the homeland, but as importantly, to obtain benefits (health, education, welfare) that their own dysfunctional government refuses to provide. Why can't we openly address these issues rather than cutting off the microphones?
Again, don't get me wrong - I am all for immigration - my earliest relatives hit the rocky shores of Mass. back in 1641 (unpopular to be Catholic in England back then), and the latest (1912) married her way down here from Quebec/Ste Anne de Beaupre. The rules were different then, true. But we have a right to expect that the laws of this sovereign nation be followed by those who want to come here. And damn straight, the laws are burdensome. Just ask any of my disabled Social Security clients who've been waiting three-plus years to get a hearing to find out if they're entitled to benefits.
The legislation Bruce was speaking against has some positive points - basically, the employers report the workers, get permits, and help pay the costs of fast-tracking them to obtaining legal status (a glorified "guest worker" approach). It needs work, but it's a start. Here's the link: