English became the official language of Kootenai County Tuesday by unanimous vote of the county commissioners.
Commissioner Ron Rankin initiated the English-only resolution last week but the matter was tabled. Before Tuesday’s vote, he dropped provisions that bilingualism allegedly threatens to split Canada. Rankin also added a paragraph noting that Idaho law requires official business be conducted in English.
Commissioners drew heavily on that portion of the resolution in justifying the measure. “This basically says we support the language in the state code,” said Dick Compton, chairman of the commission.
Commissioner Dick Panabaker agreed, and emphasized his move to table the motion last week had nothing to do with his opposition to the idea. He merely wanted more time to study the issue.
County Clerk Dan English told the commissioners he likes the new resolution as the meeting dissolved. Two members of the audience also commended the commissioners for going all-out for English.
But Robert Rickel, of Athol, questioned Rankin’s motives and methods. “We didn’t know what to expect or what your intentions were,” Rickel said. “Many people in this county have associated you with very radical statements.
“I would expect you to exercise some moderation.”
If saving taxpayer money is at the heart of the issue, “do we take all of the foreign languages out of the schools?” Rickel asked. Will the foreign language books also be pulled from the libraries?
While Rickel has nothing against English, the Aryan Nations and other racist groups could take the official English issue out of context, Rickel warned.
“If we haven’t had any English language problems, why fix it?” he added. “North Idaho has it’s problems and we do not need to contribute to these things.”
Rankin admitted he should have done a better job of preparing his fellow commissioners for the proposal. “I should have taken more time but this was one of those where I just assumed that everybody felt the same way, so let’s do it,” he said.
As to foreign language classes and library books, Rankin said his resolution is focused only on county government and not on education. “My purpose - there are many purposes - but mainly (it’s) the tax savings,” he said.
Driver’s license manuals are printed in Spanish. Driver’s license tests are printed in six languages. “All of that costs,” Rankin noted.
The state of Idaho doesn’t enforce it’s own official English laws, he said, making it necessary for the county to take action to prevent the demand for everything in county government to be done in multiple languages.
Waiting until there’s a great problem isn’t the answer. “The water wasn’t running over the levy when we fixed the dike,” he said, referring to modifications to the Hayden Lake spillway. “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. But things that you can see coming…”
Critics find that reasoning outrageous. “Oh, great, so you’ve got to bash immigrants before they get here in significant numbers?” asked Erik Johnson, who runs the migrant farm worker branch of Idaho Legal Aid.
“Our government leaders should be spokesmen for pluralism, not bigotry.”
Rankin notes his son-in-law is Hispanic when the question of racism comes up. Johnson says that means nothing.
Whether it’s economics or logistics, the English-only and official-English movements across the nation all have racism in mind, he contends. “It’s a way of saying we don’t like outsiders, we don’t like immigrants, we don’t like foreigners, we don’t like people who are different,” Johnson said.
“Saying ‘if you don’t speak English, you can’t participate,’ goes against every democratic principle,” he added.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: It’s official Here’s Kootenai County’s official English resolution: WHEREAS, a common language in government is practical policy, allowing common methods of communication between citizens and their government; and, WHEREAS, English is the language of our Constitution, our currency, and our national debates; and, WHEREAS, the State of Idaho has established English as the required language of official government business for all units of government in Idaho. NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED that the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners strongly endorse the current public policy of the state of Idaho, a policy clearly stated in numerous statutes, most specifically in section 73-121 of the Idaho Code, that the use of English is required when conducting official government business; and, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that native languages will be provided when needed for emergency, health, safety, and justice services without bilingual pay for employees. The text of the foregoing was enacted as a resolution of the Board of County Commissioners of Kootenai County, Idaho, on the 18th day of March, 1997.