Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Looking Down Ballot - Missouri Constitutional Amendment #1 - English Only

As promised last week, I'll be offering my opinions on the various measures that show up "down ballot" from the big Presidential and Gubernatorial races. Here is a sample ballot for Kansas City voters, and a new voter expecting to show up and cast a vote for Obama might be surprised to see page after page of judges, candidates, amendments and propositions. (If you live outside of Kansas City, it should be fairly simple to google your local election board and find a sample ballot online.) A little preparation can help you vote wisely in these important, but less publicized electoral offerings.

Constitutional Amendment #1 is a prime example of the danger of unprepared voting.
Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to add a statement that English shall be the language of all governmental meetings at which any public business is discussed, decided, or public policy is formulated whether conducted in person or by communication equipment including conference calls, video conferences, or Internet chat or message board?
An off-the-cuff review of this proposal might leave a voter thinking that this is a reasonable step which could prevent our public meetings from turning into cacophonous, confusing messes. An unprepared voter could fail to see just how bad this Amendment is.


It is tempting to do a little armchair psychoanalysis of why this has been put on our ballot, and speculate about wedge issues and xenophobia and the creation of fear of differences, but that is heated territory that will deepen the very divide I would prefer to bridge. Instead, I will focus not on the motivations of its proponents, but on the practical effect of this Constitutional Amendment.


Quite simply, Amendment #1 handcuffs government in dealing with its citizens. It is simply a fact of life that some groups of people in Missouri are more adept at languages other than English. This has been a fact here in Missouri since the beginning of human population, as the Illini, Osage and other tribes shared Missouri, through the French settlements that continued speaking French long after the Louisiana Purchase, through the quaint German communities along the Missouri, and continuing now as groups of Hispanic, Vietnamese and Sudanese immigrants form distinct communities in our urban areas. Missouri has never, ever, been a mono-lingual state, and yet it has never, ever felt the need to enshrine English as our official language.


To be effective, particularly in times of emergency, a government must communicate quickly and effectively with its citizens. Amendment #1 would prevent government from holding meetings in languages other than English. If the police want to hold a public meeting to discuss a rise in gang activity in a non-english speaking community, it would be illegal for them to conduct it in the language of the people who would be most helpful and knowledgeable. If a public health crisis were to emerge within a non-english speaking community (perhaps a virus or tainted food), the government would be specifically prohibited from holding a meeting, conference call or even an internet chat board to discuss the problem in the language of the impacted population.

Why would we want to prevent our government from communicating in the most effective method for the specific purpose?

What would happen if an immigrant from Bosnia or Georgia or the Sudan or Guatemala showed up with a rare strain of influenza, threatening a repeat of the great Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918? Do we really want to prevent our government from communicating with a specific population on how to prevent its transmission, or even how to comply with a quarantine?

Again, why would we want to prevent our government from communicating in the most effective method for the specific purpose?

Is anybody really concerned that the Hispanic hoards are going to take over our government and we'll have to beg for our government queso? (Heck, they can't even get a seat on our school board, where they comprise a quarter of the constituency.) Does anyone mistakenly believe that this Amendment would prevent us from needing to scroll through the language choice screen at the ATM? (It won't.) Does anyone really believe that the new immigrants coming here for a bigger slice of the economic pie are going to fail to adopt the dominant language, just as the German, Polish, Italian, Russian, French, Chinese populations that preceded them?



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Blogger m.v. said...

Government doesn't need to conduct meetings in the language of any group. There are people called translators. Nowadays they can be reached instantly and translate over the phone or in person, so if an immigrant shows up with a case of bubonic plague (more dramatic,use it in your next post) they can bring a interpreter in to communicate. Since I had to deal with situations like this for my relatives I know that this happens all the time-in courts, at the airports, in the meetings, at the hospitals. I even applied to work at one of these places but it was on-call work and too much hassle. To expand on your example:if there is something happening involving a hearing/speech-impaired person does the government need to conduct its meetings in sign language? Or bringing interprter/subtitles is sufficient?

10/14/2008 7:47 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Meesha - you support my points brilliantly. Right now, the government is free to tailor its communications to effectively reach the target audience. We're not conducting our airports, meetings and hospitals in Russian - we're using translators. But, if I had to get a message out to a group of Russians, I might want to use an internet board posted in Russian. If I had to host a meeting about the bubonic plague taking over Southwest Boulevard, I might want to host one of the meetings in Spanish.

This amendment only eliminates one potential tool. That's why it's bad policy.

10/14/2008 8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the Missouri law prevent government from using translators if they choose to? It doesn't appear to me that it does.

Thirty states have similar laws as that proposed by Missouri? Is there record of any catastrophic problems anywhere else?

10/14/2008 8:43 AM  
Blogger New Hoboken said...

Thanks, Dan. Keep up the good analysis. I was wondering about this one...

10/14/2008 8:44 AM  
Anonymous Lance Weber said...

I agree, Dan. Perhaps I don't understand the arguments in favor of C.A. 1 but I haven't been persuaded.

Mandating that people communicate in a particular language seems to be an inappropriate use of governmental force.

Problems with official use of languages other than English should be remedied by means which are proportional to the difficulties presented.

10/14/2008 8:58 AM  
Anonymous whistleblowme said...

Anonymous 8:43 - I think the burden of persuasion lies on the people trying to get us to change our Constitution. So, tell me, why do we need this amendment?

Also, has anyone here or elsewhere claimed that there is a ban on translators? I don't think so.

10/14/2008 9:01 AM  
Anonymous The Truth said...

What does Constitutional Amendment #1 do? It creates a new Section to the Bill of Rights.

Section 34. That English shall be the language of all official proceedings in this state.

Official proceedings shall be limited to any meeting of a public governmental body at which any public business is discussed, decided, or public policy formulated, whether such meeting is conducted in person or by means of communication equipment, including, but not limited to, conference call, video conference, Internet chat, or Internet message board.

The term "official proceeding" shall not include an informal gathering of members of a public governmental body for ministerial or social purposes, but the term shall include a public vote of all or a majority of the members of a public governmental body, by electronic communication or any other means, conducted in lieu of holding an official proceeding with the members of the public governmental body gathered at one location in order to conduct public business.

Simply put: The Amendment, if approved by the voters, would replace statutes that currently do the same thing, and have since 1998.

This Amendment addresses public meetings in which people are going to vote on something. It does nothing to prevent the multilingual dissemination of information for ministerial, social, or emergency purposes.

Dan said; "If the police want to hold a public meeting to discuss a rise in gang activity in a non-english speaking community, it would be illegal for them to conduct it in the language of the people who would be most helpful and knowledgeable."

That statement is a lie! Dan didn't provide the readers with the full text of the Amendment. He didn't want the reader to know the truth. The clause; The term "official proceeding" shall not include an informal gathering of members of a public governmental body for ministerial or social purposes prevents the scenario that Dan attempts to create.

Here's a link to HJR-7.

10/14/2008 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Whistleblowme said...

Wrong again, Untruth! The meeting Dan describes would not be an "informal meeting", and thus would not fall within the exception you describe.

Funny that you add "emergency" to the list of exceptions, though it does not appear in the language you cite. Why did you make that up?

Dan is 110% right on this. If the Police call a neighborhood summit and run it in a language other than english, they would run afoul of this amendment.

I'll give you a break and assume that you just don't know how to read legislation. Here's a hint, though - the fact that the amendment specifically includes voting meetings does not prevent it from applying to non-voting meetings.

UnTruth - you're wrong. Just wrong.

And even if you were right, why would we need to amend our freaking constitution? That's ridiculous!

10/14/2008 9:52 AM  
Blogger m.v. said...

I don't think I am making a case for you Dan. I see a difference between "conducting" a meeting and "translating" a meeting. If you decided to conduct a government meeting in Chinese to discuss bird flu, how am I as an English-speaking American citizen supposed to find out what were you talking about. Will it be entered in a public record in the language it was conducted? There is a difference between providing accommodations and going over the top using stupid reasoning. I don’t really care what you do with the constitution, it seems to only matter when it’s convenient. I don’t understand why someone will even conceive of conducting public business in some foreign language.

10/14/2008 10:24 AM  
Anonymous The Truth said...


Is English your second language? No wonder this Amendment bothers you.

Do you think black is not black simply because you say that it is not? Read the full text of the Amendment.

This Amendment will pass by an overwhelming majority of votes. It passed in the House by a vote of 124 to 28, and in the Senate by a vote of 24 to 7. Only the "most liberal", "I vote against anything initiated by a Republican" members of our Legislature voted against it.

I thought "fear mongering" was supposed to be the mantra of the Bush Administration. It looks like some Democrats have adopted the same tactics.

This Democratic promotion of multilingualism is providing us with a growing underclass, which is segregated and walled off into linguistic ghettos. Nearly a century ago such immigrant ghettos were marked by extreme poverty, 80-hour workweeks and child labor. As the industrial revolution matured, immigrants discovered that language skills were the key to entering the emerging "middle class."

The Democrats need the "minority vote". As long as the country/state can be divided, the Democrats win. Why promote unity? Keep them in their ghettos. They will promote us to positions of power. They need us. We must keep them needing us.

10/14/2008 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Untruth, I've been speaking English all my life, and Whistleblowme is correct in what the amendment says. It would apply to a neighborhood summit to discuss reponses to a gang problem. Sorry if that upsets you, but that's what the language says.

I hope you don't insult me for saying so, but, really, this Amendment would make it illegal to conduct a public policy meeting in the state of Missouri in anything other than English. That's what it says.

I don't know Whistleblowme, so I don't know what his or her language of origin is, but he or she has a better grip on this particular piece of English than you do.

I live in Kansas, so I don't get to vote on this, but I vote that you owe Dan an apology for falsely claiming that he lied. Why do you keep on doing that?

10/14/2008 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oopsies - sorry, The Truth. I didn't mean to adopt Whistleblowme's misnaming of you, but I read his comment last. No offense intended.

10/14/2008 11:08 AM  
Anonymous The Truth said...


What is a "neighborhood summit"?

Is it "called to order"? Will it involve voting on a proposal? Will that vote shape public policy?

If the answer to all three of the above questions is YES, then it will have to be done in English. (If Amendment #1 passes)

10/14/2008 11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any meeting that starts gets called to order, and Whistleblowme is right about the Amendment not requiring votes. It INCLUDES voting meetings, but that doesn't mean it EXCLUDES non-voting meetings.

The only meetings excluded are social and ministerial meetings - and a neighborhood summit on gangs would not fall under either category.

10/14/2008 11:43 AM  
Anonymous travel said...

Quoting from a 10/3 Channel 4 report:
" The amendment requires that English be the official language not only for in-person meetings but also for those conducted via conference call, video conference, Internet chat and message board. The ballot measure would also mean that English would be the language for ballots, driver's license exams and other documents. It would not apply to informal gatherings."

Ballots and driver's license exams? Hmmm...bet that doesn't sit too well with the Left. Is this a change from current procedure?

10/14/2008 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Dan for that analysis. You are right on target. This ammendment does nothing to advance out state. Zero. Although you absolutely destroyed all technical arguements for this ammendment, we all know the real reason behind putting this on the ballot.

Not only is it racists and pointless it's just plain bad policy.

Also, in the light of international trade, how would this affect trade meetings? Are we really about to tell well qualified bilingual representatives of our country to speak in English because that's what Amerrrricans do?

10/14/2008 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan thank you for following up on my request for this analysis. Really, what an excellent post.

I consider myself a true conservative. I vote for Left Republicans and Right Democrats. I am really bothered by this ammendment.

Not only is this our Government trying to control what it shouldn't but it also is taking away the freedoms of over a million Americans in this state.

Really, this Ammendment is not Republican or Conservative, it's dangerous.

10/14/2008 2:52 PM  
Anonymous DKC said...

"Dangerous"... a little dramatic I'd say. Your points are all well taken in your examination of this Amendment... but I'm still voting for it. We can no longer trust government to do what it's supposed to do voluntarily... so.... amendments are a'comin'.

10/14/2008 3:32 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Wow!! How wonderfully entertaining! I wrote the amendment, it WILL pass and I wish we could let all Missourians see the arguments posted by those of you who oppose this amendment because your baseless arguments would go a long way in guaranteeing an even bigger margin of victory! I appreciate liberals! BTW, this link was emailed to me and it's not likely I'll be back so I probably won't have the great pleasure of seeing whats written after my post.

10/14/2008 6:54 PM  
Anonymous RaymoreConservative said...

I agree with the above post that says this ammendment is "dangerous". Real conservatives fight for less Government intervention and more freedoms. In a global economy, there is much business that may need translation or discussion in another language.

Trade Meetings, Court Proceedings, Legal document translation, MBE training seminars, etc. A Pew study came out and said that 80% of immigrants speak English fluently within 7 years of being here. That's great, but there are certain terms and proceedings that even native English speakers need translation for, let alone 2nd language speakers.

Alienating someone who may be working hard to learn the language but may not yet speak with complete fluency is the same as Grandfather clauses of the 1800-1900s and a direct violation of the Constitution which apparently Brian has never read.

Brian, if you wrote the ammendment please send your last name as I will be glad to find a real conservative to replace you.

10/14/2008 7:30 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...


Thanks for posting this. I find it very helpful -- I just registered to vote in MO two weeks ago, so I'm trying to play catch-up with MO politics.

10/14/2008 9:25 PM  
Anonymous FranFW said...

Thanks for the informed and intelligent analysis. You're very right. I even made flier, printed them out and distributed tem here in STL. Too bad for us the rest of teh state was not as enlightened.

11/05/2008 5:30 PM  

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