Saturday, December 29, 2007

Richardson Takes English, Spanish Questions

Richardson Takes English, Spanish Questions in West Liberty

Bill Richardson took questions in both English and Spanish during a stop in heavily Hispanic West Liberty Saturday.

“I’m the only Hispanic candidate,” Richardson told the crowd of about 50 at El Torito Restaurant, “but I gotta tell people because of the name Richardson.” He offered only a couple lines of the main speech in Spanish (such as “Sign a pledge card, por favor. We need you”), but answered one whole question in Spanish.

“What I’m saying in Spanish I already said in English,” he advised the mixed-language audience, before restating positions on the Iraq war that he’d discussed in the main speech. (Or so I was told; with my extremely limited knowledge I picked up “la Guerra” and “billions of dollars.”) In a handshake-length “interview,” Richardson told me Spanish questions are uncommon on the Iowa campaign trail.

Richardson also repeated his goal of finishing in the top three in Iowa. “We’re going to pull off an upset here,” he said. “Right now we are viable in most every precinct. I’ve been to 99 counties, I’ve been to counties whose name I can’t even pronounce.” He also raised the bar on himself from a top three finish in the first three states to “top two” in Nevada.
The campaign, Richardson said, “shouldn’t be about who’s got the most money, or is part of a dynasty, he most glamorous, or a rock star,” naming no names. “I’m the rock star candidate.”

“I’m glad the people of Iowa are deciding this, not the national press,” he said, teasing Sarah Ames, the ABC reporter embedded with his campaign. Later Ames said the ribbing is part of every Richardson speech.

Richardson gave English answers to the two other Spanish questions, telling a questioner who asked about discrimination against legal immigrants, “I wouldn’t tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, gender (applause) or sexual orientation. There’s just no room for that in this country.”

The bulk of Richardson’s prepared remarks focused on his foreign policy credentials. “I’m the only candidate who took a strong position” on Pakistan in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, he said, repeating his call for President Musharraf to step down.

“We need to stand with the Pakistani people and not with a dictator,” he said. “The rest of the candidates said wait and see. They were on the side of the dictator, they were on the side of the Bush administration”

Other audience questions focused on choice (“I will appoint justices who believe Roe vs. Wade is settled law”), NAFTA (he called for renegotiation of side agreements on environment, job safety, and wage parity), and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“I’d be a pres that would personally engage to be an honest broker between Israel and Palestine” in a two state solution, he said, but he would not cut off funding to Israel.)

Adalberto Solis, the owner of El Torito, said the Richardson campaign contacted him to set up the event after Solis signed a pledge card. He’s an enthusiastic Richardson supporter, but most of his campaigning has been one on one outside of work. “I don’t mix my business with politics,” said Solis. Perhaps hoping El Torito could become West Liberty’s version of the Hamburg Inn, he said he’d welcome any candidate.

“I was talking with the Latino people here, and nobody likes Bush,” he said. “Latino people, we come to work but didn’t care much who was the president, and I’m explaining to them why it’s important to vote.”

Solis came to the U.S. in 1986 and became a permanent resident in 1988 and a citizen in 2003. This is his first active caucus cycle. “The first time I participated, I didn’t know as much. I voted but didn’t caucus. This time I got more information about the candidates.”

Solis also likes Hillary Clinton, but said, “I think Richardson is better for the country and for Latinos.” “I asked how many votes they need to win here in West Liberty,” he added, “and they said 30,”

Unlike many Hispanic communities in Iowa dominated by recent arrivals, West Liberty’s Spanish-speaking community goes back several generations, though it’s grown in recent years. Gustavo Garcia has lived in West Liberty since 1966. Richardson is near the top of his list. “He’s got the credentials, he’s got it all.” Garcia is also considering Barack Obama, but worries that his war plan is not specific enough.

Helen Van Hoozer of Muscatine, a county Richardson leader, isn’t sure how her candidate’s heritage will help in Hispanic parts of the county, but thinks "it would be a model for Hispanic children to have him as president.” She said if Richardson were not viable in her precinct, she would go uncommitted, in the hope that she could help Richardson later in the nomination process.

Dave Bradley of West Liberty says Richardson is his second choice behind John Edwards. “We have an embarrassment of riches,” said Bradley. “I think (Richardson’s) going to do really well here.”

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