Public Representatives in the United States Need to Have Firm Grasp of English

Owen Rust
Yahoo! Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | According to CNN, a woman in San Luis, Ariz., is being kept off the ballot in a city council election because a judge ruled that her grasp of the English language was insufficient.

Alejandra Cabrera describes her English as fine for San Luis, a town where the vast majority of residents are Hispanic and speak Spanish as their first language. Juan Carlos Escamilla, the former town mayor, disagrees and filed suit to keep Cabrera off the ballot. A judge in Yuma agreed, blocking the woman from running for office.

Though the situation is unfortunate, the judge ruled correctly. A candidate for public office in the United States should have proficiency in both written and spoken English.

While many would argue that English proficiency should not be mandatory in areas where a constituency may be almost entirely fluent in another language, the fact remains that a publicly elected official is a point of contact for those in English-speaking areas. Members of governments must be able to work with members of other governments. A city council member must be able to field phone calls from state officials, for example.

Government functions poorly if members cannot easily communicate with each other. Even a Spanish-majority locale like San Luis must be able to communicate, via its elected officials, with the English-majority White House and various state capitals. In the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, how many lives might be lost if Washington or Phoenix cannot communicate effectively with far-flung communities without interpreters present?

When a Northeastern-raised white guy from FEMA, the National Guard, or Homeland Security calls a town hall or mayor's office, it's a good idea to have an English speaker answering the phone.

I am proud that our nation supports Ms. Cabrera's right to speak her native tongue in her home and in public. Though I am a staunch proponent of young people learning to speak other languages and am also a proponent of remaining true to one's cultural roots and traditions, I must err on the side of caution when it comes to the language abilities of our elected officials. Such officials should, to ensure an effective and efficient government, speak English well.