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CAMPAIGN 2000

Buchanan Immigration Ad Met With Quick Criticism

October 10, 2000|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan brought his culture war to California on Monday, unveiling a provocative television ad that dives head first into the state's muddy political waters of immigration, race and preservation of the English language.

The 30-second commercial features a man choking on a meatball after hearing on a news broadcast that English is no longer America's official language. He calls 911 and then passes out while listening to a menu of options for speakers of Spanish, Korean and other languages.

Buchanan said he believes immigration continues to resonate in California six years after the state waged a bitter fight over Proposition 187, the explosive initiative that won with 59% of the vote in 1994 with promises of ending public benefits to illegal immigrants.

"In the long run, one of the great threats to this country is its tendency to dissolve along the lines of race, ethnicity and language," Buchanan declared during a news conference at a Capitol-area hotel.

"The Mississippi River is like immigration--it's enormously nourishing . . . but if it floods its banks, it can become a problem," Buchanan said. "And that is what's happened here."

The ad is being aired this week in California and 11 other border states, expanding to two dozen states next week, Buchanan officials said. It will appear in every major California TV market, running primarily during news programs. Campaign officials said they would spend millions of dollars to broadcast the commercial, but they declined to be specific. The airing will be limited--Buchanan is operating mostly on $12.6 million in federal election funds he garnered as the Reform Party nominee.

Reaction to the ad was swift and harsh.

"I think it's pathetic our taxpayer dollars are being used to fund a campaign of fear," said Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party. "English will remain our national language, and not even the clicking of Pat Buchanan's heels will stop that."

Stuart DeVeaux, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, said the ad demonstrates that Buchanan "doesn't understand the communities and voters of this state. . . . That's why he's stuck at 1% in the polls."

Gabriela Lemus, national policy director at the League of United Latin American Citizens, expressed worries that the commercial's message could whip up anger against Latino immigrants and other newcomers.

"Given the amount of border violence we've seen, I certainly hope he's not going to engender more of a xenophobic backlash," Lemus said. "He's really doing this country wrong."

Buchanan, a former Reagan administration official who bolted the Republican Party and captured the Reform nomination over the summer, rejected such criticisms.

With his attack on lax borders, Buchanan said he is simply trying to address bread-and-butter issues avoided by major party candidates who are "programmed and scripted to stay away from controversy."

Buchanan said he wants to double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and improve barriers in high-traffic border towns. He vowed to crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants and send back those who run afoul of the law.

He also suggested that America needs to "pick and choose who comes and from where, unless you want to have wide open borders." Buchanan favors skilled workers with strong language skills, but vows an annual limit of 250,000 legal immigrants.

"Do you want to have a country or not?" Buchanan asked. "I question the patriotism of people who say we ought to just throw open our borders."

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