Lawmaker apologizes for racial slur of Hispanics

WASHINGTON — Rep. Don Young, the gruff Republican veteran who represents the entire state of Alaska, apologized Friday for referring to Hispanic migrant workers as “wetbacks” in a radio interview.

“I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska,” Young said in a statement after lawmakers from both political parties called on him to apologize.

“There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words,” Young said. “That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I’m sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform.”

The 79-year-old Young, the second-most senior Republican in the House, issued a statement late Thursday seeking to explain his remark after using the derogatory term to describe the workers on his father’s farm in central California, where he grew up.

Young, discussing the labor market during an interview with radio station KRBD in Ketchikan, said that on his father’s ranch, “we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes.” He said, “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

“Wetbacks” often refers to Mexican migrants who have entered the country illegally, and Hispanics consider the word, which can be used to disparage all Hispanics, to be highly pejorative.

Young’s explanation on Thursday wasn’t good enough for lawmakers from either political party. His use of the word drew swift criticism from fellow Republicans working to temper the party’s hardline positions on illegal immigrants and to improve GOP standing among Hispanic voters.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Young’s remarks were “offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds.” Boehner said he didn’t care why Young said it; “there’s no excuse, and it warrants an immediate apology.”

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the party offers a “beacon of hope” for those seeking liberty around the world and that Young’s remarks “emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party.”

“Shame on Don Young,” said Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas. “It is deeply disheartening that in 2013, we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs.”

Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, an online Latino advocacy organization, said Young should resign.

In his statement on Thursday, Young said he had “used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.”

He added that during the interview, he had “discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship” and said the country must tackle the issue of immigration reform.

Among his jobs before entering politics were teaching school to indigenous Alaskans and working as a tugboat captain in the Yukon. Since entering Congress in 1973, Young has been known for his hot temper, his salty language and his independent streak.

As resources committee chairman in the late 1990s, he took on environmentalists and the Bill Clinton administration in pushing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and logging in Alaska national forests. He headed the transportation committee during much of the George W. Bush administration, during which he defied his own party’s anti-tax positions by supporting an increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for bridge and highway construction.

It was under Young’s chairmanship that the “bridge to nowhere,” which was actually two proposed Alaska construction projects, became a symbol for questionable special projects inserted into spending bills.

He also is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which is looking into whether he failed to report gifts on his annual disclosure forms, misused campaign funds and lied to federal officials. The investigation comes from an earlier Justice Department probe into whether Young accepted gifts in return for political patronage. Young has said that Justice cleared him of those charges.

“I’ve been under a cloud all my life,” he told reporters in Juneau Thursday. “It’s sort of like living in Juneau. It rains on you all the time. You don’t even notice it.”

Young said he plans to run for re-election next year, saying he doesn’t know anyone who can do a better job than he does in representing the state.

More in Local News

Firefighters come to the rescue and give mom new stroller

Donations to the Good Neighbor Program covered the $143.20 cost.

To get drug money, Lynnwood man says he cut 911 wires

Those wires happened to be the ones used by 911 dispatchers, but emergency services weren’t affected.

February trial set for suspect in deadly Marysville shooting

There had been questions about Wayne Alpert’s mental health.

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Motorcyclist killed in crash had high level of THC

A motorcyclist had more than eight times the legal limit… Continue reading

Police: Driver threatens pedestrian, ends up in drug bust

Meth, cocaine and heroin were found in his car, along with a loaded pistol and cash, police say.

Son arrested for hitting father on head at Marysville home

The father grabbed a metal rod and struck his son in the head, too. Both needed medical treatment.

Ian Terry / The Herald Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens. Photo taken on 03302017
Pay a toll on US 2 trestle? 10,000 say no on social media

A GOP lawmaker’s chart shows theoretical toll rates of up to $6.30 to cross the trestle one way.

Angel of the Winds pays $3.4M for Everett arena naming rights

The casino replaces Xfinity as the lead sponsor for the publicly owned downtown Everett events center.

Most Read