I declined the invitation to participate in the Spanish-language Republican presidential debate on Sunday because I do not want to endorse the further Balkanization of American political life.

The debate is being sponsored by Univisión, the country's largest Spanish-language network, and the candidates' answers will be translated into Spanish. Spanish-language news broadcasts and public-affairs programming is an expression of our First Amendment freedoms. I have given many interviews to Univisión as well as local Spanish-language stations. However, a Spanish-language presidential debate is a different animal altogether.

The question of bilingualism is not new to American politics. A former Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, once spoke about the importance of new immigrants giving up their old languages and allegiances in order to become equal partners in American democracy:

``We freely extend the hand of welcome and of good fellowship to every man, no matter what his creed or birthplace, who comes here honestly intent on becoming a good United States citizen like the rest of us. . . . Americanism is a question of spirit, conviction and purpose, not of creed or birthplace. The politician who bids for the Irish or German vote, or the Irishman or German who votes as an Irishman or German, is despicable, for all citizens of this commonwealth should vote solely as Americans.''

Can anyone imagine Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft having a Republican primary debate in German or Italian in 1912? Of course not. Indeed, I believe Teddy Roosevelt's admonition applies today. I do not believe it is proper to appeal to the ‘‘Hispanic vote'' or the "Asian vote'' or the "Black vote." I believe we must appeal only for American votes.

Any political debate is aimed at citizens. It is about issues of concern to the entire community, not a segment of the community. It is vital that all political debates and discussions take place in the public square, not in separate enclaves. Our democracy does not need different messages broadcast to different audiences in different languages that are not heard or understood by other groups.

Our children learn in school that all registered voters are either native-born citizens or naturalized citizens, and all applicants for citizenship must pass an English-proficiency test. This test is included in the naturalization exam for a good reason.

Conducting political debates in any language other than English, whether Korean, French, Farsi or Spanish, is telling new immigrants that they need not take that particular requirement for naturalization seriously. The United States has a special need to have a common language because of the very diversity of its immigrants. Our parents and ancestors who were immigrants spoke many different languages on arrival. But they came here to become Americans, and as Americans, we conduct our political affairs in English.

Is it not a little bit insulting to our new citizens who were born in Cuba or Mexico or Peru to suggest that political debates need to be translated into Spanish for them to understand what is going on? Is it smart for the Republican Party to implicitly endorse the notion that newly naturalized citizens are not able -- or do not desire -- to understand speeches and debates spoken in English? If this is so, should we go to Westminster, Calif., and have a debate broadcast in Vietnamese and to the Russian Orthodox community in West Sacramento and have a debate broadcast in Russian?

The graduation exercises at the University of Miami, the site of Sunday's Republican debate, are conducted in English. The business of the Florida Legislature is conducted in English and the oath of office for a new president of the United States will be administered in English. It is not a good idea to encourage people to think that they can participate in American politics without knowing how to understand and speak English. Doing so offends not only citizens old and new; it offends the spirit of democracy and especially our heritage of equal justice under law.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., is a candidate for his party's presidential nomination.

Dec. 06, 2007, Miami Herald

Why I won't do Spanish debate