Originally Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2012, 8:09 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 18, 2012, 5:20 pm

Schilling under fire for Hispanic comment

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

U. S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, is catching fire for saying that "a lot" of Hispanics in the U.S. need to learn Spanish first before they can be taught English.

"One of the biggest problems is, you know, I got some Hispanic friends is that, a lot of those folks that don't know English, is primarily because they don't even know Spanish," Rep. Schilling said at a forum in Annawan. "So, they don't even know their own language, so that's why you've got these teachers coming in helping them to try and get them better with their own language and then kind of teach 'em. It's a pretty tough battle."

The comment was taped by a tracker from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and posted online, along with dozens of other videos of Rep. Schilling speaking at various events.

Independent candidate for congress Eric Reyes said Rep. Schilling's comment was "offensive" and "absurd" and unfairly singled out the Hispanic community.

"I think it gives a bad impression," Mr. Reyes said of the comment. "It's sort of like a 'you people' comment that suggests that Latino people as a whole are not teaching their kids."

A spokeswoman for Democrat Cheri Bustos also said the comments by Rep. Schilling were offensive.

"As I imagine many of his constituents would be, our campaign is interested in hearing Congressman Schilling's explanation for these offensive remarks," said Bustos campaign manager Allison Jaslow.

"It's not an offensive quote," said Terry Schilling, Rep. Schilling's campaign manager. "It's simply stating a fact."

Rep. Schilling did not mean to say that Hispanics could not speak Spanish, Terry Schilling said, but that "a lot of times people come to this country who aren't up to speed with the grammar of their own language." The problem was not confined to the Hispanic community, Mr. Schilling said.

Rep. Schilling's comment was made during a "meet and greet" in April at the Annawan public library during a freewheeling conversation with attendees that touched on many topics.

After talking about health care, Rep. Schilling, unprompted by the audience, said, "What about English as a second language? Can we agree on that? How come I got to learn Serbo-Croatian or whatever." (Editor's note: On Tuesday, Rep. Schilling said he was certain he did not make the "Serbo-Croatian" comment and offered to have a voice analyst study the audiotape of the meeting. The comment was made by an audience member, Rep. Schilling said.)

After he made the comment about Hispanics, an audience member asked, "Why is that important?" Rep. Schilling responded, "Do you know how many millions of dollars the government spends on second language for documentation?"

Democrats and Republicans both send trackers to events to film comments by opposing candidates.

In the 2010 election cycle, a Tea Party activist recorded former Democratic Rep. Phil Hare saying, "I don't worry on the Constitution on this," in reference to President Obama's health care law. The remark, short on context, was widely circulated and repeated and may have played a role in Mr. Hare's defeat by Mr. Schilling.

To see the video on YouTube, click here.