ProEnglish went to Capitol Hill and our Government Relations Director Dan Carter interviewed Congressman Steve King (IA-04) about his sponsorship of the Official English bill (H.R. 997).
Watch the video or read the full transcript below.
Carter: Congressman, on behalf of not just ProEnglish but millions of Americans, thank you for taking the lead in this incredible battle that you have been leading for not just the 114th Congress but for years.
Congressman King: Well, I thank you. Thank you for helping out with this and being all over this Hill pushing the bill – helping us get closer to the day that we’ll all celebrate when English becomes the official language of the United States of America.
Carter: Congressman, you’re known not only on the Hill and in Washington. I mention your name and people immediately smile and say he’s been really out in front [on this issue]. But also back in Iowa. What got your started on this whole concept of making English our official language? What was the starting point for you?
Congressman King: I remember the incident, and it would be October 10th 1996. I was a candidate for state senate, and Governor Branstad came out to do an event with me at a shelter house at Yellow Smoke Park, Denison Iowa. He gave his speech and I saw that it was all rousing [applause] for that. When it was time for me to give my speech, I just ranged all over the map; I talked about things as they would come to my mind. There were about 100 people or maybe a few more. When I got to this part that I did not really plan on saying and I said I believe that English should be the official language of the state of Iowa, it brought the house down. So, I realized that I had touched a nerve with something I’d believed for a long time.
But there was a newspaper reporter, an editorial writer, sitting in the back of the room, and he decided to write a critical article about me the next day. You know how it goes: racist, bigot, xenophobe – all these names. So then I had to defend myself, and twice a week they would write an attack on me, and I would always respond and defend myself. I knew that when I got to the state sensate I needed to carry that bill and establish it for the state of Iowa. It took six years to establish English as the official language of Iowa, and now there are 31 states that have it.
Carter: 32. We just added West Virginia last month.
Congressman King: Well that is good news to me! I didn’t see that come through. I’ll have to congratulate those folks from almost heaven. Iowa is heaven, by the way.
Carter: It’s really remarkable what happened and how you stayed in the fight. When I’m around the Hill, I’ll ask some staffer, “What committee is your boss on?” and they’ll say this or that committee. Then I say to them, it’s the official business of the country. It doesn’t mean we can’t have other things [languages] going on. Don’t you want to have the Ways and Means committee [conduct its business] in English?
The other thing I mention–and you might want to speak to this, Congressman–is the cost [of foreign language translation]. Ten years ago, GAO said it was two billion a year. We don’t know. We haven’t had a recent study, unfortunately. What are your thoughts about the cost?
Congressman King: We know it’s in the billions. It’s an extra cost, and I pay attention to the cost of this. I saw a number that said training people how to use food stamps in foreign languages costs 1.86 million dollars. But you could buy a lot of food with 1.86 million. That’s a tiny little piece of the much broader bill due to not having English as the official language.
But I focus on what happens to us culturally. What happens to America? The common language is the most powerful unifying force known throughout all of history. It’s more powerful than religion itself, more powerful than a common race or ethnicity, or just living on a common piece of real estate. If people can communicate with each other, you can find the commonality of everything else. That’s what this country is.
I grew up in an era where there was much focus on assimilation. My grandmother came over from Germany and raised six sons and a daughter. My father was third in line out of those seven. When he went to school on his first day of kindergarten, he was speaking only German and it must have been very confusing for him to go to school that day. But when he came home and he said ‘Hello’ to his mother in German, she turned to him and she said, ‘speaking German in this household is for you from now on verboten. I came here to be an American, and you will go to school and learn English and you will bring it home and you will teach it to me.’
Carter: That’s incredible. It’s a story you can tell all around the Hill.
Congressman King: It is, and five of those six sons put on the uniform and defended our country.
Carter: It’s more than heart-warming. It’s a true story that speaks to what you are trying to do here.
Congressman, you’re not my Congressman. Rob Wittman is. He signed onto the bill as well. Its’ 79 [total cosponsors]. But I say this to all the Congressmen I have the opportunity to meet, and this truly is an opportunity for us. You really are my Congressmen. All 435 of you. Thank you for representing my wife and I, and our family, with what you are doing.
Congressman King: Thank you, and let’s get this done. I look forward to that day that the ink goes on the document that establishes English as the official language of the United States of America.