Texas Republicans react to ethnic slur made by Alaska representative

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on March 30, 2013 at 4:22 PM

FORT WORTH — Don Young is a colorful  79-year-old congressman from Alaska, and most of Texas had probably not heard of him until he made one particular comment during an interview on an Alaskan radio station.

"My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now -- it's all done by machine," Young said.

The term he used to describe migrant workers has created an uproar.

Within hours, Young issued a statement explaining his comment by saying: 

"I 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."

That wasn't enough for some Latino advocacy groups, which called on Young to resign.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn did not, but did issue a statement saying:

"Migrant workers come to America looking for opportunity and a way to provide a better life for their families. They do not come to this country to hear ethnic slurs and derogatory language from elected officials. The comments used by Rep. Young do nothing to elevate our party, political discourse or the millions who come here looking for economic opportunity."

Speaker of the House John Boehner also gave Young a tongue-lashing.

But in Fort Worth, Vince Puente did not. He is a business owner, and prefers "conservative" to "Republican" when it comes to labels, but he is on the steering committee for the Hispanic Republicans of Texas.

"Bad idea. Bad idea to make that reference, but you know, if this is what we're all worried about, we're worried about the wrong things," he said, adding that he personally was not offended by the comment.

Puente said he knows he often stands out in Republican crowds because of his skin, and he applauds the party's efforts to become more inclusive and reach out to more Latino voters. He thinks Rep. Young's choice of words shouldn't derail those efforts.

"It's gonna be a reinforcement of what some people already think," Puente said, explaining that he believes liberal and Democrat groups might capitalize on the statement.

On Friday evening, Young released a more definitive apology, saying:

"There was no malice or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words."

He also called it an "insensitive term."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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