City Council correct in censuring Tam
The City Council has rebuked one of its members for voicing an ethnic slur.
City Council member Rod Tam pleads ignorance in using an ethnic slur to refer to illegal immigrants from Mexico, saying that because he is not from the continental United States, he was unaware the term was derogatory.
If taken at his word, Tam's constituents and the larger community could conclude that his exposure to the world beyond Hawaii and his knowledge and spirit of inquiry are limited, which is disturbing as well.
There is no question that Tam's public remarks were offensive. The City Council was right to censure him and show that the legislative body does not take insulting language lightly, whether it's intentional or not.
During a May 13 Zoning Committee hearing on the proposed University of Hawaii-West Oahu, Tam, who is chairman of the panel, warned developers to make sure they hired skilled, licensed workers, saying he'd been getting reports that contractors were "bringing in wetbacks" or "illegal aliens" from Mexico. "We don't want that type," he said.
He later apologized, but also asserted that Hawaii's multicultural society defused sensitivities about ethnic slurs. While true in some circumstances, the official government context in which Tam made his statements was not one of them.
Tam has faced sanctions on ethics violations when he served in the state Senate and in his current post. The state Ethics Commission cited him for misusing his legislative position and state resources for campaign purposes. In 2004, the city Ethics Commission found he violated ethics laws when he represented clients seeking permits from a city agency.
Tam, who is in his final term on the Council, plans to seek the lieutenant governor's office in 2010. Voters can then decide if he is worthy of another public office.
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