Alabama ‘English-Only’ Ad Raises Specter of Lost Federal Transport Money


Some campaign commercials win instant fame, while others go the infamy route — as is the case with an ad cut by Alabama Republican Tim James, who promises voters that if he is elected governor this fall, drivers’ license exams will be given only in English.

"This is Alabama," James tells the camera in the ad (viewable above). "We speak English. Learn it."

Apart from the political scandal generated by the proposal, which James claims would enhance road safety, requiring prospective drivers to take licensing exams in English could put Alabama’s federal transportation funding at risk if a civil rights complaint is filed against the state. As the Gadsden Times explains today in an editorial that mildly criticizes James’ move:

A
Hispanic woman in 1996 sued the state, claiming it violated Title VI of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which bars discrimination by race, color
or national origin in any program receiving federal funds.

Alabama
lost in federal court, but the ruling was overturned by the U.S.
Supreme Court in 2001. However, there was a catch in the state’s
“victory.” The court didn’t rule on the merits of the complaint, only
that a private individual could not sue over a Title VI violation. It
said such suits only can be brought by a governmental entity, and the
only penalty a state could face was loss of funding from federal
agencies. …

Alabama
politicians often rail against the federal government, until there’s a
chance the federal money spigot might be turned off.

Should James get a chance to implement English-only license exams from the governor’s mansion — which remains to seen, given his GOP rival’s polling lead — the decision to sanction Alabama would likely rest with the Obama administration. And given the national blowback that has greeted Arizona’s stringent new immigration law, not to mention the U.S. DOT’s recent civil-rights move against a big-ticket Bay Area transit project, it’s easy to see the threat of lost federal transport funding becoming reality.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A Transit Ad That Puts Car Commercials to Shame

|
This new ad from Västtrafik, Sweden’s second-largest public transportation company, has all the well-worn cliches of a good car commercial: the baritone narrator, the stunning landscapes, the empty roads. What’s different about this ad is that what it’s selling will help preserve that natural scenery, rather than pave and pollute it. If only public transit […]

Nice Try, GM

|
GM pulled its offensive ad that tried to depict biking as uncool in response to complaints from bicycling advocates, but they’re still running this ad, showing what a drag it can be as a pedestrian because cars will ruin your day. (Best just to get your own car and ruin someone else’s day.) A GM […]

Criticism Compels Uber to Pull Ad About Giving Up on the Subway

|
What do modern ride-hailing services mean for the future of transit? Serious observers think companies like Uber may help complement or substitute for bus service in spread out areas that aren’t well-suited for fixed-route transit. And ride-hailing may help transit agencies provide paratransit services. But one thing that any technology based on space-hogging cars can’t do is replace high-capacity city transit systems. A recent Uber ad suggested otherwise, […]