We're facing a $6.2 billion deficit. Too many people are unemployed. Too many are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table. Too many lack adequate insurance and face mounting out-of-pocket health care expenses. Too many are bracing for increased local property taxes and other supposed cost-cutting measures that will be rewrapped, spun or sold to us not as taxes but as 'fees.'

So what does Rep. Steve Drazkowski, the three-term Republican from Mazeppa, in southern Minnesota, do to help whittle that sick-puppy deficit to nada by the end of the session?

Why, introduce a bill to make English the official language of Minnesota, a state with an American Indian name.

This is the same Drazkowski, mind you, who also authored a bill this session to turn Minnesota into a right-to-work state — or the way pro-union and bill opponents prefer to describe it, a right-to-bust-unions state.

Both Drazkowski bill brainstorms come months after he introduced last year a carbon-copy version of the controversial illegal-immigration bill passed in Arizona and now mired in court challenges.

It seems Drazkowski is following step for step the Arizona legislative playbook of very recent years. All three bills he's backing are laws passed or are in effect in the Copper State.

Minnesota — the Arizona of the Upper Midwest. Has a ring to it, for the wrong reasons.

If this trend continues, maybe we should reignite opposition to honoring slain

civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday. Heck, we might really reach back and consider displaying those "no dogs or Mexicans" signs that once adorned Arizona eateries and other public venues in the not-too-distant past.

Now, I don't pretend to know Drazkowski or what's in his heart. He gives off the appearance of a typical outstate-bred, knock-around kind of guy. For example, he tweets about his deer hunting exploits and follows Sarah Palin's blogs religiously.

This is what he's really doing: He's unabashedly pandering to the mostly conservative and card-carrying residents of what I call the paranoid states of America. This is a place where perception becomes a reality largely fueled by ignorance of immigrant history, lack of diverse life experiences, fear and scapegoating. Such a viewpoint naturally leads to divisive, social-agenda wedge issues with little to do with the populace's general welfare or best interests. But it sure gets one elected and re-elected.

The "English Only" bill is just one example. To be fair, here is Drazkowski on the rationale behind his bill:

"Government's appetite is currently $6.2 billion greater than the amount that the people can afford," he wrote me in an e-mail. "Current state policy actually encourages government to expand the offerings of services as soon as they believe they have reached what they believe 'constitutes a substantial number of non-English-speaking people.'

"Government's natural behavior is to grow," he added. "And it has."

He believes the bill will save local and state taxpayers money and help in "fostering one common, unifying language — encourage, rather than discourage, immigrants to learn English."

He encouraged me to look at the exemptions under the proposed bill. I did. Actually, they serve to undermine the bill's stated objectives.

The times when folks may use a foreign language include:

  • To teach a language other than English.
  • To protect public health or safety.
  • When complying with the Native American Languages Act, Americans with Disabilities Act or other existing federal laws.
  • To protect the rights of criminal defendants and victims of crime. That means court interpreters, documents in the native tongue and other such remedies to ensure due process.
  • To promote trade, commerce and tourism.

    The law does not prevent folks from speaking a foreign language in private communications.

    There are other exemptions. The proposed bill — HF 64 — was introduced before the House Transportation and Policy Finance Committee. Why? Because it contains an amendment to an existing statute governing how folks take the written test in order to obtain a driver's license.

    Right now, that test is administered in this state in English and five other languages. Other states offer it in twice as many other languages, given the respective population.

    Drazkowski's bill would require the test, taken via computer, to be conducted exclusively in English, though making exemptions for colorblind folks and disabled veterans.

    Whether the new bill passes or not, applicants still "have to use English when you actually drive the vehicle, when they test your vision and when you ID the signs," according to a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

    So, really, what are we doing here?

    In my view, this effort is the troubling byproduct of a nativist, take-back-our-country "atti-tood" that is poisoning our nation's well of civility, once-admired ideals and American common sense.

    Neither Drazkowski nor the DPS provided hard numbers on how much government-generated documents in languages other than English cost us taxpayers. That might be a good thing to know.

    For now, consider the following factoids gleaned from the recent U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey covering Minnesota, 2005 to 2009. This is what the survey found:

  • 93.5 percent of Minnesotans are native born.
  • Nearly 91 percent of the language spoken in homes is English.
  • German — at 38.3 percent — continues to be the most dominant ancestral origin of folks living here, followed by Norwegian at nearly 17 percent.

    Which leads me to what's really the bedrock driving this English-only push: a perception that the immigrants of today are refusing to learn English or not quickly enough when compared with those very romanticized European-centric immigrants of yesteryear.

    B.S., to put it as plainly as I can in a family mainstream newspaper. Joe Salmons, who heads the German department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pretty much debunked that often-anecdotal myth.

    Analyzing old census data and other historical documents, Salmons and a university colleague concluded in a 2008 study of the German immigration experience in Wisconsin that "many immigrants and their descendants remained monolingual, decades after immigration had ceased.

    "Understanding this history can help inform contemporary debates about language and immigration and help dismantle the myth that successful immigrant groups of yesterday owed their prosperity to an immediate, voluntary shift to English," Salmons wrote.

    There is little question that Salmons would have found the same phenomenon had he studied the German experience here in Minnesota. So I ask again of Drazkowski and other like-minded folks: What are we really doing here?

    Stay tuned.

    Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or rrosario@ pioneerpress.com.

    To read the proposed English-only bill, go to www.house.leg.state.mn.us and search for "HF0064."

    To read the 2008 study on historic German immigration and language assimilation in Wisconsin, go to http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/545430/.