Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine held a bilingual, town hall-style meeting at a Falls Church area high school last night, continuing his campaign to win over Virginia's Latino voters.
Kaine, who spent a year as a missionary in Honduras and is fluent in Spanish, is making a direct appeal for those votes by campaigning in mostly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods in Northern Virginia and speaking the language on Latino radio and television talk shows.
Kaine, the lieutenant governor, said he gives speeches in Spanish to let Latinos know he understands their needs. "They are not used to seeing [a non-Hispanic candidate] speaking Spanish," he said. Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada (D), a Kaine supporter, said, "The very fact that he is showing that Latinos are at the table is enormously significant."
At Fairfax County's J.E.B. Stuart High School last night, Kaine offered an hour-long PowerPoint presentation with dual slides in Spanish and English to explain his education proposals, including a program for universal access to early childhood education and his desire to ensure that education, transportation and other services do not have to compete for funding in the state budget.
"Roads and asphalt should not compete with kids and schools and nursing homes," he said.
The crowd of about 200, which included parents with toddlers and high school students, was multi-ethnic. When a slide showed Kaine in Honduras, he began speaking in Spanish and told the audience that his missionary work was one of the most significant experiences of his life.
A bright orange sign on a wall behind him said in English, "Latinos for Tim Kaine." Outside the school, a sign in Spanish read, "With Tim Kaine, Yes, We Can."
During the question-and-answer period, a man speaking Spanish asked Kaine about the controversial proposal to spend public funds on a center for day laborers in Herndon. Many of the day laborers are Latinos.
Kaine's Republican opponent, Jerry W. Kilgore, entered the contentious national debate on illegal immigration last week by saying that public money should not be used to support such centers because many of the day laborers are in the country illegally. He said such an effort "denigrates" citizens who immigrated legally.
The discussion of the day laborer center illustrates the different approaches the candidates use in addressing Virginia's Latinos, whose numbers more than doubled, to about 330,000, from 1990 to 2000, though they still represent a sliver of registered voters, according to political analysts.
Kaine said in response to the question last night that it was the federal government's job to enforce federal immigration laws and the job of local government to enforce local laws. He drew applause when he chided Kilgore for "grandstanding" on the issue.
"We shouldn't beat up on local officials who are trying to solve local problems," he said.
Both candidates are meeting with groups of Latinos to discuss not only immigration but also the economy, public education, transportation and other issues.
Kilgore is scheduled to speak next week at a meet-the-candidate luncheon held by the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Danny Vargas, a Northern Virginia businessman and chamber member whose parents migrated from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, said immigrants often wait years to come to the United States legally. "They just feel it's not fair when you have 11 or 12 million people who try to cut in line," he said.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Kilgore, defended the candidate's stand on the day laborer issue.
He said some people forget that the Latino community is not monolithic. "There is a difference between Hispanics who have lived here, Hispanics who are documented and Hispanics who are undocumented," he said. "They see the difference, too."