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Political Notebook

Alaska lawmaker apologizes for racial slur

President Obama promoted improving US roads and other infrastructure during a stop at the busy port in Miami.

Susan Walsh/Associated Press

President Obama promoted improving US roads and other infrastructure during a stop at the busy port in Miami.

WASHINGTON — Representative Don Young, the gruff Republican veteran who represents the entire state of Alaska, apologized Friday for referring to Hispanic migrant workers as “wetbacks” in a radio interview.

“I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview,” Young said in a statement after lawmakers from both political parties called on him to apologize.

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“There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words,” Young, 79, said. “That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I’m sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform.”

The second-most senior Republican in the House, Young issued a statement Thursday seeking to explain his remark after using the derogatory term to describe the workers on his father’s farm in Central California, where he grew up.

Young, discussing the labor market with radio station KRBD in Ketchikan, Alaska, said that on his father’s ranch, “we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes.” He said, “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

“Wetbacks” often refers to Mexican migrants who have entered the country illegally, and Hispanics consider the word, which can be used to disparage all Hispanics, to be highly pejorative.

Young’s explanation on Thursday was not good enough for lawmakers from either political party. His use of the word drew swift criticism from fellow Republicans working to temper the party’s hardline positions on illegal immigrants and to improve GOP standing among Hispanic voters.

House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, called the remarks “offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds.” Boehner said he did not care why Young said it; “there’s no excuse, and it warrants an immediate apology.”

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the party offers a ‘‘beacon of hope’’ for those seeking liberty around the world and that Young’s remarks “emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party.”

“Shame on Don Young,” said Ruben Hinojosa, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “It is deeply disheartening that in 2013 we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs.”

Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, an online Latino advocacy organization, said Young should resign.

As resources committee chairman in the late 1990s, he took on environmentalists and the Bill Clinton administration in pushing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and logging in Alaska national forests. He headed the transportation committee during much of the George W. Bush administration, during which he defied his party’s antitax positions by supporting an increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for bridge and highway construction.

It was under Young’s chairmanship that the “bridge to nowhere,” which was actually two proposed Alaska construction projects, became a symbol for questionable special projects inserted into spending bills.

He also is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which is looking into whether he failed to report gifts on his annual disclosure forms, misused campaign funds, and lied to federal officials.

— Associated Press

Ambitious plan to improve US infrastructure is pushed

MIAMI — President Obama promoted his plans Friday to rebuild the nation’s “raggedy” roads, bridges, schools, and other infrastructure with a marriage of public and private investment.

At the end of a week absorbed by social issues like gun control and gay rights, the president returned to the economic challenges he has called his top priorities with proposals to generate money for construction projects.

“What are we waiting for?” Obama asked, surrounded by massive cranes and cargo containers at Miami’s congested ocean port. “There’s work to be done. There are workers who are ready to do it. Let’s prove to the world that there’s no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America, and let’s get started rebuilding America.”

Expanding on ideas from his first term and this year’s State of the Union address, Obama proposed tax breaks and loans to stimulate private investment. Among other things, new ‘‘America Fast Forward Bonds’’ would help state and local governments borrow money for projects, while foreign pension and retirement funds would have a tax penalty eliminated so they could invest in infrastructure in the United States on a similar basis as American funds. Grant programs that were part of the stimulus program would be expanded by $4 billion.

Obama also promoted an infrastructure bank that would use $10 billion in public money to leverage private investment, a concept he has been pushing without success since 2011.

Republicans responded by saying they also wanted to upgrade roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, but only if it could be paid for. Speaker John A. Boehner’s office distributed comments he made last month after Obama’s State of the Union address.

“It’s easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all the things you want to give away,” Boehner said. “But at some point, somebody has to pay the bill.”

— New York Times

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