In Arizona the question of “qualified to serve” may come down to translation. That’s because a judge has ruled that a candidate for local city council does not have the required command of the English language.

In Arizona, two laws exist that requiring certain degrees of proficiency in English. To be a state-level elected official, someone must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English without the aid of an interpreter. A second law, which establishes a weak guideline for qualifications for local governments, does not describe what level of proficiency is required.

However, a local political activist in the border town of San Luis was told she did not speak English well enough to hold office. Despite having been involved in local politics for a number of years – including the successful recall of several local elected officials – Alejandrina Cabrera is now waiting for the Arizona Supreme Court to weigh in on the validity of her candidacy.

She didn’t do well on her proficiency exam, which was given by an Australian-born professor from Brigham Young University.

The Australian accent is rare in San Luis, where it is estimated that 98 percent of the population is Latino, and everyday life mostly incorporates Spanish. When a Los Angeles Times reporter walked into a McDonalds, his order was taken in Spanish. But even in the public sector, Spanish is the expected language of business. According to the Times reporter, clerks at City Hall greeted residents first in Spanish, rarely in English.

So the question becomes, what is more important: communicating with and representing residents or adhering to a questionably ambiguous law?

Without clear definitions of what qualifies as “proficient” some worry that the law can be used to simply disqualify a potential political opponent. The law establishing the English requirement does not offer specific bars that must be reached in order to hold the office.

Here in California, many of our communities along the Southern Border also have a predominately Latino population. It remains unclear if California has a similar law regarding the English proficiency of elected officials.

What do you think? Should California require a level of English proficiency for its local government officials? Why or why not? Email your thoughts to