Lamm’s screwup

Rocky Mountain News

Former Gov. Richard Lamm is under fire for comments in a recent speech and in his new book that Hispanics remain an "underclass" in America because their culture is "not success-producing."

Lamm made the statements during a speech this week in Vail hosted by the Vail Symposium, a nonprofit group that hosts educational and cultural programs. He addressed about 120 people, only a handful of whom were Hispanic or black, said Vail Symposium Executive Director Fraidy Aber.

At that event, Lamm also sold about 25 copies of his new book, Two Wands, One Nation, Aber said.

In the 80-page paperback published in January, Lamm argues that Hispanics and blacks need to take responsibility for their "underperformance" and should adopt the values of the Japanese and Jews.

"Let me offer you, metaphorically, two magic wands that have sweeping powers to change society. With one wand you could wipe out all racism and discrimination from the hearts and minds of white America. The other wand you could wave across the ghettos and barrios of America and infuse the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning and ambition," Lamm wrote.

"I suggest that the best wand for society and for those who live in the ghettos and barrios would be the second wand."

Lamm is a longtime critic of mass immigration and most recently served as a leader of Defend Colorado Now, a group that wants to stop illegal immigrants from receiving government services.

Public concern about illegal immigration _ which often focuses on Mexican immigrants _ led to a special session of the state legislature earlier this month that included heated debates and accusations of racism. In the end, lawmakers passed a package of bills aimed at curbing illegal immigration that are considered among the toughest in the country.

In his book, excerpts of which the News carried in its Commentary section on Feb. 18, Lamm stresses that Hispanics and blacks blame white racism too much for their problems and that it is time to have an honest discussion about how to help them succeed.

"Racism and discrimination clearly still exist, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the problem of minority underperformance is much broader and more nuanced than can be explained by the impact of racism alone," he wrote.

"When two-thirds of black births are out-of-wedlock births, it is hard to write a happy or prosperous future for black America. When close to 50 percent of Hispanic students don’t graduate from high school, it is hard to see Hispanics following the typical American route to prosperity."

Local Hispanic and black leaders say Lamm’s viewpoints fuel stereotypes and extremism instead of helpful dialogue.

"I was quite offended," said state Rep. Terrance Carroll of Denver, who is black. "I think there’s room to have conversations about personal responsibility and we should. But we can have that conversation without demonizing.

"It’s sad that someone as intelligent as Governor Lamm can’t see how these types of comments really don’t do anything to further legitimate debate."

Fidel "Butch" Montoya, former Denver manager of safety and a leader of Confianza, a Hispanic clergy group, said he’s "outraged" by Lamm’s comments.

"I couldn’t believe that in this day and age that someone would be so open with a sense of bigotry and extremism," Montoya said.

Cody Wertz, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, said Lamm is wrong.

"You don’t have to go any farther than Senator Salazar’s parents, Henry and Emma, and the values they instilled in their eight children to realize how wrong Dick Lamm is," Wertz said. "Henry and Emma instilled an ethic of hard work and love of education in their children so all eight graduated from college and have been great examples for all Coloradans, both Hispanic and non- Hispanic."

Lamm said even if people are offended, the issue of cultural connection to educational and economic success still needs to be discussed.

"I don’t think that Jews are smarter. I don’t think Hispanics are dumber," he said. "You’ve got to look at why one group succeeds disproportionately and the other group fails disproportionately."

He said he’s not surprised by the anger his remarks have evoked.

"All great truths begin as heresies," he added.

(Contact Myung Oak Kim of the Rocky Mountain News at