- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. President Bush yesterday made an early campaign swing through New Mexico a state he lost by just 366 votes to push his education initiative and open trade with Mexico, two issues important to Hispanic voters.
At a gymnasium of an elementary school in a poor Hispanic neighborhood, which earned the state's top rating under a new accountability program, Mr. Bush told parents and students he wants a nationwide policy to evaluate schools.
"I love coming into a school district where I hear the superintendent and the principals say, 'Go ahead and measure us.' … It's those school districts and states I get a little bit nervous about that say, we don't want accountability," the president said.
"We can't mask failure. … We want to know. Moms and dads need to know."
In his first presidential stop in the state since the 2000 election, Mr. Bush also promised the large Hispanic population that minorities will not be forgotten in his plan to ensure every child learns to read.
"We must challenge what I call the soft bigotry of low expectations. … I said every child. I didn't say, 'Just a handful of children.' I didn't say, 'Only those whose parents make a certain income.' I mean every child."
At a later ribbon-cutting ceremony at Albuquerque's Hispano Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Bush voiced strong opposition to legislation that would restrict Mexican truck operations in the United States, calling the effort "discrimination."
"Oh, I know there's some voices who want to wall us off from Mexico. … I say to them, they want to condemn our neighbors to the south [to] poverty and I refuse to accept that type of isolationist and protectionist attitude," Mr. Bush said.
Two weeks ago, the Senate passed a bill calling for tough safety standards for Mexican trucks operating in the United States, legislation Mr. Bush has vowed to veto if it also passes by the House.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) gives Mexican truckers greater access to the United States. That access has been delayed for years under pressure from U.S. labor unions.
"It's so important to stand strong when it comes to free trade with our neighbors to the south. NAFTA has been good for New Mexico and it's been good for Mexico," Mr. Bush said to cheers from the largely Hispanic crowd of 800.
Mr. Bush's two-day swing through New Mexico and Colorado is geared toward shoring up Hispanic support. Republicans are pushing to win a larger share of Hispanic votes both in congressional elections next year and the presidential election in 2004.
The Bush administration has led the way, announcing it would consider granting residency to 3 million illegal immigrants from Mexico and vowing to speed up the application process for citizenship.
Mr. Bush has also signaled his intention to name a Hispanic to the U.S. Supreme Court, and was the first president to have his weekly radio addresses translated into Spanish.
Next year, New Mexico will be ground zero in the battle for Hispanic voters. The state could feature two Hispanic candidates Republican state Rep. John Sanchez and Democrat Bill Richardson, energy secretary in the Clinton administration in the race for governor.
Former Vice President Al Gore took more than two-thirds of the Hispanic vote last year in New Mexico. With recounts under way in Florida, the Bush team weighed requesting a recount in New Mexico, where voter irregularities put a final tally in question. Just before the deadline for filing such a request, Mr. Bush decided against a recount, accepting a 366-vote defeat and the loss of five electoral votes.

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