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Carroll County Commissioners, from left, Stephen Wantz, Richard Weaver, Dennis Frazier, Ed Rothstein and Eric Bouchat applaud during the annual State of the County Address hosted by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.
Carroll County Commissioners, from left, Stephen Wantz, Richard Weaver, Dennis Frazier, Ed Rothstein and Eric Bouchat applaud during the annual State of the County Address hosted by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Seven years ago this week and after much heated debate, Carroll County’s governing board of commissioners voted to make English the official language. Now, the same body appears likely to repeal the requirement, perhaps in a matter of weeks. The chief reason? Because, as Commissioner Dennis Frazier reports, the original legislation has done nothing to improve life in the county except send a divisive message to those who work or live there. “I think it puts a stain on Carroll County, and I would like to get that off,” the Westminster resident and recently retired teacher told the Carroll County Times.

And what is that divisive message? It’s not difficult to discern. The modern “English-only” movement was a reaction to the growing presence of non-English speakers, especially Latinos, and their influence in the United States. Suspicion of immigrants, whether legally present or not, runs deeply within our culture but has become especially virulent in recent years, anti-immigrant anger having proven useful to Republicans seeking to court working class voters. Making accommodation for non-English speakers by translating government documents into other languages, for example, has been twisted into an unpatriotic act or at least contrary to the goal of assimilation. That’s not true, of course. Tolerance of cultural differences remains an American virtue, but fear of “other” does unfortunate things to judgment.

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In 2013, Carroll’s English-only ordinance was promoted as pro-taxpayer. It would save county residents a bundle in translation costs, promoters observed. But today, county officials admit there was no savings to be had. The taxpayer savings mantra was just a fig leaf for raw anger toward outsiders. Indeed, it’s not clear there was much substance to be found in the measure whatsoever aside from its unwelcoming message. English remains the nation’s dominant language whether in Carroll County, Maryland or Carol City, Florida. But the only thing English-only jurisdictions have in common is that most lean toward the GOP, Carroll County included. “English only” is an anti-immigrant rallying cry much like building a wall.

That’s what makes Mr. Frazier’s repeal effort truly notable. He is a Republican. So are all of his fellow commissioners, and all of them are white men. This is not a county given to electing Democrats. Donald Trump won 63.4% of the vote here in 2016, his best showing in any Maryland suburb. And now it appears that a majority are interested in overturning the English-only ordinance and that’s what the commissioners are hearing from ordinary voters. Mr. Frazier reports that “70-to-80%” of his calls and messages have been supportive of his efforts. As Commissioner Eric Bouchat admitted to the Carroll County Times, “I think the original motive for this ordinance was purely political to appease a very small minority politically in our county.” That’s a refreshing level of candor, and one that we’d dearly love to see duplicated 60 miles south in the U.S. Capitol.

We have shown little reluctance to criticize Carroll County’s leadership in the past, particularly its firebrand ex-commissioner Richard Rothschild who regularly screamed about the political clout of the Baltimore-Montgomery-Prince George’s counties axis. The penchant of Carroll-based groups for raffling firearms seemed distasteful given Maryland’s gun violence woes. The county’s past opposition to mass transit (at least to any that’s connected to points outside its borders) as a “conduit for crime” seemed just as anti-social as its antipathy toward immigrants. But there are signs that life in this “Red” county is changing. Just this past summer, Westminster hosted its first Pride March. There is talk of switching to charter government and away from old-style commissioners. And that was on top of approving state-mandated ethics rules the county had long resisted. Small steps, perhaps, but signs that diversity — whether in opinion or background — is increasingly welcome here.

Make no mistake, we doubt that Carroll County has evolved into a hot spot for liberalism. But the ability to see the error of one’s ways, this level of self-awareness and this kind of sensitivity toward new arrivals in what is still a politically conservative county deserves recognition. Whatever they are drinking these days in Westminster, please send a case to every county seat. Carroll won’t be the first Maryland county to take an English-only ordinance off the books (neighboring Frederick repealed its five years ago), but it’s a welcome, hopeful development nonetheless.

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