Richardson criticizes ‘English only” Univision debate

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic in the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sunday criticized a historic Spanish language debate as “English only” because all candidates were required to respond to questions in English.

“I do want to say that I was under the impression that in this debate Spanish was going to be permitted,” Richardson said in the debate, which was broadcast by Univision. The governor identified himself as a strong support of the Spanish-speaking network but criticized the format of the debate.

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“I’m disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country -- for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish is unfortunate,” Richardson said.

The debate was broadcast in Spanish and the answers of all candidates, who were asked to respond in English, were translated. Only Richardson and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) speak Spanish fluently.

Richardson was interrupted when he tried to address in Spanish.

The debate gave the candidates a chance to woo the approximately 44 million Hispanics in the country. The group, which includes about 17 million potential voters, could play a key role in the primary and the general election.

Healthcare was a key issue in the debate, but it was overshadowed by questions about immigration. According to Univision, 73 percent of questions it received on its website were related to that issue.

The Democratic candidates all said they supported comprehensive immigration reform that would not involve expelling those that came here illegally.