This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 9, 2009 - U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., was in some ways the Man of the Hour today as he mingled with leaders and allies of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis at its grand opening of a new technology and resource center.
Situated in a former bank building along South Grand Boulevard, the center was established largely with a $500,000 federal grant secured by Bond (the king of "earmarks") who used his clout as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
As Latino music filled the air, Bond shared in the day's celebration along with St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.
“We know that in today’s world, it is often technology and education that separate the haves and the have-nots,” Bond said in his speech. “In order to compete in a global economy, our entrepreneurs and workers must be trained in the latest technology. This new Technology and Resource center could not have come at a better time. Those who take advantage of this Center will be well-equipped to compete.”
He noted predictions that Hispanic-owned businesses are expected by grow by 40 percent over the next six years.
But Bond acknowledged in an interview afterward that he's taken heat from conservatives for his involvement in the creation and funding of the center.
"There are a lot of people who don't agree with what I've done,'' the senator said, adding that he could withstand the criticisms. He also isn't running for re-election next year, retiring after four Senate terms.
The opposition, Bond indicated, stemmed from some conservatives' ire over the surge of illegal immigration from Mexico -- and even some resentment of legal immigrants.
Bond said he viewed the immigration debate in practical terms. "I want a safe, legal system...We need to know who they are and where they are,'' he said, adding that he viewed it as "a tragedy to see so many risking their lives'' to make clandestine trips across the border from Mexico to the United States.
The illegal immigrants who are caught, he said, need to be handled on "a case by case basis."
But Bond emphasized his support for some sort of temporary work permits that would allow Mexicans to legally cross the border for short-term U.S. jobs. And he said it also was unrealistic to believe that the United States was going to prosecute all of the estimated 10-12 million illegal immigrants currently living and working in the United States.
Bond and the Hispanic chamber have been close for almost 30 years. As governor in 1981, Bond set up the state's first Governor’s Advisory Council on Hispanic Affairs. The next year saw the creation of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis.
“Senator Bond has been a long time friend of the chamber, and we look forward to honoring that friendship by making the Technology Center something the whole region will be proud of,” said chamber president Jorge Riopedre.
Bond's office said the center "will provide educational and technology opportunities for those needing to upgrade their skills to make their businesses more competitive or to start a new business. Chamber members, business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs will have access to 30 new computers purchased with a grant from AT&T and equipped with multilingual software donated by Microsoft."
“Business owners are the people who are the backbone of our neighborhoods and communities,” Bond said in his address. “You work the 18-hour days, you put your life savings on the line, and until recently, you have been the economic engine that creates jobs. We need to get that engine going again.”