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by Frank Sharry

House Repubs Take Anti-Immigrant Show On The Road

(PNS) -- In the months leading up to Tuesday's election, the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., was that immigration would be a powerful wedge issue that would help the Republicans either limit their losses or even retain control of the House of Representatives.

The argument went something like this: "Immigration will prove to be the gay marriage issue of 2006. Blocking comprehensive immigration reform and approving a 700-mile fence will bring out the GOP base, draw support from conservative Democratic voters, and give Republican candidates some distance from an unpopular president on a controversial issue."

Congressman Brian Bilbray of California made just such a claim when he came to Washington, D.C., after winning a special election earlier this year to replace the disgraced and jailed Randy Cunningham. The mainstream press and the me-too political class bought it hook, line and sinker.

Not surprisingly, many candidates followed this logic, either out of opportunism or conviction. And how exactly did these candidates fare? Judge for yourself.

Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) hit opponent Bob Casey for Casey's support for the Senate comprehensive bill that passed on a bipartisan basis last May. Santorum suffered the biggest defeat of any Senate incumbent in this election cycle, losing by 18 percent.

Katherine Harris repeatedly invoked Senator Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) support for the Senate bill in her comeback attempt. She lost 60 percent to 38 percent.

Republican Tom Kean Jr. attacked Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) for his support of comprehensive reform. Menendez beat Kean 53 percent to 47 percent.

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) were attacked for their votes in support of allowing legalized immigrant workers to claim credit for social security taxes they paid when they had been undocumented. Both won easily.

Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) was opposed by a one-issue candidate, former INS official and noted immigration restrictionist Jan Ting. Accused of supporting "amnesty," Carper won 70 percent to 29 percent.

In Arizona-8, Republican Randy Graf lost to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords 54 percent To 42 percent. This was a closely watched race for a toss-up district along the U.S.-Mexico border in a state in which immigration is the No. 1 issue. Graf made the prophetic statement, "If this issue can't be won in this district [by hard-liners], the argument can be made that it can't be won anywhere in the country."

In Indiana-8, House Immigration Subcommittee Chair John Hostettler was one of the featured Republicans in the summer "field hearings" held by the House GOP to stir up voters on the immigration issue. He lost by a wide margin.

In Arizona-5 hardliner J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) is the author of the book "Whatever It Takes" about illegal immigration, who refused to vote for the controversial Sensenbrenner bill HR 4437 because he thought it didn't go far enough. Hayworth was upset by comprehensive reform advocate Harry Mitchell 51 percent to 46 percent. Two years earlier Hayworth won re-election by 21 points.

In Colorado-7, Republican hardliner Rick O'Donnell was trying to replace another Republican, Bob Beauprez, who vacated the seat to run for governor. In a front-page New York Times article during the campaign O'Donnell argued that immigration was the biggest issue in his district and that his views were much more popular than those of his opponent, comprehensive reform advocate Democrat Ed Perlmutter. Perlmutter won 54 percent to 42 percent.

In Arizona Len Munsil repeatedly attacked Democratic incumbent Janet Napolitano, an early proponent of comprehensive reform, for being soft on illegal immigration. Munsil proposed a half-a-billion-dollar border security initiative as his signature issue. Napolitano won 63 percent to 35 percent.

In Colorado Republican Bob Beauprez staked his campaign on attacking his Democratic opponent Bill Ritter for being soft on illegal immigration. He lost 56 percent to 41 percent.

In numerous states, Democratic incumbents and candidates came under fire from their opponents for being soft on illegal immigration and for supporting in-state tuition for undocumented students. In every case -- Kansas, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa and Maryland -- the pro-immigrant candidate won and the hard-liner lost.

In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger took a different tack from many in his party. He moved to the center on immigration -- he stopped applauding the Minutemen, stated his regret for his support of Proposition 187 in the past, dragged his feet on approving the deployment of his state's National Guard for border duty and loudly criticized the Republican Congress for not moving on comprehensive immigration reform. He was rewarded with a huge victory that included 39 percent of the state's large group of Latino voters.

So much for the conventional wisdom that supporting comprehensive reform would turn out to be a loser and that being a hard-line hawk would be a winner.

Meanwhile, polls released before and after the election found among all voters, a strong majority soundly reject a hard-line, enforcement-only approach in favor of a pragmatic, comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for those working and living in the U.S. illegally.

Latino voters see immigration as a defining issue of extreme importance; comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship has broad and intense support; and they punished the political party currently associated with a harsh tone and a hard line.

What does this mean for immigration reform in the next Congress? It means we may well have an opportunity to move beyond the stalemate in the current Congress on broad reform and towards a workable solution. But enacting a major reform on such a controversial subject is easier to thwart than to win and thus calls for a new approach to governing.

First, it will require our nation's leaders to follow through on their stated commitment to bipartisan problem-solving. Simply put, when it comes to immigration, without bipartisanship, there will be no solution.

Second, it will require a commitment to not only getting a bill enacted, but to enacting a bill that will actually work once implemented. Simply put, if it won't work, don't pass it.

If our leaders incorporate these lessons, we have a chance to make history. If our leaders revert to partisan bickering and finger- pointing, then those responsible for inaction may well face a frustrated electorate once again in 2008.

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Albion Monitor   November 8, 2006   (

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