Meg Whitman: GOP Must Change on Immigration

Meg Whitman speaks from experience, coming from an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in a large Latino influenced state. She spoke to a crowd in Dallas, Texas, at a George W. Bush Institute conference on the economy. She was quoted in a report in the Los Angeles Times; we’re talking 20/20 hindsight.

My view is that the immigration discussion, the rhetoric the Republican Party uses, is not helpful; it’s not helpful in a state with the Latino population we have. We as a party are going to have to make some changes, how we think about immigration, and how we talk about immigration.

The GOP immigration rhetoric is political quicksand. It rouses the extreme partisans, who are angry and vote, and it looks like it can sustain a political movement. But many GOP insiders see the talk for what it is: a very precarious line to walk. When she ran for Governor of California Whitman spent many millions of dollars to attract Latino voters; she ran commercials during the Soccer world Cup. But then, to establish her immigration bona fides among the party faithful, leaned on the support of Pete Wilson. It didn’t work for her. Again, the LA Times:

(Wilson) is viewed as a pariah among some in the Latino community for his vocal support of Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot measure that sought to deny taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants.

Later, during a debate with Brown in Fresno, Whitman told a high-achieving undocumented student that she was taking away a spot from a legal resident. And in the month before election day, an illegal immigrant housekeeper who worked for Whitman for nearly a decade emerged, prompting questions of hypocrisy.

The problem with all of this is that it paints the Latino community as a one-issue, monolithic political monster; as if all that politicians need to do to appease the beast is go easy on their immigration stumps.

The truth is, though, that the immigration issue among Latino voters (who, in politics, are the Latinos that count) has only recently become an important concern. Typically, in poll after poll, Latino voters are concerned with education, jobs and safety, mostly in that order. Immigration used to be somewhere between the fifth and seventh in the hierarchy of  important issues. But the increased and spiteful rhetoric against Latino immigrants, and all of the feelings that that rhetoric exposed, propelled immigration up the issues list.

The GOP wouldn’t be re-thinking their approach to immigration rhetoric if they hadn’t heated the conversation to begin with.

And that just touches on what many GOP’ers say, because they can lighten their speeches but not their policies. I don’t hear the anti-immigrant crowd changing their policy perspectives, they just want to change how they talk about it. And as long as they continue to do that, voting Latinos will continue to keep immigration high on their list of important issues. It’s a problem they themselves generated because they were trying to play both sides against the middle; and even the most inexperienced politician knows you can’t win that way.

Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda

[Photo courtesy megwhitman2010]

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