Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Are Nevada Republicans Really Open to Cambio?

Earlier today on KNPR's State of Nevada, incoming State Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis (D-North Las Vegas) spoke about a bill he and fellow Latin@ Democrats will be introducing next session to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain "driver privilege cards". This is certain to ignite conversation in Carson City next spring. However, what's really surprising about this is that Republican leaders have so far refrained from rejecting this. Governor Brian Sandoval (R) apparently even told Mo Denis he will "consider" this bill!

In fact, Republican leaders have already begun lurching towards this position. Last Thursday, Brian Sandoval made headlines by announcing the DMV will begin issuing drivers' licenses to those undocumented immigrants who qualify for "deferred action" (aka the "DREAMers" who would have been placed on a path to citizenship had the DREAM Act passed Congress). However, what was more shocking was State Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson's (R-Henderson) endorsement of this new directive. What was even more shocking is that other prominent GOP Senators joined Roberson in endorsing Sandoval's policy!

“These young men and women are living, working and attending school here in Nevada, and are doing everything in their power to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” Roberson said. “A driver’s license from the state of Nevada will aid in their ability to commute to and from work and school; will afford a sense of self-sufficiency; and will provide greater opportunities for thousands of Nevada families.”

Deferred Action, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a directive from the secretary of the DHS that grants temporary permission to stay in the U.S. to certain undocumented young people. Individuals who receive deferred action may apply for and obtain employment authorization. It is estimated that more than 20,000 young immigrants could benefit from this program in Nevada.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, also applauded the policy: “This DMV policy allowing young immigrants living in our communities to obtain driver’s licenses will benefit not only the young people and families eligible for deferred action, but will also help strengthen Nevada’s education system and our economy at large.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, commented on the safety aspects of the policy: “In order to secure a driver’s license, an individual must obtain the proper knowledge and skill level to pass a test to ensure they can safely drive on the streets. This policy will not only provide greater opportunity for so many young people in Nevada, it will also make our streets safer by ensuring training for those who may otherwise be driving without a license or adequate preparation.”

We have yet to see if these Republicans also embrace Mo Denis' bill addressing those immigrants not covered by "deferred action". But so far, it seems like at least some Nevada Republicans are very publicly changing their tune on immigration reform. So why the sudden change of heart?

Basically, Nevada Republican leaders want to at least look like they're not so stringently anti-immigrant and anti-Latin@. And they're now changing their tune because they don't all want to experience the same fate that fell on Mitt Romney and Sharron Angle. Some Republican leaders are hoping that a "kinder, gentler" approach on immigration will fix their woes.

Are they correct? Not so fast. Matt Yglesias recently reminded us that the GOP's problems with Latin@ voters are not limited to one aspect of public policy.

Pundits are quickly turning to immigration to explain the Republicans’ Latino problem and to offer a possible cure, but the reality is that the rot cuts much deeper. The GOP doesn’t have a problem with Latino voters per se. Rather, it has a problem with a broad spectrum of voters who simply don’t feel that it’s speaking to their economic concerns. The GOP has an economic agenda tilted strongly to the benefit of elites, and it has preserved support for that agenda—even though it disserves the majority of GOP voters—with implicit racial politics.

Consider the GOP’s deeply racialized campaign against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. What was so surprising about this—and I know I’m not the only fair-skinned English-dominant person with a Spanish surname who was genuinely shocked—was that conservatives could have easily opposed her purely on policy grounds. Sotamayor is a fairly conventional Democrat on constitutional issues, and that would have been ample reason for conservatives to criticize her. Indeed, Justice Elena Kagan was attacked on precisely those grounds. But rather than tempering opposition with at least some recognition that Sotomayor’s life story might be a great example for immigrant parents trying to raise children in difficult circumstances, the country was treated to a mass racial panic in which Anglo America was about to be stomped by the boot of Sotomayor’s ethnic prejudice. The graduate of Princeton and Yale Law, former prosecutor, and longtime federal judge was somehow not just too liberal for conservatives’ taste but a “lightweight” who’d been coasting her whole life on the enormous privilege of growing up poor in the South Bronx.

Polling suggests that the Latino problem for the GOP is deeper than immigration. John McCain got a scant 31 percent of the Latino vote despite a long record of pro-immigration policies. The best evidence available on Hispanic public opinion, a big election even poll from Latino Decisions and ImpreMedia, makes it clear that this is just a fairly liberal voting block. Just 12 percent of Latinos support a cuts-only approach to deficit reduction, and only 25 percent want to repeal Obamacare. Only 31 percent of Hispanics say they’d be more likely to vote for a Republican who supports the DREAM Act. This isn’t to say Latinos aren’t eager to see immigration reform, it’s just that the lion’s share have bigger reasons for rejecting the GOP.

So if Republicans really want to fix their problems with Latinos and other minority voters, then they need to engage in less "political window dressing" and more deep soul searching. However, this runs into what may be an even bigger problem Republicans now face. At this point, most of their base refuse to even consider the "political window dressing"!

Here’s what Iowa Rep. Steve King, who is already rumored to be a Senate candidate in 2014, tweeted out shortly after Boehner’s comments went public:

Obama voters chose dependency over Liberty. Now establishment R’s want citizenship for illegals. You can’t beat Santa Claus with amnesty.

-- Steve King (@SteveKingIA) November 9, 2012

And, while it’s easy to dismiss King’s voice as an isolated one, it’s worth remembering that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney adopted the position of “self deportation” for illegal immigrants during the presidential primary process for fear of being labeled insufficiently conservative by the GOP base. [...]

Six in 10 Republicans aligned with the tea party favor deporting illegal immigrants to their native country. A majority of “old school Republicans” —described in the survey as “more male, white educated and wealthy” in the Post-Kaiser findings —feel the same way. (For more on the various segments within the Republican party, check out this cool graphic.)

What that data suggest is that no matter what the party leadership believes should be done on immigration, there will almost certainly be opposition from within the tea party wing to almost anything that allows illegal immigrants to stay in the country. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention to Republican primaries over the last few years, that wing of the party has a huge amount of influence in picking nominees.

So before the likes of Dean Heller, Brian Sandoval, and Michael Roberson can convince Nevada Latin@ voters that Republicans have changed for the better, they first have to actually change the heart of their own party. And so far, the heart of the party is still aligned with the likes of Sharron Angle, Kris Kobach, and Joe Arpaio in opposing any and all kinds of realistic comprehensive immigration reform. And with the likes of Assembly Member Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) still pursuing the very xenophobic anti-Latin@ legislation that doomed the political careers of Angle and Romney, it looks like Nevada Republicans have far more work to do to "fix the Latino Problem".

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