Monday, July 1, 2013

Old Ways vs. New Direction

Last week, we explored the intersection of needed policy and smart politics as we examined Republicans' internal wrestling over comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). We were asking why they couldn't see the humans suffering... Or the voters who don't appreciate it.

Yesterday, Fox demonstrated why this is a major problem for the Republican Party. They just continue to deny reality. After all, it's easier to deny reality than to recognize something wrong (and change it).

And it's not just Fox pundits denying reality. It's also G-O-TEA politicians closer to home. A prime example of this is Rep. Joe Heck (R-Delusional). While his constituents are demanding reform, he's hamming it up with his country club besties.

Regardless, Heck’s speech could clearly be heard from the confines of the country club’s bar, filled with men unwinding from their morning round of golf. He sought to reassure the crowd that the immigration bill would not mean amnesty for 11 million people. Under the Senate version, he said, it could take undocumented workers 13 years to earn citizenship. “It’s not like the old days,” Heck said. He also tried to assuage concerns about “anchor babies” receiving automatic citizenship under the 14th Amendment. “If we’re going to have a debate over immigration reform, it should be part of the debate,” he said.

Heck wasn’t just pandering to his conservative audience; he had said something similar last year when he addressed the Hispanics in Politics group in Las Vegas. The 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution after the Civil War to overrule the Supreme Court’s notorious Dred Scott decision that denied citizenship to black slaves. The high court has subsequently ruled that the amendment confers citizenship on all children born on American soil, no matter the legal status of their parents. “We’re one of the only industrialized counties that grants birthright citizenship,” Heck added after the Republican meeting.

Hispanic leaders say it’s hard to reconcile Heck’s claim to be open to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants with his willingness to question the widely held interpretation of the citizenship clause. That’s turf typically tread only by Republican hard-liners such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa and former Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

Heck also rattled the Hispanic community when he voted for King’s amendment earlier this month cutting funding to Obama’s popular policy to halt deportations of illegal immigrants brought here as children. The national Democratic Party responded with a scathing Spanish-language radio ad against nine vulnerable Republicans, including Heck, who defended the vote as a repudiation of the president for sidestepping Congress with an executive order. But the vote feels personal, not political, to some of Heck’s supporters.

Even as recent polling has shown overwhelming support among Nevadans for CIR, and even though Rep. Joe Heck himself had expressed willingness to consider CIR earlier this year, Heck is now back to his old ways of pandering to the 21st Century Know Nothings. Perhaps that's all he knows. Perhaps that's all he feels he can do.

Whatever the case, it's counterproductive. Rep. Heck may be stuck in his old ways, but those old ways are coming back to bite him and his party. Even as they continue denying Nevada's and the nation's new demographic reality, our state and nation continue to evolve. And even as they continue denying the need for real, comprehensive reform, immigrants continue to contribute to America's economy and shape America's future.

And speaking of future, there's a new twist coming soon to Joe Heck's political future courtesy of Erin Bilbray.

Even the National Journal piece (linked and quoted above) acknowledged the fast demographic changes of Nevada's 3rd Congressional District (or NV-03 for short). Not only did the district rapidly become more urban and suburban last decade, but it also became more ethnically diverse. And NV-03 continues to diversify today. Joe Heck may be accustomed to only paying attention to a certain subset of constituents, but he won't be able to get away with that forever.

America is moving in a new direction. Nevada is most certainly moving in this new direction. Yet Joe Heck seems stuck in his old ways. How much longer can he afford to remain stuck in his old ways?

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