[*VDare.com Note: Anyone not familiar with Ronald Reagan's famous joke about optimism can click here.]
This effectively removed the immigration issue from the debate, chilling it even at the state level. But it can still be traced in referendums and in congressional and gubernatorial races. Overshadowed by Obama, and undermined by McCain, the results were not great. But there is still some good news.
Prop 202 claimed to crack down on employers of illegal aliens, but would have actually given them amnesty and gutted the state's tough Legal Arizona Workers Act [LAWA]. I am proud to say that my organization Team America PAC, along with FAIR, flooded the state with radio ads featuring Russell Pearce, author of LAWA, who calmly and dispassionately exposed Prop 202 for the fraud it was. The result: the initiative, which had previously polled 63% for, 19% against, 17% undecided, was defeated by 19%.
Other ballot initiatives showed that, not withstanding Obama's victory, Americans by no means embrace multiculturalism and Open Borders. Ward Connerly's anti-racial preference Civil Rights Initiatives passed 58-42% in Nebraska and is currently split in Colorado that went overwhelmingly blue this election. An official English measure passed overwhelmingly with 85% of the vote in Missouri. One banning "bilingual education" failed in liberal Oregon by less than 10%. Anti-gay marriage initiatives passed easily in Arizona, Florida, and even narrowly won in California. Voters clearly do not take the Obama-McCain line on these issues. But this year, opposition did seem to be weaker.
There will be a few welcome new faces to Congress next January. Tom McClintock—who had been a leader in the fight against illegal immigration on the state level in California since prop 187—was elected to Congress. Duncan Hunter's son, Duncan D. Hunter, succeeded his father. Jason Chaffetz, who defeated pro-amnesty Chris Cannon in the primary, won easily in the general.
We also got a great Senator in Jim Risch of Idaho, who took retiring pro-amnesty Larry Craig's seat. Risch made illegal immigration a top priority and answered Numbers USA's survey perfectly. We have very few reliable Senators, but Alabama's Jeff Sessions and a few freshmen like David Vitter(R. Louisiana) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) were able to stop amnesty in 2007. The addition of Risch is more than welcome.
A number of incumbent congressmen with impeccable voting records on immigration, such as Michele Bachmann, Dana Rohrabacher, Rob Witmann, Brian Bilbray, Virgil Goode, and Robin Hayes were all targeted with hundreds of thousands—and in some cases millions—of dollars from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That their normally safe Republican seats were in jeopardy in the first place is a problem in and of itself (thank you George W. Bush). But, assuming Goode maintains his slim lead after a recount, Hayes—whose opponent claims to be a border hawk—will be the only one not sent back to Washington..
Which brings us to the bad news. Without a doubt, the biggest disappointment was the defeat of Lou Barletta by Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania's 11th Congressional District. Barletta is already a hero for those who want our laws enforced for his stand as mayor of Hazleton. If he had managed to take out an 11-term Democratic incumbent in this electoral climate, it would have been proof positive how powerful illegal immigration is as an issue. Barletta was polling 5 to 10 points ahead of Kanjorski. It looked like he would pull it off.
Kanjorski knew that his past support for amnesty was a liability. He signed the discharge petition for the SAVE Act and played himself up as tough on immigration. It was enough for the Scranton Times to run a piece with the headline "Kanjorski, Barletta see immigration similarly".
In fact most of the defeats of immigration reform patriots were at the hands of Democrats who at least claimed to be good on immigration.
I was once among those who once thought that having an anti-illegal immigration constituency in both parties would be a prerequisite for reform. Unfortunately, the last two years has proved me wrong.
The only two freshman Democrats who have done anything productive on illegal immigration are Heath Shuler and Brad Ellsworth. But neither of them have done anything on more fundamental issues like birthright citizenship or legal immigration, which both the Republicans they unseated—Charles Taylor and John Hostettler respectively—consistently opposed. In fact, with the exception of Gene Taylor of Mississippi, no Democrat has tackled these important parts of the debate.
While I have no brief for the Republican Party, there is absolutely no doubt that in the House of Representatives they are miles above the Democrats. In general, in the House of Representatives, the Republican leadership has been very strong in opposing amnesty and supporting the SAVE Act.
In contrast, while 50 Democrats co-sponsored the SAVE act, when push came to shove, only ten signed the discharge petition to allow a vote.
Two races in Alabama where "blue dog Democrats" narrowly beat out conservative Republicans illustrate this problem.
In the fifth district, Republican Wayne Parker ran against Democratic State Senator Parker Griffith. Wayne Parker's platform was perfect. He went out of his way to say he endorsed all of Numbers USA's positions as well as Jeff Session's 15 point immigration plan..
On paper, his Democratic opponent, Parker Griffith, looked good too. Heath Shuler campaigned heavily for Griffith. His platform as posted on his website included tough words about working against illegal aliens on the state level, opposing amnesty, and having tough interior enforcement. He claimed to have co-sponsored a tough law based on Oklahoma's legislation in the Alabama Senate.
But closer inspection showed that Griffith feinted just like the national Democrats did with the SAVE Act. Despite co-sponsoring the state enforcement bill, he didn't vote for it in committee, then voted present for it, and then voted against numerous pieces of the legislation when it was broken down into Amendments.
In Alabama's 2nd district, Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright beat out Jay Love, who had made immigration a top priority. In typical stealth immigration enthusiast fashion Bright "railed against" our "do-nothing immigration policy that encourages people to cross the border and allows companies to hire them with no fear of prosecution or penalty". Yet he told the Montgomery Advertiser: "If you're illegal, you need to get legal ... and we'll help you in whatever way we possibly we can. We'll even help you find a job".
The other big loss was for Governor in North Carolina. Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory was edged out by Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue. While there have been some great state laws passed in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arizona, and Oklahoma, few Governors have taken a strong stand against illegal immigration. McCrory made denying state benefits to illegals, requiring E-Verify for state contractors, and increasing cooperation with state and federal law enforcement on immigration part of his platform.
There can be no illusions but that the 2008 results are a major setback for the immigration reform movement. Yet there is no need to despair. While many pro-amnesty candidates won, they only did so by obfuscating their true position or trying to avoid the issue completely. And both Obama and McCain knew better than to mention immigration.
It may be tough to get anything positive done on the federal level. But few politicians can any doubt that any sign of voting for amnesty will provoke a storm of angry phone calls.
And there's always 2010.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.