Joe To NY Governor Eliot Spitzer: Remember Gray Davis!
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Years ago, I worked at Merrill Lynch in New York. My investment banking division never changed its policies or practices without first launching task forces and convening dozens of meetings to consider the possible repercussions of our proposed actions.

After months of tedious analytical sessions came a voluminous report with its ultimate decision based on one central principal: would the rewards we anticipated outweigh the risks we were about to assume?

Looking at New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's decision to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens, about whom I wrote last week, you have to wonder if he's ever heard of risk-reward.

Apparently Spitzer didn't convene any meetings even though he's surrounded by dozens of advisors who are mirror images of him: smart, ambitious Ivy League guys who should know up from down.

But either Spitzer's inner circle doesn't know the temperature of American citizens when it comes to illegal immigration, or their opinions, should they be asked, are worthless in the governor's eyes.

Had Spitzer taken the time to ask him what could go wrong, the answer would have come booming back to him: "PLENTY!" And had he posed the follow-up question about what the rewards to him might be, the response would be a resounding:"None!"

Assuming I had chaired a Spitzer task force to study the pros and cons, from a purely political perspective, of what happens when states give (or propose to give) licenses to aliens, here is my five-point summary outlining the reasons why he should drop his idea.

1.  Remember former California governor Gray Davis!

In the 2003 California Recall Election Davis, like Spitzer a Democrat, was fighting to hold on to his job when—inexplicably—he announced that if he survived, he would give licenses to aliens. Davis had vetoed similar bills twice before.

At that exact moment, Davis went from a viable candidate to toast. [Davis OKs Licenses for Illegal Residents, by Tychy Hendricks, San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 2003]

In a post-election survey commissioned by the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Luntz Poll found that 33 percent of voters—the margin that lead to his defeat— supported removing Davis because of his pandering position on licenses.

I too was a California gubernatorial candidate that year running against Davis and the eventual winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who advantageously opposed licenses for illegal immigrants.

I was invited on dozens of talk show radio programs and cable television news programs. The most hotly discussed topic was licenses for aliens—universally opposed by the shows' hosts and its listeners. Today, four years later, nothing has changed. According to a panel of talk radio hosts assembled by CNN, callers are 100 percent opposed to Spitzer's policy.

Spitzer may think he's immune from a Davis-like backlash. But he isn't—as he is finding out.

2.  Your many opponents will come after you with a vengeance, box you in and force you to say stupid things that will haunt you.

For a Princeton and Harvard man so eager for the public spotlight, Spitzer didn't read the tea leaves very well. He should have anticipated that most of the publicity centering on his decision would be negative.

And Spitzer's reaction to criticism adds to his considerable, well-earned reputation as the nastiest man in politics.

An exchange between Republican State Senate spokesman Mark Hansen and Spitzer showed how thin-skinned the governor is:


"Governor Spitzer is putting the safety of New Yorkers in jeopardy through his arrogance and another abuse of government power by ignoring the law and bulling ahead with bad policy despite opposition by most New Yorkers and elected officials at all levels of government. He can't defend his policy, so he is attacking his critics."

Spitzer's response is guaranteed to offend right-minded New Yorkers:

"What has happened is that the politics of fear and selfishness has replaced the politics of common sense and responsibility. We are witnessing knee-jerk reactions to sound policies that have no business being politicized or polluted by fear-mongering rhetoric.

"What we are not going to accept is hysterical rhetoric that preys upon the public's fears. Over the past six-and-a-half years, this type of politics has dragged our country down. People are sick of it ... Let's rise above the rhetoric and press forward with a positive, reality based agenda for change." [Spitzer Slams GOP Politics of 'Fear and Selfishness,] Michael Gormley, Associated Press, October 2, 2007]

That's quite a mouthful of insults.

Nevertheless, refusing to be intimidated, the Senate Republicans have given Spitzer until October 31 to reverse his policy before they pursue legal action. Effective October 5th, teaming up with the Republicans, the state Conservative Party will launch a series of 10-second ad campaigns urging New Yorker's to express their displeasure to Spitzer.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, supposedly Spitzer's friend and ally, fared no better than Hansen when he publicly questioned the governor's license plan.


"I'm really skeptical that we should be issuing driver's licenses willy-nilly because it then leads to lots of other problems. But it's the governor's call."

Spitzer's rude reply:

"He is wrong at every level - dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong." [Spitzer Blasts Bloomberg For Questioning Driver's License Plan, Kirsten Danis, Daily News, September 28, 2007]

Is the governor calling the mayor uninformed, immoral and unethical? If so, that's not too cool even in the brutal world of New York politics.

To the astonishment of many, Spitzer is more radical in his support of illegal immigration than not only Bloomberg but also former mayor and current Republican presidential frontrunner Rudy Giuliani.

Here's Giuliani's view:

"I think it would just create even further a level of fraud and confusion in what is already a very confusing picture. The reality is there is so much traffic in false documents that creates part of this problem." [Giuliani Assails Spitzer's Plan to Give Driver's Licenses to Illegal Immigrants, By Marc Santora, New York Times, September 28, 2007]

Try to imagine how hard it is to position yourself to the left of Bloomberg and Giuliani on immigration and you'll have an idea of what a corner Spitzer has painted himself into.

3.  Even If you prevail early, you'll lose late

Assuming Spitzer is successful at ramming through his agenda, an analysis of other states that have given licenses to illegal aliens portends disaster.

In the last year North Carolina and Tennessee, overwhelmed by fraud and bureaucratic nightmares, stopped issuing licenses to aliens.

After federal regulators found that many Tennessee driver-testing sites were selling licenses to illegal immigrants from out of state, Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) ended the practice in May 2006. The state had also been under fire from local citizens who were irate because they were forced to wait in line for hours behind aliens.

And last August, North Carolina followed Tennessee's lead. By 2003, the state had licensed more than 73,000 drivers without Social Security numbers. Lawmakers, aware of rampant fraud, gradually made it harder for illegal immigrants to get licenses before ending the program completely.

4.  Watch Out For MALDEF and La Raza!

Somewhere along the winding path Spitzer is traveling, he may decide to copy Utah and its two-tier license system.

Several years ago, Utah unquestioningly issued licenses to aliens. But in 2005 an audit uncovered multiple abuses. In one instance according to the audit, 62 of the 58,000 licensed illegal immigrants reported the identical Salt Lake City apartment as their address.

Enter the two-tier license with the one issued to aliens called a "driver privilege card" having red outlines and stating at the top that the card is "not valid identification for Utah government entity."

To the dismay of Utah regulators, MALDEF and La Raza were all over them. According to the ethnic identity lobby's tortured logic, the "driver's privilege card" represented an open invitation for racial profiling.

The last thing the ultra-liberal Spitzer's wants is to be attacked for racial profiling.

5.  You cannot gain; you can only lose!

Spitzer's radical policy appeals only to the ultra-liberal wing of his party. But where else could it turn in the 2010 election but to Spitzer? With or without licenses for aliens, Spitzer has their vote.

Moderate Democrats, however, are another story. During the California Recall Election, I spoke with former Colorado governor Richard Lamm, a lifelong Democrat. Lamm was as dismayed as I was regarding Davis' fatal decision.

Lamm and I are not the only sensible Democrats around. Assuming the Republicans nominated a halfway decent candidate, Spitzer could be a one-term governor as a Zogby Poll indicated. The poll's results showed 58 percent of New Yorkers oppose his give-away.

Even Spitzer's employees are up in arms. Kathleen A. Marchione, the president of the New York State Association of Clerks said she and many of her colleagues—all elected— would defy Spitzer's new policy.

Said Marchione on behalf of her group:

"It's a safety concern and it's a safety concern for Americans. They just believe it's wrong. They believe that the policy is risky. And as one elected official to the governor, I think it's irresponsible."  

Spitzer's battle may be more about personality than policy. A recent biography, Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer by Brooke A. Masters, reviewed in The American Lawyer by Michael Stern,  focuses on the governor's "dark side."

Stern wrote that:

"… There's a dark side to Eliot Spitzer…and Masters is scrupulous in painting that portrait as well. Spitzer's many detractors see him not as a selfless vindicator of the little guy, but as a headline-grabbing bully out to promote his own career. Both policy and personality are at issue. …(Spitzer) makes personal attacks, and takes criticism personally."

As a result, Stern concludes that:

"Spitzer could take the Rudy Giuliani route — ending up like the unpopular mayor who had alienated even his closest allies and reached a political dead end before his career was resurrected by his steely resolve after 9/11." [New Spitzer Biography Reveals 'Crusading Good Kid' With a Dark Side, October 9, 2006]

Masters wrote his book before Spitzer's decree that illegal aliens qualify for New York licenses.

Spitzer's decision, judging by the uproar it has created, may prove to be his "political dead end."   

Joe Guzzardi [e-mail him] is the Editor of VDARE.COM Letters to the Editor. In addition, he is an English teacher at the Lodi Adult School and has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.

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