Watching outside of Washington (cont'd): Bright Spots and Flip-Flops in the Gubernatorial Elections
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See also: Watching Outside of Washington: Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Embracing Arizona…But Can They Be Trusted?

Even if the Republicans take over Congress, given the weakness of their leadership and Obama's veto pen, I'm not holding my breath on any positive legislation on illegal immigration (much less legal immigration) any time soon.

But it was not Washington but Arizona that triggered the current debate with its SB 1070. It has made immigration is a major issue in gubernatorial races all around the country.

My last column dealt with Tom Tancredo third-party challenge in Colorado. Tom's race is getting more and more interesting, with the latest poll showing him down by only 4%. (In a development little noted in the Main Stream Media, Tancredo is polling about as well with Hispanics as Republicans usually do, despite being a notorious immigration hawk.)

Meanwhile, there are a number of gubernatorial races worth keeping an eye on.

  • Arizona: State Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) vs. Incumbent Jan Brewer (R)

For better or worse, Jan Brewer has become the public face of SB 1070 and Goddard opposes the law. Prior to signing SB 1070, Brewer was polling equal or below the Goddard.

Since signing the law and her subsequent championing of it against the Obama administration her numbers skyrocketed.  Talking Point Memo averaged current polls with Brewer up 60-36%.

The expected Brewer landslide will show the power of patriotic immigration reform in politics—but Brewer's actual commitment to the cause is still in doubt. She never argued strongly for immigration control prior to SB 1070 and she let it sit on her desk for nearly a week before signing.

Hopefully, she will realize that standing up against illegal immigration not only saved her political career, but advanced her to national celebrity. If she is reelected, it will be interesting to see if she will sign other immigration legislation—such as State Senator Russell Pearce's plan to introduce a bill to end birthright citizenship.

  • Georgia: Former Congressman Nathan Deal (R) vs. Former Governor Roy Barnes (D)

Nathan Deal had a strong record on both illegal and legal immigration in Congress with a career A+ grade from Numbers USA. Deal was the primary sponsor of the anti-birthright citizenship bill and one of fewer than a dozen congressmen to co-sponsor Tancredo's moratorium bill.

He made his support for immigration restriction the centerpiece of his primary campaign, which led to a come-from-behind victory.  Deal's website highlights his opposition to birthright citizenship and says he will enact an Arizona law.

Democrat Roy Barnes says he supports SB 1070 with some caveats, noting "Would I sign a law that had some of those elements? I would, but I would want to make sure it was not a racially profiling bill." [Roy Barnes Backs AZ Immigration Law, by Veronica Walters, AP, July 16, 2010] However, he has not made it much of an issue in the campaign. The immigration section of his website is blank.

To Deal's enormous credit, while governors have no impact on legal immigration, he is still making it an issue in the race (something that cannot be said of any Congressional candidate!) In contrast, while Barnes was previously governor, he went to Mexico and told Vicente Fox: "The labor we have received, primarily Mexicans, has fueled our economy. We could not have had the Olympics in 1996 had it not been for that." He also signed the Southern Governor's Association call for more imported farm workers.

Deal is running ads with a clip of Barnes stating "We Need to Take Care of Our Own"—after which the ad narrator comments "Hmm. Sounds nice. But Roy Barnes proclaimed Mexican workers good for Georgia" and then ties Mexican labor to job losses. [Barnes trip to Mexico trip sparks new round of attacks, Atlanta Journal Constitution/, April 12, 2010]

The latest Rasmussen Poll shows Deal up by 9%, and this race is worth watching.

  • Texas: Houston Mayor Bill White (D) vs. Incumbent Governor Rick Perry (R)

Governor Rick Perry fended off both Tea Party immigration patriot Debra Medina and pro-amnesty Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary.

As governor of a border State, Perry has huffed and puffed at Obama over border security and has sent a few National Guard troops to the border and is making that a major issue in his campaign. He also criticizes Bill White's Sanctuary policies while he was mayor of Houston.

White's attempt to defend Houston is almost comically pathetic. He argues: "Rick Perry is out of touch with law enforcement if he believes that Texas cities prevent police officers from arresting non-citizens for crimes…. Non-citizen criminals simply do not parachute into the major cities, they come through Rick Perry's Texas." [Career politician Perry rolls out false attacks, doublespeak, October 7, 2010 Bill White for Texas]

In other words, White defines "sanctuary" downward so that it means a city where illegal aliens could commit any crime without punishment, rather than a city that refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities when it has illegal aliens in custody. White also suggests that if an illegal alien makes a 5 hour trip from Laredo to Houston, it is somehow not his responsibility as to do anything.

However, if Rick Perry really opposed sanctuary cities, as governor he could have promoted legislation to deny state funds to Houston and other lawless localities, as Arizona's SB 1070 does.  But in fact, Perry opposed SB 1070, saying:

"I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas. For example, some aspects of the law turn law enforcement officers into immigration officials by requiring them to determine immigration status during any lawful contact with a suspected alien, taking them away from their existing law enforcement duties, which are critical to keeping citizens safe." 

[Statement by Gov. Rick Perry on Immigration and Border Security, April 29, 2010]

According to a poll earlier in the month, 70% of Texas voters support SB 1070 and 51-36% prefer Perry to White on immigration. Talking Points Memo finds the average polls showing Perry up by 8 points.  Given their respective records, I'd credit this to White's faults rather than Perry's strengths.

  • California: Ebay CEO Meg Whitman (R) vs. State Attorney General and former Governor Jerry Brown (D)

As a border state with the highest percentage of Hispanics in the country, California's race should be of particular concern to immigration patriots. Yet both candidates leave much to be desired.

In the primary, running against Steve Poizner who belatedly began making noises about illegal immigration, Whitman said she was "tough as nails on illegal immigration" and "100% against Amnesty." But days after her victory, she began running Spanish language ads stating "se opone a ley de Arizona y proposición 187" [I oppose Arizona's law and Proposition 187]. 

Whitman is still trying to pose as the candidate of patriotic immigration reform, calling for expanded use of E-Verify, defunding sanctuary cities, and barring illegal aliens from attending public universities.

Nonetheless, she uses words like "comprehensive" in describing her immigration plan, and she wants to import hundreds of thousands of guest workers.

But Brown is about as bad as it gets. He supports a "path to citizenship", opposes Arizona's law, and even said "We used to be under a Mexican flag, remember?" [Jerry Brown Immigration Flashback: "We used to be under a Mexican flag, remember?" , Verum Serum, June 9, 2010]

Brown dropped an October Surprise a few days early, when Nicky Diaz Santillan came forward to say she worked illegally as a housekeeper for Whitman for a year at 23 dollars an hour. Whitman hired Santillan through an employment agency to whom she had provided fraudulent ID and signed an I-9 form. When Whitman discovered the illegal alien was here illegally she fired her, but did not report her to the authorities. The allegations are still in the headlines and many pundits credit it with her recent dip in the polls. [Meg Whitman loses ground in polls as Nicky Diaz controversy drags on, By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor,  October 5, 2010]

To be honest, I'm not particularly outraged over this. Whitman is not accused of hiring illegal aliens in her capacity as eBay CEO. She did as much, if not more, diligence in terms verifying legal status for the help, and at 23 dollars an hour, I wouldn't call Santillan cheap labor.

But I'm not as forgiving over her guest worker plans and pandering.

  • Florida: Health Care Entrepreneur Rick Scott (R) vs. Bank of America Executive Alex Sink (D)

Scott has been a leading opponent of socialized medicine and put millions of his own dollars to fight Obamacare. Prior to the election, he didn't talk much about immigration. But during the primary both he and Florida Attorney General tried to outflank each other to the right on immigration. Scott's platform states "Rick supports measures like the Arizona law" and that he "will require all Florida employers to use the free E-Verify system." [Border Security, Rick Scott for Governor]

Sink was Florida President of Bank of America which accepted Matricula Consular Cards for sub-prime mortgage loans and is a major contributor to La Raza. 

For a Democrat, her platform sounds relatively tough. It asserts that "illegal immigrants that break our state's laws should be held accountable both by the state of Florida and by the federal government for being in this country illegally by being deported" and "[w]e should not be hamstrung by the federal government when it comes to shutting down the practice of employing illegal immigrants."

But looking closer, Sink's promise that illegal aliens should be punished only for breaking "our state laws" means that she is not talking about deporting illegal aliens who do not commit crimes beyond being here illegally. And despite her tough talk on employers, she never advocates E-Verify. [Immigration, Alex Sink for Governor]

Sink also said: "I think the Arizona style would be very, very bad for Florida." [Alex Sink on GOP plans for Florida immigration "papers" law, YouTube, June 26, 2010]

This is one of the closest races in the country, with varying polls giving either candidate a slim lead.

Scott could use immigration to depth-charge the race and break out ahead. But Florida has three Hispanic Republican Congressmen: Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The three are white Cubans,(picture) but nonetheless support the pan-Hispanic immigration agenda, and only recently endorsed Scott. Since their endorsement, there's been a lot of talk about Scott's allegedly backing off the immigration issue with headlines like this: 

Immigration patriots in Florida tell me this is simply not the case. If you read the actual articles below the headlines, the only people saying that Scott is backing off immigration are Hispanic Republican strategists. When the Cuban Congressmen endorsed Scott, they explicitly said they disagreed with him on immigration.

Scott still makes it clear he supports mandatory E-Verify and Arizona-style laws, but he is not running ads on the issue. This is silly. According to a Rasmussen Poll last month, Florida voters support a SB 1070 style law 2-1.

In addition to these races, there are some significant bright spots. Three Republican gubernatorial candidates who are all but guaranteed to win say they support Arizona's immigration law: Robert Bentley of Alabama, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Bill Haslam of Tennessee.  According to the latest polls these candidates have a 27, 20, and 18 point lead respectively. 

Haley and Haslam did not have a strong record on immigration, and I personally supported Congressmen Gresham Barrett and Zach Wamp who both had A+ career grades from Numbers USA in the respective primaries. Nonetheless, the fact that these candidates are on record as supporting the law will give leverage to the citizens of their states and patriotic state legislators to further pressure them in office if they do not show leadership.

And do not underestimate the importance of leadership. Signing an E-Verify or SB 1070 style law is not enough. Governors need to put the bills at the top of their legislative agenda, use the Bully Pulpit to promote the laws, and be willing to put all the necessary resources to fight the inevitable lawsuits from the ACLU, MALDEF, and the Obama administration.

We will keep an eye on these candidates until November. But it will be just as important to keep an eye on them once they assume office.

"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.

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