Why is it that Republican politicians in Nevada can’t learn from recent history when it comes to Latino voters and the politics of immigration? In a key development for one of the 2012 cycle’s most prominent Senate battleground races, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) used the occasion of a meeting with Hispanic community leaders last Friday to reiterate his opposition to the DREAM Act and birthright citizenship.
As the Associated Press recapped:
Heller’s appearance at a monthly Hispanics in Politics meeting was intended to be an olive branch toward the Hispanic community after he cancelled a meeting with the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce in October, prompting accusations from some Hispanic leaders that Heller was shunning the Latino community. But the meeting quickly evolved into a debate on immigration, with Heller repeating his opposition to illegal immigration several times, even as Hispanic leaders warned him that the stance could alienate some Latino voters. Heller also reiterated his support for an overhaul of the 14th Amendment…
That’s some olive branch. By following the Sharron Angle playbook on immigration and reiterating his opposition to the DREAM Act, Dean Heller just narrowed his path to victory significantly this November by disqualifying himself among many of Nevada’s Latino voters.
In regards to the DREAM Act, which Heller voted against in 2010, Heller noted his continued opposition to the measure, saying:
The immigration problem has to be addressed…But it has to be done in a way that the majority of people agree with.
Yet as Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius noted:
Well, that’s the DREAM Act, then, since some national polls have shown a bare majority — between 52 and 54 percent — support its provisions.
Polling from impreMedia and Latino Decisions in February 2011 shows that 58% of all voters support the DREAM Act, including 84% of Latino voters of all political affiliations.
Sebelius also further captured Heller’s curious rationale, writing:
Pressed by reporters after the breakfast as to his specific objections to the measure, Heller said ‘In my opinion, that bill had more bad than good in it.’ Pressed further, he said he opposes non-citizen students getting in-state tuition discounts that aren’t available to U.S. citizens. (But the DREAM Act doesn’t provide that benefit, although it does grant states the option of extending in-state tuition to immigrants. Some have done so, but it’s certainly not a requirement of the federal law.) ‘There’s no easy answer,’ he said. Perhaps not. But the answers Heller gave on Friday didn’t sway his audience to his cause. And it’s an audience he and his party need to be successful.
Heller’s responses are particularly curious in light of recent reminders about the political dangers of a hardline opposition to DREAM Act. On the campaign trail before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney pledged that he would veto a federal DREAM Act if the legislation passed Congress while he was President, a comment that ABC News called “a moment that could ultimately prove decisive in this year’s presidential election.”
And in Nevada, a similarly high profile Senate race in 2010 between Sharron Angle and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hinged on the issue of immigration and provided a template for what Republican candidates should not do in regards to Latino voters and immigration. After she ran a series of ugly, race-baiting ads and made inflammatory public statements on Latino voters and immigration, Nevada’s 2010 Republican candidate Sharron Angle won just 8% of the Latino vote. Referring to the 90% support he received from the growing Latino voter bloc in Nevada in his race against Angle, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) noted in October 2011:
“I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today, but for the Hispanics in Nevada.”
Dean Heller just put himself behind the eight ball in the Nevada Senate race. Especially in a state with a huge and growing Latino population, opposition to the DREAM Act is bad politics and bad policy, plain and simple. Latino voters do not appreciate those who would choose to slam the doors of opportunity in the face of immigrant children and the American public supports providing DREAM eligible students the chance to give back to the only country they call home.