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Immigration Reform “Office Hours”

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Political Experts Discuss State of Immigration Politics, Implications for 2014 and 2016

As House Republicans continue to block votes on immigration reform, the legislative space for action continues to shrink and so do the GOP’s prospects of remaining competitive in 2016. 

On today’s Office Hours call, immigration advocates and political experts from California and Colorado discussed the impact immigration reform is having on key 2014 races and what this means for 2016.

In California, the gubernatorial candidacy of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is attracting concern from party elders—including the notorious former Governor Pete Wilson, the architect of 1994’s Proposition 187.  Wilson and others worry that Donnelly, a former Minuteman who once likened unauthorized immigration to a war, is too extreme on a range of issues and would turn the general election into a cakewalk for Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.  Meanwhile in Colorado, Republican strategists are similarly worried that Tom Tancredo’s potential victory in their gubernatorial primary could not only cost them a chance the top state spot, but drag down other Republicans on the ballot.

As Gary Segura, Professor of American Politics and Chair of Chicano/a Studies, Stanford University and Co-Founder of Latino Decisions, explained on today’s call, the dramatic demographic change in California and other western states has shaken up the political calculus there, but some in the Republican Party have been slow to realize it.  He said:

We wait and wait.  We have no movement from the House GOP and none from the White House.  Meanwhile, America’s fastest growing electorate becomes more and more alienated.  Let California serve as a cautionary tale for the national GOP.  Right now, the Party is missing an historic opportunity to recover their presidential chances.  And the Democrats are missing an historic opportunity to cement and augment their electoral advantage among this group.  The status quo serves no one.

Another western state, Colorado, is more recently grappling with the new politics of immigration.  After George W. Bush won the state twice, Colorado voted twice for Barack Obama and has become increasingly Democratic – in part due to the impact of sharp distinctions between the parties on immigration and the rise of the Latino electorate.  Right now, longtime anti-immigrant zealot and former Rep. Tom Tancredo is polling at the top of a crowded Republican gubernatorial primary in Colorado.  This could certainly spell trouble for other competitive Colorado 2014 races, such as the Senate contest between Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and the House battle between Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO)—who once called Tancredo is “hero”–and Andrew Romanoff (D).  As the headline of a recent Colorado Springs Gazette editorial read, “Republican Party needs to solve its Tancredo problem.”

Explained Craig Hughes, Partner at Hilltop Public Solutions, Campaign Manager for Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2010 Senate race, and Colorado Senior Advisor for both Obama campaigns:

The formula on immigration in Colorado is pretty simple: people want practical solutions, they don’t want flip-flopping or empty rhetoric.  As we’ve seen in past election cycles, immigration was not only a good issue for mobilizing Latinos and democratic base voters, but moreover, it compelled politicians, like Sen. Bennet, to stand up and do the right thing for the state of Colorado.  You can’t just be a hardliner on immigration and toe the Tom Tancredo line and expect to win.

Concluded Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and others have used up nearly every excuse in the book as reason to delay and stall on reform, but the truth is that they’re dooming their own party in the process.  As California Republicans know and as Colorado Republicans are learning, hardline positions are big losers as the electorate diversifies.  If the GOP doesn’t get right on immigration reform, they will pay the price with Latino, Asian Pacific Islander American and immigrant voters for a generation.

Listen to a recording from today’s call here.

For recordings and resources from prior Office Hours calls, click here.

328 Days Since Senate Passed its Immigration Bill; 36 Days Left Until Window of Opportunity Closes