Political Hay

Welcome to the Panderosa

Looking for votes for all the wrong reasons.

By 5.7.14

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It’s no more attractive when Republicans try to buy votes with special interest legislation than when Democrats do it. At least when Democrats do this they actually get votes. The latest exercise in ethnic pandering by Republicans in the Florida Legislature is not likely to win candidates of that party a single new vote, but does create pressure for further legislation that would damage the state and the nation.

Political consultants, establishment graybeards, and the breathless media have convinced most elected Republicans and wannabe elected Republicans that if they would just get over the retrograde and hateful notion that there is any useful distinction to be made between people who are citizens of the United States and those who are not (particularly those who are not but who have Spanish last names) that voters with Spanish last names will begin to vote for Republicans where they wouldn’t before. There’s not a shred of evidence to support this, and considerable reason to believe it’s not so.

In spite of a lack of evidence for it, the idea that citizens of other countries who have Spanish last names and who are here illegally should be allowed to stay is so firmly entrenched in the Washington Republican establishment that House Speaker John Boehner recently took time out to mock Republicans who refuse to get with the program. Boehner’s, “It’s so HAAAARD” moment is the low point in a speakership with much competition for this honor.

The latest example of Republican pandering for the votes of citizens with Spanish last names came last week in Florida, where this state’s legislature became the 20th in the nation to allow undocumented immigrants — in plain English, citizens of other countries — to pay in-state tuition at the state’s universities. (Why citizens of other countries here illegally should be attending American state universities at all was not even considered.) The vote was not close in either house of Florida’s heavily Republican legislature, and the measure has the blessing of Republican Governor Rick Scott, who is running for re-election this year and who used to oppose this very legislation for all the right reasons.

This legislation was sold on the basis of compassion and is aimed at students who were brought to America by their law-breaking parents when they were children. Polls show this one has the support of a majority of Floridians, a welcoming lot, taken all around. But any further moves toward giving citizenship privileges to border hoppers, Republicans need to understand, is unlikely to enjoy such a benign reception, especially from the Republican base.

In this year’s governor’s race Scott is up against the political chameleon Charlie Crist (now a Democrat for those who haven’t checked his status lately — or at least he still was this morning), who when he was a self-described Reagan Republican in 2009 also opposed in-state tuition legislation for the same reasons. Now both Scott and Crist have, as we have learned to say, evolved.

“Everybody has a shot at the dream,” Scott said when announcing that he would sign the in-state tuition bill.

Don’t feel bad. I don’t know what that means either, other than, “Look at me, I’m kinder, gentler, and more cuddly than you thought I was.”

Scott hasn’t evolved on this issue — and others — as far and as fast as Crist. Who could? But his evolution has been impressive nonetheless. And he may catch up by November. Scott trails the ever-changeable and lighter-than-air Crist in most polls. And is desperately seeking love from various voting blocks in Florida. In addition to this almost certainly fruitless attempt to win the votes of Floridians with Spanish last names, Scott has moved away from the much-needed green eye-shade approach he first took to spending on education in Florida. He now gives the education industry pretty much whatever it wants, including a bump in spending in next year’s recently approved state budget.

On the ethnic pandering front, as an add-on, the Florida legislature also overwhelmingly passed a bill for a man living in the Tampa Bay Area and who is a citizen of Mexico to be licensed to practice law in Florida. Jose Godinez-Samperio came to the United States with his parents at age nine on a tourist visa. The tour was permanent. \The Tampa Tribune reports that the 27-year-old Godinez-Samperio never sought citizenship in his years here because that would have obliged him to return to Mexico and wait his turn to come to El Norte. He got a better deal from Republican state legislators eager for votes from people with Spanish last names.

“This country was founded by immigrants,” Godinez-Samperio told the Tribune. “We’re a great contribution to this society. There’s no reason for me not to be allowed to practice law. I pay my taxes… I signed up for Selective Service.”

It’s quite possible Godinez-Samperio believes this non-sequitur of a defense for his continuing to stay in the United State illegally. Perhaps the Republican legislators who voted for this bill were convinced by it. Hard to say. Less credible things are believed. But not many.

In talking with active Republicans about the issue of voters with Spanish last names, one is almost invariably treated to a lecture on demographics. How Hispanics — that unlovely word that denotes a category of people with more differences than similarities — are the fastest growing group in America. How pandering to this group, I hear over and over, “is simply responding to a new political reality.” Republicans, I’m told, have increasingly become the party of white people, and that’s not a big enough demographic to win, especially the presidency.

All of the above may be true, or at least partly true. But what I’ve never heard a Republican official explain is how, if Republicans match Democrats in making an irrelevance of national borders, this will make Democrats with Spanish last names suddenly become Republicans with Spanish last names. Immigrants, including those with Spanish last names, tend to vote for Democrats for a host of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with that party’s open borders policy. Even those who make the most noise in favor of amnesty are not likely to become Republicans if the party folds on the issue. Republicans could issue a Get-Into-America-Free-Card to every person on the planet with a Spanish last name and not win a single new Hispanic vote.

While not winning any new Hispanic voters, a too loosey-goosey policy on who gets to set up shop in America could lose Republicans the votes of those in the conservative Republican base who have not given up on the idea of national sovereignty. For many walking around Republicans, those not infected with Potomac fever, national borders and reasonable standards for residency and citizenship are not hate crimes.

The idea that it is “compassionate” to allow anyone looking for a better life for his/her family to live in America, the usual justification for the open borders hustle, just doesn’t stand examination. It’s hardly compassionate for new border-hoppers to take jobs that otherwise would have gone to American citizens. It’s hardly compassionate if border-hoppers by the millions drive down the average wage in various industries. It’s not compassionate when already overburdened middle-class tax payers have to be tapped even harder to provide services for unemployable low-skill and no skill border-hoppers. Not even Jeb Bush would consider any of these things “acts of love.”

Sadly, while thrashing about for groups to pander to with Democrat-lite policies, the one approach Republicans seen unwilling to take, unwilling even to consider, is to put forward a more convincing case for how conservative policies — limited government, low taxes, strong national defense, personal and economic freedom — make life better for everyone, regardless of race, ethnic group, sex, or economic status. Pandering is easy. Standing for something is hard.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.