Davis Flip-Flops on Driver's Licenses for Illegal Aliens

California Gov. Gray Davis (D.), facing an October recall election and suffering from a 23% approval rating, finds himself so badly cornered that even his own stated concerns about terrorism were not enough to stop him from pandering to special interests in order to rebuild his voter base.

Davis surprised many last week when he vowed to sign a bill allowing illegal aliens to obtain California drivers licenses. What’s more, the bill he now is promising to sign is even more liberal than a similar bill he vetoed last September, when he cited fears that it would make the United States more vulnerable to terrorism.

“The tragedy of September 11 made it abundantly clear that the driver’s license is more than just a license to drive; it is one of the primary documents we use to identify ourselves,” Davis said in his veto address ten months ago. “Unfortunately, a driver’s license was in the hands of terrorists who attacked America on that fateful day.”

Some of the 9/11 hijackers illegally obtained Virginia driver’s licenses, which allowed them to easily board their doomed flights.

Virginia State Sen. Roy Ashburn (R.)-who angered some conservatives by voting for the bill last year-called the new bill “more permissive than the one that [Davis] vetoed” and “very, very poor policy.”

Unlike the 2002 bill, Ashburn told HUMAN EVENTS, the new bill does not require license applicants to give a full-hand fingerprint, pass a criminal background check, or have an application pending for permanent U.S. residency. Along with a legal mandate for greater state cooperation with federal immigration authorities, these were provisions that law enforcement officials specifically demanded for any such bill in 2002. The new bill lacks these provisions.

“I believed that the provisions in the bill last year would make the applicants the most scrutinized people in America because the provisions were so strict,” said Ashburn. “But this bill is potentially dangerous from a national security standpoint.”

Supporters of the bill argue that unlicensed illegal immigrants imperil traffic safety, and that they would become better drivers if they had licenses. Critics charge that the bill will encourage illegal immigration and create new opportunities for illegal immigrants to commit voter fraud by using the so-called federal “motor-voter” law to register without proof of citizenship.

Non-citizen aliens-legal or illegal-are not allowed to vote in any state.

Several states were considering granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in 2001, but the push to do so nearly evaporated after the September 11 attacks.

Former State Sen. Dick Mountjoy (R.), chairman of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative activist group, said Davis’s promise to sign the bill should come as no surprise, given the governor’s history of pandering to special interests. “He has no worry about jeopardizing the security of the United States, he has no worry about spending money we don’t have, as long as it promotes him politically,” said Mountjoy. “That’s the reason for the recall.”

Mountjoy said Davis’s approval of the bill could help a Republican to win the recall vote “if the Republican message is right. I have encouraged both lead candidates to talk about securing the border,” he said, referring to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) and State Sen. Tom McClintock. “I think the one that comes out and says we need to put the National Guard on the border, we need to protect the security of the United States-that’s a place Davis can’t go, so we can win.”

Davis’s 2002 veto of the stricter bill cost him the support of the state legislature’s liberal 24-member Latino Caucus during the hotly contested 2002 gubernatorial election. The unpopular governor still managed to eke out a narrow victory over Republican businessman Bill Simon.

But Davis is now in even greater political peril. According to a recent Field Poll, his negative rating is at 65%. Key constituencies appear to have abandoned him. Hispanic voters, for example, favor his recall by a narrow margin-49% to 48%-and he may be counting on the driver’s license bill to win back some of their support.

The same poll of likely voters indicated that, overall, 51% of Californians want to oust Davis, while only 43% oppose the recall.

Davis may move further left on other issues as well. In order to shore up his support from the homosexual lobby, he may sign a bill that essentially guarantees all the rights of marriage to registered homosexual couples. The bill, conservatives charge, represents an end run around Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that passed in 2000 with 61% of the vote, which states that only marriage between a man and woman is valid in California.

Moreover, Ashburn said he expects Davis to sign a bill that heavily fines employers who discriminate against “transgendered” persons.