San Jose, Calif. — Although the major news from the California Republican Convention here last week was about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 re-election campaign and his alliance with conservative State Sen. Tom McClintock, who will be his lieutenant-governor candidate (see “Politics,” page 18), there was another significant story emerging from the 1,400-plus GOP conventioneers gathered at the Fairmont Hotel that has immediate ramifications for the national Republican Party.
Almost to a person, the delegates, party activists and officeholders I spoke with at the convention cited illegal immigration as the issue that concerned them most.
Many of these Republicans coupled their concern about illegal immigration with low marks for the Bush Administration’s approach to the issue, particularly its support of a guest worker program. Schwarzenegger fared only slightly better among these grass-roots Republican activists. He drew a protracted ovation during his convention address when he called on the federal government to secure the Mexican border, but doubts about the governor’s overall stand on the immigration issue were still obvious at the convention. “It’s tough to take this governor seriously on the issue of illegal immigration when he won’t even say the words,” veteran GOP pollster Adam Probolsky of Orange County told me. “He chooses to use ‘undocumented immigrant.’ Anyone who cares about the issue of illegal immigration feels a little sadder each time he refuses to call them what they really are.”
Conservative Republican State Assemblyman and Human Events columnist Chuck DeVore reflected on the disconnect on the immigration issue between grassroots Republicans and the Bush Administration. “Yes, there is a split, as the core of the Republican Party sees the issue of illegal immigration first and foremost as a law enforcement and fairness issue,” said DeVore. “Once that is addressed, and only once it is addressed, will the rank and file support a look at revising the temporary work visa rules to create some sort of a guest-worker program.”
Dr. Alexandria Coronado, president of the Orange County Board of Education, also weighed in on how the issue of illegal immigration divides the Bush Administration from GOP grassroots. “The administration has one opinion on the issue, which is driven, I believe, by its desire not to offend the Latino community and influenced by the business community and its desire to have more laborers here,” said Coronado. “But in so doing, I don’t think they realize that there are real problems when California taxpayers have to pay at least $10 million per year for services provided to illegal immigrants and people get mad when they try to order a burger at Carl’s Jr., and the attendant doesn’t speak English.”
A convention workshop titled “Immigration Matters Most … For Now” underscored the potent nature of the issue. It was put on by Washington-based pollster Frank Luntz, who has done work for Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, and Newt Gingrich. Luntz offered suggestions for candidates on to how to discuss illegal immigration and pointed out that it is one issue that can get what he calls “Arnold Democrats” (Democrats dismayed with their own party’s left-leaning nature and inclined to vote for moderate GOPers such as Schwarzenegger) to vote Republican.
Probolsky added that in his latest survey for conservative Republican Dianne Harkey in the Orange County-based 35th State Senate District, “The issue voters are most concerned about is illegal immigration. In a district that has a high average of incomes and high level of education, illegal immigration runs clearly ahead of education, crime, and, yes, even terrorism. Clearly, the state and federal government are not getting what we’re telling them.”
As Republicans head toward mid-term national elections in which their congressional majority is at risk, and then toward a 2008 presidential race in which neither party will have an incumbent in the White House, they would do well to listen to the voices crying out from the grassroots for politicians to finally get tough on illegal immigration and to secure our border.