“You don’t need papers for voting.”
Those effectively were the last words of the congressional campaign of Democratic candidate Francine Busby, who lost the special election last week to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R.-Calif.), who resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to bribery.
Moderate former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R.) won the election in the 50th District 49.3% to 45.4%. William Griffith, an independent candidate backed by the local chapter of the Minutemen, took 3.6%.
The Minutemen’s biggest impact on the vote, however, came when one of its members taped a speech Busby delivered the Thursday before the election in front of a largely Latino crowd, where, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, many of the attendees were Spanish speakers. At the end of the event, a man asked Busby a question in Spanish, which was translated for her: “I want to help, but I don’t have papers.”
Busby responded: “Everybody can help, yeah, absolutely, you can all help. You don’t need papers for voting, you don’t need to be a registered voter to help.”
The tape was distributed to the media by the Minutemen and soon was being replayed on Roger Hedgecock’s popular radio show.
Republicans have historically carried this San Diego-based district by large margins. The worst Cunningham ever managed was 56%. But Cunningham’s bribery conviction, the bad poll numbers for the Republican Congress and President Bush, and the fact that the moderate Bilbray won the GOP nomination with only 15% of the primary vote, after multiple right-wing candidates split the conservative vote, put the district in play for the Democrats.
The race did prove that immigration will be a central issue in this year’s elections (see Michael Reagan’s article below). Bilbray opposed the Hagel-Martinez amnesty bill that passed the Senate, while Busby supported it. When Busby argued that she misspoke when she said voters don’t need papers to vote and didn’t mean illegals could vote, Bilbray countered that however you interpreted his opponent’s remarks she was either soliciting votes from illegal aliens or soliciting their help in her campaign.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security, recorded a telephone message for Bilbray’s campaign, saying he “was appalled” by reports of Busby’s remarks and urging support for Bilbray, who, Issa said, “takes the right position on illegal immigration.”
In an e-mail obtained by Human Events, the San Diego Minutemen took credit for defeating Busby. “Congrats, guys!” it said. “A huge victory for the Minute Men and for America! I must mention there are nine brave patriots from SDMM that had a hand in this success story in acquiring the recording. I can’t mention your names this time, but you know who you are. Great job!!”
“Those remarks really hurt Busby and may have caused her to lose,” according to former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, one of three conservative runners-up to Bilbray in the primary. Kaloogian noted that Hedgecock’s broadcasts and Issa’s telephone recording about Busby’s remarks “really hurt her.” But, he added, “The race should not have been this close and had we nominated a conservative, we would have won easily. Brian’s pro-choice stand and weak record on the right to keep and bear arms in Congress led many natural Republican allies to take a walk.”
National Republicans were clearly relieved they had dodged a bullet in an uncertain election year.