Grassroots Politics While Immigration Activists Regroup

On Thursday, the Senate “Immigration Reform” bill went on life support.  The Senate voted 50-45 against limiting debate.  That was the second vote that day to invoke cloture and go to an overall vote in the U.S. Senate on the bill. Sen. Harry Reid, (D.-N.V.), after the vote and the “shelving” of the bill blamed Republican opponents of the bill for its collapse, even though 11 Democrats voted against cloture.  He went on to say, “There’s lots of support for this bill on the outside,” he said. “The problem is inside the Senate chamber.”

Exactly. Immigration reform is not a partisan issue, only because the White House has taken the Democrats’ position as its own. Moreover, it is a regional issue and it is not just Border States any more. This is the biggest issue of our day as it relates to the day to day lives of citizens.  The financial crisis looming in Social Security and Medicare is certainly bigger and easier to define, but it doesn’t affect the day to day lives of millions of Americans in a direct way.  Illegal immigration impacts the local school, the local hospital and the local justice system.  It is a hometown issue all across this nation and the people inside the Beltway didn’t get it. Maybe they do now.  And maybe that’s too much to hope for.

Last week, Sec. Carlos Gutierrez of the Commerce Department and Georgia Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have appeared on my program to defend the compromise reached by the Senate before it was shelved.  Gutierrez was a great defender of the President and I asked him, “If we have failed in implementing the laws passed in 1964, 1986, 1996 and the Border Fence passed and signed by the President last October, how can the American people trust that a new bill will be any better?  Mr. Secretary, the American people do not trust the government to implement a comprehensive immigration plan.”  He danced around the answer and then when asked why this problem can’t be addressed in three parts; a bill for border security, a bill for enforcement on the local law enforcement level and then a bill for a temporary worker program — he took the administration line that you have to do it all together or it won’t work.  Mr. Secretary the American people aren’t buying it.

Sen. Chambliss admitted when asked about this distrust of government that he didn’t have answer for that question.  Opponents of the Senate bill don’t believe that the government will do what is says and illegal immigrants who have been living under the radar for generations are counting on the government to fail.

Sen.Chambliss is up for reelection this year in Georgia.  Georgia Republicans were the only state party who won new  control in the state last year but it was in the state government, not on the federal level.  While Democrat Congressmen Marshall and Barrow won narrowly over their Republican opposition, they still won.  So it could be argued that Georgia is the most conservative state in the country, but Saxby Chambliss is in trouble. 
In a background meeting of Republican activists last week, they were concerned that Sen. Chambliss will be challenged in the 2008 primaries.  Republicans don’t like opposition to their sitting elected officials, but if they continue to show complete disdain for the voting public, they will have it.  At this moment, there are two members of the Georgia state legislature traveling the state to see if they can garner support for a run against Senator Chambliss. 

Last week another Democrat entered the contest, Dale Cardwell, who is said to be hand picked by former Governor Roy Barnes.  The interesting thing about the Democrats in this contest, DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones and former TV Journalist Dale Cardwell is that they are running to the right of Senator Chambliss on immigration reform.  Immigration reform is one of those issues that the elites in both parties have a huge disconnect from the mainstream of their party members.  Nationally, Republicans are already seeing it in fundraising and the Democrats will see it at the polls. 

After the bill was shelved, grassroots meetings of Republicans went on all across the country.  They were training candidates and updating issues.  Immigration Reform was still topic one at most of these meetings. 

So what effect will immigration reform have on the 2008 elections?  Here’s the skinny.  If you live in an area where illegal immigration in a major issue, you will expect your candidates — whether Democrat of Republican — to be a hard line borders first candidate.  If the Union vote is important to your district, the same will be expected of you. The shelving of the bill last week is not the end; it is the beginning of a long fight. It is simple.  Enforce the laws you have or change them to strengthen border security before you to anything else.  That’s what the American people want.