GOP Readies New Anti-Immigrant Grandstand

We talked back in August about the well-publicized trip by members of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado and several GOP legislative candidates to Arizona, hoping to glom onto a little of the buzz surrounding that state’s controversial anti-immigrant legislation SB1070. This legislation, though neutered by federal court injunctions that prevented enforcement of its most controversial provisions–and facing near-certain death in a lengthy and expensive legal battle–is nevertheless greatly loved on the hard right.

And in Colorado next year, the hard-right RSCC wants their agenda front and center–the Colorado Independent’s Scot Kersgaard picked up the story before the holiday:

Colorado State Senator-elect Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, told The Colorado Independent Monday that he will introduce legislation early in the next session that would be nearly a carbon copy of Arizona’s SB 1070…

“John Hickenlooper is clearly on the wrong side of this issue. The people of Colorado clearly want this passed. If the Legislature and the governor fail, then it will go to a vote of the people,” Lambert said.

He said he understood that a State Senate with a 20-15 Democratic majority might not pass an Arizona-style immigration bill. “I expect it will be a controversial bill, but there is a chance it will pass because it is possible that some of the Democrats will listen to what their constituents are telling them.”

“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get full Republican control in Colorado. We did get the House of Representatives so we’ll just have to see what is possible,” Lambert said.

Folks, we’ve been frank about our opinion of the political value of Republican obsession with illegal immigration. It doesn’t help them win in Colorado. In election after election illegal immigration flares up as a potential boogeyman issue for Democrats, sometimes provoking a ‘preventive’ response like the state legislature’s 2006 special session on immigration.

But by Election Day, the boogeyman disappears. Immigrant-baiting just does not motivate significant numbers of Colorado voters, and those it does affirmatively motivate are largely in the GOP column anyway. If there was any better demonstration of this fact needed than Bob Beauprez’s drubbing at the polls in 2006 after running on a campaign of demonizing immigrants, Tom Tancredo’s gubernatorial run settled the question this year. Tancredo ran some of the most vicious attacks imaginable against John Hickenlooper, ads full of lurid descriptions of crimes committed by immigrants. Is there anybody willing to say those ads hurt Hickenlooper in the least?

Which leads to the real problem: it’s not that it’s an issue nobody cares about. In fact a great many voters do care about immigration–just not the way Kent Lambert and the RSCC are thinking, and not the way voters in Arizona are thinking. As we’ve warned over and over in this space, and the New York Times reported after the election, whatever short-term benefit the GOP can realize by appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment in their base is completely overshadowed by the voters they are sending away in disgust.

Latinos over all showed a clear preference for Democrats and were credited in Nevada with saving Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, in his race against the Republican Sharron Angle. Likewise, Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado owe their victories in no small part to the aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns by Latinos in their states, according to analysts and exit polls… [Pols emphasis]

In Colorado, the races were full of polarized talk about immigration, as Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman known for his especially tough stance on the issue, joined the governor’s race against the Democrat John Hickenlooper, who was Denver’s mayor. Both Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Bennet won the Latino vote by very wide margins, Mr. Segura said.

Latinos “rejected the anti-Latino message that poisoned the airwaves throughout much of the campaign,” said Jessie Ulibarri, Colorado director for Mi Familia Vota Civic Participation Campaign. “When candidates use those messages it backfires on them pretty fiercely,” he said.

Don’t tell that to Lambert–seriously, say Democrats. If Republicans really believe that the takeaway from the 2010 elections is to continue alienating the fastest-growing bloc of voters in the United States, voters who were pivotal in the victories that broke the “Republican wave” in Colorado…obviously, Democrats would be fools to interrupt their enemy’s suicide, right?

After so many painful lessons on the dubiousness of this message, the GOP in Colorado continues to make it a central theme. We’re accused of bias frequently, but we have to tell you, from a purely objective political standpoint, we truly don’t understand why they do it. And we think it will be remembered by Democrats and Republicans someday as a cardinal error.