Michael Stafford, 7/12/2011 [Archive]

Ghost of Proposition 187 Continues to Haunt GOP

Ghost of Proposition 187 Continues to Haunt GOP

By Michael Stafford

In 1994, California residents approved Proposition 187.The measure, supported by many California Republicans including then-Governor Pete Wilson, barred unauthorized immigrants from utilizing various social services, including public education.

Ultimately, a federal district court determined that Proposition 187 was unconstitutional. By then, however, the political damage had been done.

The Republican Party's embrace of Proposition 187 was extremely short-sighted.As the GOP was taking a nativist, xenophobic turn, California's electorate was becoming increasingly diverse.According to Raoul Lowery Contreras, "Governor Wilson's crusade against all immigrants, though later refined specifically to illegal aliens, alienated the bulk of California's fastest growing population, the Mexican origin slice of the state..."

Although Governor Wilson was able to ride the wave of anti-immigrant hysteria to victory in 1994, since that time no Republican presidential candidate has carried California.Indeed, since 1994, only one Republican has won a statewide race in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he had a neural net processor and a hyper-alloy combat chassis, at least in some of his movies. Overall, the California Republican Party has struggled to remain competitive.The percentage of voters registered as Republicans hasplunged.Today, Republicans do not have a registration majority in any of California's Congressional districts. Even worse, Republican primaries in California, which still often feature an emphasis on illegal immigration and rhetoric echoing themes raised in the campaign for Proposition 187, tend to alienate many voters and to make their winners uncompetitive in the general election. As a result, in retrospect, Governor Wilson's 1994 victory, and the passage of Proposition 187, may be, in the words of Harold Meyerson, "the most pyrrhic [victory] in modern American politics."

Sadly, these are largely self-inflicted wounds.

Amnesia is a mental condition in which memory is disturbed or lost.The adoption of Arizona's SB 1070 as a cause celebre by many on the Right, and the Republican-lead push for similar legislation targeting unauthorized immigrants in other states, including the recent passage of an even more draconian statute in Alabama, is an example of political amnesia of the most severe kind.

Today, the tired, nativist rhetoric against unauthorized immigrants may still get applause, but it is a long-term prescription for political irrelevancy.That is because, due to rapidly changing demographics in the United States, it is essential for the GOP to attracted larger numbers of Hispanic voters if it hopes to remain competitive in national elections, as well as within key states. The obvious racial overtones inherent in dehumanizing and demonizing a population unauthorized immigrants that includes many Hispanics renders this all but impossible to do.

Nationally, as the Wall Street Journal has noted, "[i]f current demographic and voting trends continue, Hispanics' growing share of the electorate could make Republican electoral college victories a near impossibility as early as 2020." Or as Whit Ayres put it, "The numbers don't lie... [i]f Republicans don't do better among Hispanics, we're not going to be talking about how to get Florida back in the Republican column, we're going to be talking about how not to lose Texas." As a result, "[a] party that thinks it can win elections by alienating Latinos is going to be in the minority for a very long time."

Immigration panics come and go but, as the California example shows, the long-term costs of embracing them can be high. All of my fellow Republicans that rushed to embrace Arizona's SB 1070, and who are currently cheering similar efforts in Alabama, would do well to remember the fate of the California GOP following the passage of Proposition 187.

After all, it would be a shame if, in the end, our collective political epithet was "died of a panic."

©Copyright 2011 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party office and the author of "An Upward Calling. Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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