PI Original Adam Doster Friday November 7th, 2008, 3:41pm

Edgar's Latino Pipe Dream

In analyzing how the Illinois GOP can regain relevancy before a panel in Peoria, popular former Republican governor Jim Edgar issued this advice yesterday: find candidates Latinos can support.

In analyzing how the Illinois GOP can regain relevancy before a panel in Peoria, popular former Republican governor Jim Edgar issued this advice yesterday: find candidates Latinos can support.

“We cannot lose the Hispanic vote like we’ve lost the African-American vote, or we’re going to be a minority party forever,” Edgar said.

President George Bush “did a very good job of bringing Hispanics into the Republican column,” Edgar said, but congressional Republicans have “undone all that” by rejecting Bush-proposed reforms of immigration laws that included a path to staying in America for many illegal immigrants.

“The Hispanic vote broke for Obama,” Edgar said, noting large victories for Democrats in Colorado and New Mexico. “My fear is, they didn’t vote for Obama, they were voting against the Republican Party.”

When looking at the Latino vote in Illinois, it's difficult to disentangle Barack Obama's popularity and this demographic's disgust with the GOP's rightward turn. But local exit polling shows Edgar is on to something: 68 percent of Asian and Latino immigrant voters throughout key Chicago-area precincts said the GOP was "not favorable" to immigrants compared to nine percent for the Democrats.

Yet minutes after bemoaning the Republican Party for its immigration demagoguery, Edgar went ahead and endorsed a hardline anti-immigrant congressman for statewide office:

“If we don’t move to the middle, there will not be a viable Republican Party in the state of Illinois,” Edgar said.

He pointed to the re-election of U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Park, a moderate Republican who won in what basically is a Democratic area.

“That gives us, I think, the kind of person to run for the U.S. Senate in two years,” Edgar said.

If Edgar is seeking a candidate who cares about immigrant rights, Kirk isn't his guy. In his 2006 race against Democrat Dan Seals, Kirk issued a series of mailiers claiming "Dan Seals Says Amnesty Is The Answer." He followed up that display by suggesting on the House floor that the U.S. should have border patrol agents distribute condoms to stem the flow of Mexicans into the U.S., even though Mexican fertility rates have plummeted since 1980. He's also voted for border fence in 2005 as well as several bills sponsored by xenophobe extraordinaire Tom Tancredo. More recently, he was tacitly endorsed by a local white supremacist organization -- Chicago Friends Of American Renaissance -- for holding immigration views that were "encouraging."

Of course, immigration reform isn't the only issue important to Latino voters. As Maricela Garcia, the executive director of the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum, told me in April, the fiery debate over our nation’s immigration policies has obscured wider angst among Chicagoland Latinos -- of which 70 percent of adults and 90 percent of children are U.S. citizens -- about disparities in employment, education, and housing. But it's still crucial: an exit poll taken in Los Angeles and Miami found immigration was considered to be "very important" to three-fifths of voters from Latin America. And in the local data Angela flagged, it was the most important issue to voters, trumping both the economy and education. If the GOP is serious about competing in the 2010 statewide races, Kirk's immigration record ain't a great place to start.

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