Following Meg Whitman’s (R-CA) victory last night in the Republican primary race for California governor, it’s worth reviewing her shift to the right on immigration before she gets the chance to move back to the center as she will likely have to if she wants to win the general election. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is cited as one of Whitman’s earliest supporters, has stated “You can’t get there in the general without 30 percent of Hispanics.” Whitman seems confident that she can win over Latinos by hosting mariachi events and talking about “jobs and education,” but she may be surprised. Immigration isn’t necessarily the most important issue for Latinos, but anti-immigrant rhetoric is often enough to drive Latinos away from a candidate in droves.
Whitman once said that she supported comprehensive immigration reform. She always maintained that she opposes outright amnesty “100%,” but used to reportedly favor a “program in which people would go to the end of the line, pay a fine and do things that would allow for a path to legalization.” However, as her race against immigration hardliner Steve Poizner (R-CA) tightened, Whitman went out of her way to clarify that what she really “meant” was that she supports reform that “secures the border first and includes a temporary guest worker program” and not an earned path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, 77% of Latino voters support a legalization plan.
It also doesn’t help that Whitman’s proposals don’t even make economic sense. Government data shows that the border “is safer now than it’s ever been.” The top four biggest American cities with the lowest rates of violent crime also happen to be in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin. This is especially true for California. The Los Angeles Times recently wrote that “the California frontier is quieter than it has been in years.” Not only is Whitman okay with the idea of pouring more money into securing a border that is already safe, she’s apparently opposed to generating $16 billion annually from putting California’s 1.8 million undocumented Latino immigrants on a path to legalization. Other studies have shown that temporary worker programs, in the absence of legalization, are associated with more costs than benefits.
The Latino Politics blog points out that Latinos have a saying: “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres,” which means “Tell me who you walk with, and I will tell you who you are.” Last month, Whitman released an ad featuring former Gov. Pete Wilson (R-CA) who affirmed that Whitman will be “as tough as nails” on immigration. Wilson’s endorsement might’ve scored some points with right-wingers, but it also meant a lot to California Latinos who remember him backing Proposition 187 — an Arizona type law that was ultimately deemed unconstitutional. The law never really went into effect, but Republicans are still hurting from it. In a report released by the Center for American Progress, Gebe Martinez writes “after 1994, California Democrats won every presidential, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial election until 2003″ — largely thanks to a Latino electorate that was deeply offended by Wilson and his Party. Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Los Angeles-based GOP strategist is worried about the potential fallout from Whitman’s primary campaign. “This is bringing back all the fears that the Republican Party is a white man’s party,” Hoffenblum told Politico. “It’s depressing.” In the video, Whitman also proclaims, “Illegal immigrants are just that, illegal.”
In the general election, Whitman faces a much different race against Democratic opponent Jerry Brown. “Yes, protect our border. Yes, enforce the law,” Brown has said. “[But] I’m not going to scapegoat immigrants and public servants and poor people.” However, he may want to bring up the immigration issue early and often by reminding Latino voters of Whitman’s desperate move to the right and providing a welcoming immigration platform for them to flock to.