State Capitol News
9:11 am
Tue March 19, 2013

AZ Officials Unclear About Changing Stance On Immigration

The last election was a setback for Republicans, at least on the national level, as Hispanics flocked to support President Obama. But, Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports that local elected officials aren't sure if that means they need to change their stance on immigration.

This week, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee unveiled the results of what essentially amounted to a post-mortem of last year's presidential race. It concluded at least part of what happened was the party's failure to reach minority voters, with 71% of Hispanics backing Obama. Priebus seems particularly focused on the rapidly growing Hispanic population, with the report saying the GOP "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform".

But Republican state Senator Don Shooter said he's not convinced. "The basic platforms of the Republican Party actually appeal to all Americans", Shooter said. "We all want a decent education for our kids. We all want a good paying job. We all want to live in peace and security."

And Representative Steve Smith said it would be a mistake for Republicans to cave on issues of immigration. "What I tell people," Smith said, "is you need to stand on your principles. And when you walk into the Hispanic community what do they, by in large, I don't like stereotyping, but what do people like? God? Family? Pro-life? Pro-traditional marriage? That sounds like our platform."

Smith also said Republicans should not spend too much time looking at immigration to chase the Latino vote. He said no Republican presidential contender ever got more than 40% of the Hispanic vote, even after the last immigration reform and amnesty under President Reagan.

But House Speaker Andy Tobin said the party cannot ignore the issue of immigration any more than ignoring other issues has proven a winner for the GOP. "If we have an immigration crisis", Tobin said, "we need to take a leadership role and say, 'Here's our solution'. You could argue that we didn't have a solution for Obamacare other than 'We hate Obamacare.' So we have to make sure we're leveling with them, eye to eye, heart to heart on the various issues that do matter to them."

GOP political strategist Chuck Coughlin said rhetoric matters when appealing to voters. And he said that in Arizona it has at times been unnecessarily over the top - and focused on the wrong issues. "We are vilifying people seeking opportunity in America," Coughlin said. "In Arizona that does have an overwhelming effect on the public infrastructure out here, rather than creating legalized trade, which is what we should be doing."

Governor Jan Brewer called it "unfortunate" that her party has been unable to attract Hispanic voters in Arizona. But Brewer, who has been an outspoken and often televised critic of the Obama administration on border policy, said she's not willing to tone down her own comments about what she says is an insecure border which allows more and more individuals to cross illegally. Brewer said, "I want to be part of the solution. But I'm not going to abandon my principles, either. I believe we're a nation of laws. We believe in the rule of law."

As to the issue of immigration and the GOP, the governor said it will stop being a political issue when the border is finally secure.