Yesterday, the Governator lost it -- or possibly showed his true colors. According to the LA Times:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday urged that the U.S. "close the borders" to combat illegal immigration, though an aide quickly clarified his comment, explaining that the governor merely wants the borders better policed.
Before he finished speaking, his press secretary, Margita Thompson, hurried over to reporters to explain that the governor meant to say that the nation's borders should be more tightly patrolled, not closed.
What was he thinking? (Bet Thompson wondered that too.) This line of argument is suicide for Republicans in California. Sure, it can win them short-term victories. Pete Wilson famously used it in his re-election campaign in 1994, running notorious anti-immigrant commercials showing shadowy hordes climbing fences, with a voice-over "they just keep on coming."
And in 1998, state Republicans got their comeuppance. Latinos naturalized and registered in record numbers, as Democrats. Moderate white voters were repelled by politicians who exacerbated racial tensions -- and the Republicans lost every statewide office and the legislature by wide margins. Nothing showed any sign of ending Democratic state dominance until Arnold put himself forward as a "moderate" who would put his Terminator skills to work shaking up a corrupt state government. The majority of the Californians didn't stop being Democrats as they showed in 2004, but they liked the Arnold image.
Arnold seems bent on throwing away his moderate image. First he went after nurses, teachers, police and firefighters -- now he is telling Latinos, who are the largest ethnic group in California and most of whom have relatives on both sides of the border, that they are somehow not welcome, not proper US residents. This is a pretty crazy assertion from a guy "whose past is shadowed by questions about whether he worked without a proper visa when he first came to the United States in 1968" according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Immigrant advocates have been quick to denounce Schwarzenegger.
Maria Blanco, of the San Francisco-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, said the governor's "pandering" rhetoric to anti-immigrant forces will make it harder for any compromise solution on such a divisive issue.
"He continues to shoot from the hip, which is really becoming a liability for him. This is another step to the right. Because of that, we're really getting polarized again."
Blanco said Schwarzenegger's tone Tuesday was far different from the respectful, positive way he praised immigrants when he sought office during the 2003 recall campaign.
And Democrats have been quick to take advantage of the Governator's remark:
Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said, "He's become an Austrian Minuteman now. … It's very sad to see that someone with that capacity to lead and to govern is resorting to that."
There are many places in the US where Schwarzenegger's remark would be the norm, but here in California, already a majority "minority" (non-white) state, this stuff is poison.