Sun, Jan. 26

GOP to "accentuate the positive' on immigration

PHOENIX -- Arizona Republicans say they don't need to change their stance on immigration or even their message to attract the Latino voters who largely defected last year.

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said the GOP already has the right message for Hispanics who are a growing percentage of the state's voting-age population.

"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,' he said. Shooter said the party needs to "accentuate the positive and negate the negative.'

Shooter acknowledged 71 percent of Latinos voted last time for Barack Obama, with the Republicans' stance on illegal immigration and a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented already here being a factor. But he said that's because people are confusing the issue of border security, on which he said the GOP has taken a strong stance, with immigration policy.

"They should be two separate issues,' he said.

That 2012 outcome, however, suggests they are not, at least not in the minds of Hispanics.

On Monday, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee unveiled the results of what essentially amounted to a post-mortem of last year's race. And while that report found no one reason for the result, it concluded at least part of what happened was the party's failure to reach minority voters.

"We weren't inclusive,' Priebus said.

To that end, the report recommends spending $10 million to attract minorities. And Priebus seems particularly focused on the rapidly growing Hispanic population, saying it would be a "tremendous benefit' to have a presidential candidate who speaks Spanish, with the report saying the party "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.'

But Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said the party already has a good message for the Latino community.

"What do people like? God? Family? Pro-life? Pro-traditional marriage?' he said. "Boy, that sounds a lot like our platform."

And Smith said Republicans should not spend too much time looking at other issues, like immigration, to chase the Latino vote.

"The Republican president (candidate) has never gotten more than 40 percent' of Hispanic vote, he said, even after the last big immigration reform and amnesty plan approved under President Reagan.

But House Speaker Andy Tobin said Republicans cannot ignore the issue of immigration and simply rely on other planks in the platform to lure Latino voters.

"If we have an immigration crisis, we need to take a leadership role and say, "Here's our solution,' "' he said. Otherwise, Tobin said, Republicans look like they're just criticizing what Democrats have offered without providing a realistic alternative.

And Tobin said that has to include some way of giving legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who already are here. But he said that does not have to be without conditions, saying Republicans can make a demand for "operational control' of the border.

Gov. 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 comments about what she says is an insecure border which allows more and more individuals to cross illegally.

"I want to be part of the solution,' she said.

"I'm not going to abandon my principles either,' Brewer continued. She said only when the border is secure "can we move forward' and stop making it a political issue.

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, the only Hispanic Republican in the Legislature, cautioned that attracting Latino votes is not a simple matter of the party suddenly coming around on immigration issues. He said that presumes Hispanics are a "one-issue community.'

"If we label them as such, it could actually backfire,' Montenegro said, with Hispanics seeing any move by the party to deal with illegal immigrants as Republican capitulation to pressure rather than proof that the party actually cares.

"We have to reach them on other levels,' he said. And Montenegro said surveys show immigration polls fourth or fifth among most important issues, following things like economic development and job creation.

Freshman Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa said the party needs to deal not just with a public relations image but the substance of what Republicans have been pushing.

"Some of the things that have happened the last couple of years sent the wrong message to the Hispanic population,' he said, like the hard-line stance on immigration. In fact, it was Worsley's more moderate stance on that issue that helped him beat back a bid by former Senate President Russell Pearce, who had taken the lead in bills aimed at illegal immigration, to regain his old seat.

Worsley said he thinks the immigration issue -- and the image problems that has created for Republicans -- will take care of itself by the next election. He also said he expects voters to give some credit for that to Republicans, particularly with John McCain and Jeff Flake, the state's two U.S. senators, in the lead of a bipartisan effort to craft a deal.

Stan Barnes, a former GOP legislator and long-time party activist, said that bipartisan immigration reform will have to happen before Republicans can make a credible case to Hispanics. But he said the self-examination reflected in the report released by Priebus is a good first step.

"I give the national party credit for figuring out the painfully obvious ... in the 9th inning of the game,' he said. "They're doing the right thing, even if they're doing it late.'

The report drew praise from Flake.

"The case I make to my fellow Republicans is that immigration reform done right is good policy and good politics,' he said. ``It's nice that the party thinks so, too.'

The GOP report comes nearly two months after McCain told an audience in Washington that failure to approve comprehensive immigration reform could result in even Republican states like Arizona winding up in Democrat hands.

"If you have a large bloc of Americans who believe you're trying to keep their ... fellow Hispanics down and deprive them of an opportunity, that's going to have an effect,' he told a breakfast hosted by Politico.

And that echoed even earlier comments by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich who warned that unless the Republican Party pays more attention to Hispanic issues "we're going to be a minority party.'

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