Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey suggested after the election last week that Republicans may need to consider giving their image on immigration a makeover in order to offset the Democratic Party’s lopsided national advantage among Latino voters.
Ramsey told a northeast Tennessee news station, WJHL-TV, that the time has come for Republicans to confront the reality that there’s a perception the GOP is hostile to new immigrants — and the party’s Washington-level electoral fortunes have suffered because of it. (Watch video)
“Now, I am not for amnesty, and we need to make sure we police the borders,” said the Blountville Republican, who serves as speaker of the Tennessee Senate, where the GOP controls 26 seats to the Democrats’ six. “But let’s face the facts: They’re here, they’re hard-working people, they are Christian Roman Catholics, they think like we as Republicans do, they are conservative, and so we need to figure out a way for them to become citizens.
“When our forefathers came through Ellis Island it was much easier to become a citizen of the United States. My forefathers came in the 1700s and 1800s — much easier to become a citizen of the United States (then),” Ramsey added. “I think that is where we are going to have to reassess this.”
In the wake of President Obama’s re-election, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he, too, thinks “this issue has been around far too long” — that it is time for Republicans and Democrats to “find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
The irony is that big swathes of Hispanic and other Latino voters tend to “think like the Republican platform,” suggested Ramsey.
“But for some reason that message is not getting through. I think it is because there are a few in our party that scream to the high heavens about this (immigration) issue, and it scares them away,” he said.
In an interview just before the election, President Obama observed that the GOP had done little to entice Latino voters, and that it was likely to cost Republican candidate Mitt Romney dearly.
“Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” said Obama.
Exit polling suggests that nationally Latino voters preferred Obama to Romney by a 3-1 margin or better.
Ramsey said immigration has been a particularly frustrating political issue to him because the state isn’t really positioned to take a leading role in addressing it. “I can’t police the borders of Texas,” said Ramsey. “I can’t make a blanket policy statement for the United States.”
Ramsey suggested Democrats and the Obama administration have cynically ignored immigration in order to leave it in place as a “wedge issue” because it does them more good politically if it remains volatile and unresolved.
Washington political watchers are suggesting that as a result of the Democrats’ solid national showing and a shifting in political attitudes among prominent Republicans, immigration may in fact get some substantive attention at the federal level in the relatively near future.