Can Dem U.S. House reform immigration?by Blake Morlock on Nov. 08, 2006, under Elections, Local
Anti-illegal immigrant candidates lose, but measures pass
The election brought irony. Its results will bring change.
Anti-illegal-immigration Republicans lost in Arizona, but voters took a hard line against illegal immigrants in big-margin approval of four propositions.
Gabrielle Giffords from Tucson and Harry Mitchell from the Phoenix area will take seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in January as part of a Democratic wave that may enable Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, possibly including some kind of path to legalization for an estimated 12 million now in the United States illegally.
Democrats emerged from political exile Tuesday to wipe out 12 years of Republican House control. Democrats are teetering on the brink of also retaking the U.S. Senate, in GOP control for the last five years.
The current Republican House majority this year pushed enforcement-only legislation in the immigration debate, rejecting the reform favored by President Bush and approved by the Senate. Republicans in the House argued that border enforcement was paramount and that Bush and the Democrats wanted not only a guest worker program but also amnesty.
The gridlock meant no major movement on the issue, which is of high importance to southern Arizona.
“We are on the front lines of this issue,” Giffords said after her victory. “We need a practical plan.”
Giffords even won Cochise County, considered a stronghold of her Republican opponent, Randy Graf. Graf ran a campaign that was a drumbeat for tough action against illegal immigration.
“The people understand that it is a complicated problem and want real solutions,” Giffords said.
Congress approved building a 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border but not the money to pay for it. That money and the fence now face uncertainty.
Giffords wouldn’t commit to voting to pay for the wall, which she said is of questionable merit.
“I can’t speculate as to whether I’m going to vote for it,” she said. “What I can commit to is sitting down to focus on solving the problem.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican, survived the onslaught and won by a comfortable margin against Phoenix businessman Jim Pederson.
Kyl said before the election that a Democratic takeover of the House might mean an easier path for comprehensive reform.
“It’s hard to tell,” he said, adding that a contingent of Democrats in the House voted for the more hard-line approach. “But it might.”
Congressman Jim Kolbe, whose retirement paved the way for Giffords’ victory, said his party’s enforcement-only stand on immigration was part of the reason the GOP lost many races.
“The focus on immigration hurt Republicans,” Kolbe said. “They needed to focus on key issues such as terrorism and economic growth.”
Nationally, exit polls showed immigration was not a major factor in the vote. Political corruption, the economy and terrorism carried the day along with the war in Iraq, polling showed.
That was reflected in what Tucson voters said Tuesday.
Registered nurse Nancy Maloney, 47, and daughter, Jennifer Maloney, 22, a Pima Community College student and retail worker, both registered Democrats, voted for Pederson and Giffords partly because they are Democrats. Both voted straight party ticket.
They agree the war has gone on long enough, and Democrats are likely to end it sooner.
“But mostly we wanted to send a message to Washington,” Nancy Maloney said.
The staunchest critics of illegal immigration in Arizona got the message in the form of either a pink slip or a rejection letter.
Besides Graf, Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth lost his seat representing Maricopa County, and Republican Len Munsil was trounced in his bid to unseat Gov. Janet Napolitano.
But ballot measures meant to crack down on illegal immigrants won by huge margins.
Catherine Combs, 49, is a registered Republican, voted for Graf and wants a tougher stand against immigration.
“The priorities have to be the border issue, our safety, immigration laws and the drug problem,” she said.
Even Democrats such as Jacqueline Jones, a 37-year-old anesthesia technician, saw to it that illegal immigrants won’t have the standing in court that they had before or access to government programs.
“Illegal immigration stresses the public wallet,” Jones said.
Indeed, local leaders have complained for years that federal failure to get a grip on illegal immigration has cost state and local governments millions, if not billions, of dollars.
Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías hoped that a new Democratic majority might spend more freely to help local jurisdictions cope with the costs of illegal immigration in terms of education, health care and prison confinement.
“I think we will get some compensation on border issues,” Elías said.
There were other issues in play, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit and its shortcomings, that may change because of Democrats’ new power in Washington.
The plan approved in 2002 does provide seniors with prescription drugs at a reduced cost but forbids the federal government from using its buying power to drive prices down.
“I would like to see the government be able to negotiate with the drug companies and lower the cost of prescription drugs so my grandparents and other seniors can afford their medication,” said Andrew Held, 33, a business manager and a Democrat.
Jerry Esquivel, 45, will get the minimum wage boost he wanted because voters approved the measure.
“You can’t live on $5.15 an hour,” he said. “If you rent an apartment, you can’t buy food.”
The measure passed here but leaves Arizona a more expensive state for wages. Giffords said raising the federal minimum wage will also be a priority for the new Congress.
Jeff Storm, 54, said he hoped to see new leadership.
“I think it’s very important to change the direction of the country,” said Storm, a painter at Raytheon Missile Systems.
Republicans won’t go away, promising to watch and wait, Graf promised.
“Starting tomorrow, we’ll be on the heels of the elected officials,” Graf said. “They will have the opportunity to answer and find solutions to the problems. We’ll be analyzing what happened and start again.”
100: Prevents those charged with serious felonies from being eligible for bail if they are in the country illegally PASSED 77.8%
102: Blocks illegal immigrants from being able to obtain punitive damages in lawsuits. Limits awards to actual damages PASSED 74.4%
103: Requires formal state government action to be conducted in English PASSED 74.2%
300: Blocks illegal immigrants from receiving state-subsidized programs for adult education and child care, among other things PASSED 71.6%
Citizen Staff Writers Brad Branan, Sheryl Kornman, Larry Copenhaver, Konstantinos Kalaitzidis, LaMonica Everett-Haynes, B. Poole and Claudine LoMonaco contributed to this article.Your voices: Election 2006
Your Voices: Election 2006
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