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Beyond illegal immigration: an agenda for the GOP

Guest Writer
Guest opinion


Elections refresh and cleanse our political system. They ratify or overturn the policies of public officials.

In the same stroke, they flush out of office those who stray too much from the will of the people. Among those candidates and parties that don’t fare well, elections force introspection and reform.

While Republicans enjoyed some notable successes in Arizona in 2008, we were not nationally what we would term the “prevailing party.” And so it’s appropriate for the GOP to check and update its inventory of ideas and policies while the losses of last year still sting.

Illegal immigration rightly will continue to be a dominant issue in Arizona politics for years to come.

Crime and illegal immigration finally are down in Maricopa County – a great success for our community that seemed impossible only a short time ago. Much remains to be done on this front, which means I’ll still draw plenty of protests and cross words and do my part to provide fodder for the newspaper industry.

Yet Arizonans will insist that Republicans be about more than one issue. They are right to do so.

I believe Republicans must articulate a new and cogent list of priorities for the people of our state and nation. The issues below take account of our times and are predicated on strong and forthright leadership.

• Public safety first. Violent drug cartels have made the U.S.-Mexican border one of the most dangerous population zones on earth. While moving beyond a narrow focus on immigration and addressing a full agenda of public issues, Republicans must remain a party well known for its seriousness in protecting our homes and our borders from criminal offenders.

• Free but fair markets. The recent economic crisis, painful though it is, offers an opportunity for reform and accountability. Government officials must enforce our laws to protect citizens from fraud and predatory lending.

Republicans should heed public complaints about the ridiculous bonuses given certain CEOs and not dismiss them as Democratic rhetoric.

It’s legitimate to ask whether corporate boards of directors have become so insulated from regular shareholder oversight that executive compensation has become a “good ol’ boys” racket.

As the government props up banks and indentures future generations of Americans with colossal federal deficit spending, we should insist at a minimum that henceforth, banks and lending institutions possess enough capital to properly underwrite their loans.

In turn, banks shouldn’t be pressured into lending to questionable applicants out of either runaway short-term greed or fear of drawing civil-rights lawsuits.

• Excellence in education. Our public schools, for all their problems, are a great national institution that must be strengthened and preserved. I am the product of them, as are my wife and children.

Still, parents who desire a different way of raising their children – one with a different pedagogical or spiritual focus – shouldn’t be corralled into them.

To enact choice in education while nurturing our public schools requires that we find a way to recognize and reward fully the many great teachers in our public schools.

By the same measure, the small number of teachers who fill too much of their class time with movies and casual “bull sessions” should be identified and held to higher standards. Establishing an external process for spot-checking or auditing classroom performance is one possible fix.

Schools must be a safe haven for children. Teachers and school employees who exploit their positions to have sexual relations with school children must be dealt with harshly.

Our public universities should be robust and properly endowed. In return, they also should be centers of unfettered inquiry and tolerance, not redoubts of political correctness in which certain viewpoints are penalized in classroom discussions or faculty hiring decisions.

• Good stewardship of the environment. The Phoenix area should not accept as inevitable the air pollution levels that blanket our beautiful mountain ranges and desert environs.

Confronting the special interests responsible for this blight will take guts and tenacity, not unlike what’s been required for the fight against illegal immigration. But as we’ve seen, progress can be had for the price of serious political leadership.

So, too, can we protect endangered species under federal and state law, so that we might ensure a healthy biodiversity and the survival of plant and animal life for future generations. This can be achieved while upholding private property rights, so long as we are willing to compensate properly for the environment we deserve.

• True equality. President Obama was one of my classmates at Harvard Law School (my career has been a political odyssey commencing with sharing a seminar with him to serving proudly today alongside America’s toughest sheriff).

I join all decent Americans in taking pride in the election of our first African-American president.

Republicans likewise have tapped Michael Steele as the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee. These advances underscore the need to end government policies that require or countenance preferences based on race or other immutable characteristics.

My family is an example of what the future holds. My wife is Mexican-American, my four children of Hispanic descent. Should my children be able to take advantage of racial preferences in applying for jobs, contracts or college admissions? I think not. Ultimately they will have to make this choice for themselves.

But the fact that this question is being asked is a sign of just how much civil-rights victories and demographic changes have eroded the rationale for existing affirmative-action policies.

As Arizona and America become increasingly diverse – as our nation looks more and more like my family, something I personally look forward to – such policies will become less defensible.

Republicans should be at the forefront of urging a sunset to these well-intentioned but increasingly outmoded practices. We are now a nation strong enough to trust in individual merit.

No tolerance for public corruption. Human nature being what it is, politicians of all parties and persuasions are going to violate laws and be corrupted by power.

As it has turned out, it’s been my unsought duty to investigate and prosecute more members of my own political party than of others. When Republicans are duly charged with crimes, their fellow Republicans must resist the temptation to circle the wagons around their friends and professional colleagues.

We must make it clear that while no party is unblemished by corruption, the GOP shall be known as the party that won’t tolerate, facilitate or apologize for it once it comes to light.

In his book “Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership”, James Strock (a Phoenix area resident) notes that at one point while he was a New York City police commissioner, Roosevelt lamented there was not a single politician or newspaper in the city that supported him.

His complaint is of lasting value.

We profit by reminding ourselves that leadership is often a lonely endeavor, the fruits of which take years to reap; and in the meantime integrity and principle must be their own reward.

Republicans should remember this as they fashion an agenda that, while consulting public sentiment, cannot aspire to universal favor and still remain meaningful. Such disagreements, after all, are why we have political parties.

And yet these big issues transcend parties. We must hope that in time, they call forth leaders willing to do the same.

Andrew Thomas is Maricopa County attorney.

Illegal immigration rightly will continue to be a dominant issue in Arizona politics for years to come. Yet Arizonans will insist that Republicans be about more than one issue. They are right to do so.

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