May 13, 2005

Sagging Arnold Wants to Pump You Up With Diversionary Issue

By Pilar Marrero

Borrowing a page from his adviser, former California governor Pete Wilson, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about “closing” the borders and praised the Minutemen vigilantes as “neighborhood groups concerned about security,” right at the same time polls showed his popularity among voters plummeting.

In fact, it was on the same day the Public Policy Institute of California showed that his approval rating has slipped from 60 percent in January to 45 percent today that Sch-warzenegger decided to go on a local radio show in Los Angeles to say the vigilantes were doing a “terrific job” controlling illegal immigration.

In the same monologue, which sounded pretty clear despite his self-proclaimed problems with the English language, Gov. Schwarzenegger also made sure the audience knew he gets his information on immigration from Fox News and that he’s against giving water to people crossing the border, many of whom die from lack of it. John and Ken, the radio hosts who one time made fun of those “dead Mexicans,” were happy to oblige their governor.

Arnold’s agenda is losing steam in Sacramento. In recent weeks, Democrats were successful in painting him as an extremist who cuts money for education, wants to take away pensions from the survivors of dead police and fire officers and calls teachers and unions “special interests” while raking in millions of dollars from corporations who, of course, want nothing from him in return.

The public is starting to doubt if this guy is really up for the job — 51 percent already think he doesn’t know what he’s doing on education, the No. 1 issue for Californians. So, just as Pete Wilson did when he was facing an election in 1994 with very lackluster numbers, he has resorted to an issue — illegal immigration — he knows can fire up a big base of voters.

Not that this issue doesn’t deserve to be discussed. It obviously hits a big nerve in an important segment of American society. President George W. Bush is right when he says that the system of immigration laws is “dysfunctional.” He hasn’t presented a comprehensive solution, but at least he’s saying and doing something, including restarting a dialogue with Mexico’s President Vicente Fox, whom Arnold snubbed by leaving the state when Fox said he was coming to visit.

On the other hand, there’s an obvious demand for immigrant labor. There’s a backlog for 4.5 million visas and 10 million undocumented, most of whom are working for someone who’s turning a blind eye — Wal-Mart, for example. Migrant workers are here, and this economy — and you and I — gets something from them. We need to talk about this — corporations, governments, Mexico, immigrants, natives and experts need to figure out how to start fixing the problem instead of using it for political purposes.

If this happens, Arnold won’t have the credibility to influence the debate. For the governor, who calls himself a “champion of immigrants‚” his praise of vigilantism on the John and Ken show seems to be good enough.

But perhaps Arnold doesn’t remember what happened to Wilson (who also called himself “pro-immigrant”) and the Republican Party in California. Yes, Wilson won re-election and Proposition 187, which denied health and other services to undocumented immigrants, passed. But when the Republicans lost control of the legislature and most of the statewide offices in 1996 and went into a dark political hole, many blamed the backlash on Wilson’s anti-immigrant tactic and Prop. 187. He got really mad when this reporter asked him at a news conference, if he thought he was to blame for his party’s situation.

“Newspapers like yours are to blame, for calling me anti-immigrant‚” he said, pointing his finger at me.

Today, Wilson is best remembered as the guy who wanted to throw kids out of schools and hospital beds, and he did nothing to solve the immigration issue.

I hear Arnold walking down the same path to history.

Pilar Marrero is a political columnist and metropolitan editor for La Opinion newspaper in Los Angeles.

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