Lessons from Colorado: Partisan Warfare Defeats Patriotic Purpose

October 16, 2006

As Election 2006 comes down to the wire, Colorado voters are hearing claims by candidates of all stripes to be tough on illegal immigration. Democrats are taking credit for the new laws passed by the special session in July. Republicans are proposing tough new measures aimed at judges and employers. The Republican candidate for Governor, former Congressman Bob Beauprez, has an 8-point plan on his web page and is attacking the Democrat candidate, Bill Ritter, for his record, as Denver District Attorney, of plea bargaining hundreds of cases involving illegal aliens down to non-deportable offenses. Ritter is counterattacking with Beauprez`s weak record as a U.S. congressman—for example in supporting the matricula consular card.

All polls show that illegal immigration is the top issue among voters. But what is missing is any clear measure of politicians` credibility.

The reason: the sabotage of the Defend Colorado Now ballot initiative [DCN], which was aimed at banning non-federally mandated social services to illegal aliens. The result: despite the voters` palpable concern, the election of 2006 in Colorado is not likely to yield gains by immigration control advocates. The chief culprit: a man usually regarded by immigration patriots as a hero—former Democratic Governor of Colorado, Dick Lamm.

On July 16, when front-page Denver Post coverage of a Colorado poll revealed broad voter support for the DCN initiative, Lamm was quoted as saying he was “bothered” by the Colorado voters` ranking illegal immigration as the state`s number one problem:

It makes me think I was almost too successful bringing attention to the issue,” Lamm said. “This is not a very good reading on what problems the state faces. It`s a serious issue, but people seem to have gone from an underreaction to overreaction.” [emphasis added] [Immigration at forefront| Poll: Issue is state voters` most urgent, By Karen E. Crummy]

This was an astonishing statement from the man who volunteered in 2005 to be co-chairman and principal spokesman for Defend Colorado Now. It was made while Lamm was sitting on the national advisory board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). He has been an outspoken critic of legal and illegal immigration for many years.

So, why wasn`t he pleased that Colorado voters think illegal immigration is the number one problem facing the state? Because the previous month, Lamm had done an amazing about-face.

Colorado`s Republican Governor Bill Owens (himself no friend of immigration reform) had called a Special Session to consider measures intended to control illegal immigration. And Lamm changed his mind: he had persuaded the steering committee of the DCN campaign to abandon the ballot proposal in order to begin lobbying the Legislature for a statutory solution to illegal immigration.

Lamm said he was convinced immigration reformers could get substantive reforms by working with DCN opponents, with whom he had discovered common ground in secret negotiations over the preceding days.

But why did Lamm suddenly lose enthusiasm for DCN and prefer to work with the Democrat majority in the Legislature? Because DCN threatened to be too successful.

The immense popularity of the DCN initiative spelled trouble for the Democrats who have blocked legislation on illegal immigration for years. Political analysts were saying that Republicans might well ride DCN to victory in November, possibly even regaining control of the Legislature. Lamm was blamed by his Democrat friends for promoting what they called a “divisive ballot issue” that would hurt Democrats and possibly derail their “progressive agenda.” So Lamm pulled the plug on DCN.

All three members of the DCN steering committee in charge of making the decision were Democrats. The sole Republican member, former State Senate leader John Andrews, was left in the dark about the details of the “deal” Lamm had brokered for a statutory package. Lamm made the announcement while Andrews was out of town on vacation. Lamm later attacked Andrews for having partisan interests in keeping the DCN ballot proposal on the 2006 ballot—as if his own partisan loyalties had been left at home during this “coalition-building” process. [My perspective on the legislative versus constitutional approach By Richard Lamm, Defend Colorado Now, July 1, 2006]

Lamm`s move worked beautifully for the Democrats. The Democratic majority in both houses gave priority to Democrat bills, killing Republican bills on straight party-line votes. Republicans were largely left out of the negotiations between Governor Owens, Dick Lamm and the Democrats.

On July 10, Owens and Democrat leaders announced they had reached agreement on bills touted as the toughest laws in the country controlling illegal immigration. The liberal Mainstream Media dutifully echoed the claim. Lamm was suddenly the toast of the Democratic Party (and the Denver Post) for leading the way to a “compromise” solution and avoiding a very “contentious” battle with radicals in November. [Immigration session on tap]

Thus, the Special Session was nothing but insider politics trampling grassroots activism. It was politics at its worst. But Lamm was happy to take credit for engineering this amazing “triumph of common sense over demagoguery.” Democrats were happy to have this hot potato off their hands.

The “compromise plan” that emerged from the Special Session was, according to Lamm, “the best deal possible.” But that was true only because Lamm`s abandonment of the DCN ballot measure made a better deal impossible.

The original stated purpose of the Special Session announced by Governor Owens was to put DCN on the ballot. (Liberal judges had blocked the petitioning route, By Chris Frates and Mark P. Couch, Denver Post, July 28, 2006.) Some observers blame Owens for abandoning the DCN initiative and for accepting the weak package of legislation. But it was basically too late anyway. Owens was playing with a stripped deck—the aces had already been removed by Lamm.

What did native Coloradans get from the Special Session? Bills which Governor Owens and the Democrats are calling the “best in the nation,” but isn`t; HB1023 and HB1017, which claim to turn off the jobs magnet but don`t.

House Bill 1023 denies most state social services to illegal aliens—a good first step—but it does not make Coloradothe best in the nation” in controlling illegal immigration. It grants a broad exemption to illegal aliens under the age of 18, virtually entitling minors to social services. Plus, under HB1023, filing a false affidavit to procure social services is only a misdemeanor, not a felony like its supposed model in Georgia has it.

The second piece of legislation Lamm and Owens are so proud of, HB1017, is a joke. It purports to restrict employment of illegal workers, but is in fact nearly worthless because of its failure to adopt the federal Basic Pilot verification system. HB1017 requires only that employers keep file copies of documents used by job applicants to show employment eligibility. In other (more practical) words, the same fake documents will still reward illegal immigrants with employment. All employers need is an extra file cabinet. It`s a watchdog that won`t bark.

Is the deal Lamm got better than the package of reforms that a Republican-led legislature would have passed in January 2007, had the voters been allowed to act on the Defend Colorado Now constitutional amendment? Thanks to Dick Lamm and Governor Owens, we will never know.

The Lamm-induced failure of the Special Session left a lot of unfinished business regarding restricting illegal immigration in Colorado. The voters are ready and waiting, but new leaders are yet to be found.

But after choosing to rescue the Democrats by deliberately sabotaging the DCN ballot referendum, former Governor Lamm no longer has any credibility.

Effective measures to control illegal immigration will only come from a campaign that sticks to principles and puts substance above politics. Lamm`s sacrificed the goals of immigration control to special interest groups and the broad “progressive agenda” of the left.

Representative Dave Schultheis [Email him] is a veteran Colorado State Representative from Colorado Springs and the founder of the Colorado Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative Republicans in the legislature..

VDARE.COM note: We asked Governor Lamm for his comments. He writes:

“One of the great public challenges, apparently, is to know when you have won. Our initiative was knocked off the ballot by our Colorado Supreme Court and thanks to Governor Owens (who called a Special Session) we had another chance to achieve our objectives. Our objectives were to ensure that people who receive welfare were legally in the country and could prove it. The legislature passed and the Governor signed such legislation. We achieved in June the same thing we had hoped to achieve next January—IF OUR BALLOT MEASURE HAD PASSED. We gave up nothing except a now redundant vote of the people.

“Rep. Schulteis wanted a vote in November more than he wanted progress on illegal immigration. If the legislature would have followed his lead, AND IF THE VOTERS HAD AGREED, we would be in the same place we are today. We got there earlier and cheaper.

“As to my statement on the polls, as important as illegal immigration is, those who say it is the most important issue facing Colorado don`t understand the current drought, or how difficult it is to provide water to 4.4 million people who live in a semi-desert with water.

“Of course illegal immigration is an important issue, I have been fighting that issue for 25 years. It is not taking anything away from the importance of the issue, however, to admit that other issues are more important to Colorado public policy.”