As Governor Rick Perry begins his presidential campaign, Hispanic voters open to the idea of voting Republican are wondering which Rick Perry will show up.
In Texas, Hispanic voters concerned about immigration issues and undocumented immigrants have witnessed two Perrys: the good Perry who signed the Texas DREAM Act, and the bad Perry who aggressively pursued sanctuary cities legislation.
Somos Republicans, which claims to be the largest Hispanic Republican group in the nation, named Rick Perry the most Hispanic-friendly politician in the nation for 2010. “He stated that Arizona’s harsh, anti-immigrant law wasn’t right for Texas – so we wanted to give praise where praise was due. Remember, he said that during a year where anti-immigrant sentiment reached a fevered pitch,” said DeeDee Garcia Blase, the group’s founder.
Governor Perry has continued to support the Texas DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition for college, even as he runs for president. “To punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about,” he said recently to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
In the past, Perry has also stood up to Tom Tancredo, who wrote an opinion column last week saying that the Texas governor is “not a true conservative” because of his immigration policy. Tancredo also claims that Perry once called him a racist. The animosity between the two is sure to bode well for Perry among immigrant groups.
Perry’s support for these causes has served him well among Hispanic voters – at least for a Republican. “Perry earned, according to their internal polling, about 36% of the Hispanic vote [in the last Texas gubernatorial race]. According to CNN, 38%… the key with the Hispanic vote in Texas is that if you get over 35% of the Hispanic vote, you can be competitive,” said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican consultant and the author of Los Republicanos: Why Republicans and Hispanics Need Each Other.
But fast-forward to this year, and Blase’s immigrant-focused Republican group has determined that Perry is only in the middle of the pack. “We’d give him about a ‘B’,” she said. “He was downgraded to a ‘B’ because he introduced an emergency sanctuary cities bill. People were wondering: ‘what was the emergency?’”
The uncertainty over what Perry will say about immigration in the 2012 campaign is giving Somos Republicans pause. “We are not yet ready to endorse him, because he could take a harsh turn on his stance on immigration before 2012, preventing us from doing that,” said Blase.
But going deeper, Leslie Sanchez tells FrumForum that Perry’s appeal to Hispanic voters can – and should – stretch beyond traditional issues of immigration policy.
“There is a lot of fluidity right now in how Hispanic voters are looking over their own political ideology. The [notion] that Hispanic voters are going to be Democratic because they are only thinking of open-borders, amnesty and full citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a false stereotype… like other voters Hispanic voters are concerned about jobs, their families – and they have a real commitment to military service,” she said.
In fact, Sanchez said that there is a growing constituency of Hispanics that would tune into Perry’s message if he were to focus on enforcement. “It’s more complicated – there are increasing numbers of second- and third-generation Hispanic voters that are pro-enforcement and really want to support the idea of legal immigration,” she told FrumForum.
But for Hispanic Republicans who might be closer to the party’s middle on other issues but are staunch advocates for undocumented immigrants, the last few years have been disillusioning.
The Republican Party appears to be trending away from them. Even Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a superstar amongst Hispanic Republicans, has been a disappointment. “Things have gotten bad – when Marco Rubio decided to sponsor Texas Senator Lamar Smith’s national E-Verify system, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” said Blase.
Perry’s record is one of unclear motives: some of his actions suggest that he is genuinely concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants in Texas. But he may be driven at least as much by an eagerness to serve Texas employers seeking low-cost labor from these same immigrants. With a presidential campaign less pressed by that imperative, will his tune on immigration change?
In the eyes of immigrant groups, Perry has shown a propensity both for acts worthy of praise and acts that lead to disappointment. As they watch the 2012 presidential campaign unfold, it is still unknown exactly what stance Rick Perry will take.