If we know one thing about Arnold Schwarzenegger's politics, it's that he believes passionately in giving disadvantaged children supervised things to do when they're not in school.
"The most likely time for kids to get into trouble with sex, drugs and violence is between 3 and 4 in the afternoon," he said in a Sept. 21, 2001 speech detailing his political evolution. "[C]rime dropped two-thirds in high-risk California communities when kids participated in after-school programs. Which shows you that helping kids fill that after-school time by focusing on positive activities really works!"
Yet just nine years ago, the man who may be California's next babysitter-in-chief was happy to kick tens of thousands of children out of schools altogether, initiate deportation proceedings on their parents and guardians (even when the kids were perfectly legal citizens), and block a significant number of toddlers from receiving things like measles shots.
That's what we learned on Sunday, when Schwarzenegger's campaign announced that the Austrian immigrant voted yes on Proposition 187, the notorious and popular ballot initiative that passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote in 1994. Prop. 187, which would have barred illegal immigrants from receiving public services and required government employees to report aliens to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, was immediately blocked by the courts, declared unconstitutional by a federal judge three years later, then negotiated out of existence by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999.
With the recall shaking loose all the fruits and nuts of California politics, Prop. 187 has plopped back down into our lives with a thud. It is the source of the bitter falling out between Davis and his Lt. Governor-turned-Brutus, Cruz Bustamante (who found his boss insufficiently hostile to the measure). And it is being used by passionate advocates and opponents alike as a wedge issue, as the debate over illegal immigration continues to come back in from the cold.
Even before Schwarzenegger's announcement, California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres was slamming the front-runner for employing Prop. 187 champion Pete Wilson, the former governor, as campaign chairman. With Bustamante emerging as Arnold's main challenger, and Gray Davis openly begging Latino activists to save his political neck, 187 is being used as a litmus test by the left.
"He is not a friend of our community, and we will have an effort to make sure everybody knows that," Mickie Luna, president of the state chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told the Washington Times. "Arnold coming out and admitting his support for 187 was bad enough … but to call on Pete Wilson for help, well, that will make sure we get out the vote."
From the conservative right, illegal immigration is a frustrating third rail of politics, the pressing public policy issue that dare not speak its name, except on talk radio and obsessive websites. This world is already gearing up a heated anti-Bustamante campaign, and has produced a candidate of its own: Joe Guzzardi, who teaches English as a Second Language in Lodi, and writes columns for the race-and-immigration website VDare.
Guzzardi was in Schwarzenegger's face on immigration within hours of the famous Tonight Show announcement:
Don't look for him to be engaging in any heated debates about immigration. His puffball statement after the Jay Leno show says it all:
"As you know I'm an immigrant. I came over here as an immigrant, and what gave me the opportunities, what made me to be here today is the open arms of Americans. I have been received, I have been adopted by America.
"I've seen firsthand coming here with empty pockets but full of dreams, full of desire, full of will to succeed, but with the opportunities that I had, I could make it. This is why we have to get back and bring California back to where it once was."
These are no gentle gibes in VDare-land. La Raza and MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), are routinely described as Nazi-style fascists, plotting the reconquista of the Southwestern United States. Which is why Bustamante must be stopped at any cost.
David Horowitz' FrontPageMagazine published a breathtaking hit piece on Bustamante Monday, comparing him to a Nazi, calling him a racist liar, accusing him of attempting a "banana republic-style coup d'état," and questioning whether his loyalty lay with America or "Aztlan." Mark Dwyer, writing in the confederate flag-waving Almance Independent in North Carolina (or, as the publishers describe it, "occupied Confederate Territory"), declared Bustamante "worse than Davis."
In California, where the immigration debate has been muted for several years, this sentiment is not the idle ranting of an irrelevant few. In Los Angeles' mayoral election of 2001, sites like MayorNo kept hammering away at the shady Aztlan past of Antonio Villaraigosa, and opponent James Hahn surged to victory by broadcasting an ad in which a dark-skinned fellow smoked crack. Governor Wilson, it will be recalled, was being pummeled in the polls before catching anti-illegal-immigration lightning in a bottle, and cruising to re-election victory.
The wild and open nature of the recall ensures that the immigration issue will receive a hearing. Already, besides Guzzardi's candidacy, Larry Flynt has called for shutting down the border (after legalizing the illegals already here), Republican Tom McClintock has vowed to use the maximum resources possible to crack down on illegal immigration, and Republican Bill Simon has been heard taking a tougher line than last year.
As always, open debate is preferable to ducking the issue. For those interested, Reason has an excellent page full of immigration-related articles and resources. Whether the pro-immigration side is up to the challenge remains to be seen.