From SacBee.com, The Sacramento Bee, Dan Morain, 7 Apr 2011.
Here’s a portrait of two bills that are worlds apart, and two very different veterans of the political wars who have come to gain a common understanding.
A week ago, on Cesar Chavez Day, a hundred farmworkers marched down a Capitol hallway chanting, “Sí, se puede,” and celebrating the California Senate’s vote approving legislation intended to revive the United Farm Workers union.
Democratic strategist Richie Ross who marched with Chavez and for decades has been chief strategist for the farmworkers union, stood off to the side, soaking it in.
“This is about power,” Ross said later.
On Monday, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a first-term Republican from San Bernardino County, stood on the north steps of the Capitol with seven other Republican Assembly members. Before being elected, Donnelly had been part of the Minutemen, the group that claims to combat illegal immigration by patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.
Donnelly announced that he was pushing Arizona-style legislation to make illegal immigration a crime under California law. As an added attraction, Donnelly brought a special guest, Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who last year authored the anti-illegal immigration law.
About 50 people, most of them of retirement age and wearing red Tea Party Patriot T-shirts, hooted their approval when Pearce declared that states must “protect against this invasion.”
Republican strategist Marty Wilson watched it all.
“Very counterproductive to the expansion of the Republican base,” Wilson told me.
Wilson is no squishy Republican. He managed Carly Fiorina’s U.S. Senate run last year and was key to Pete Wilson’s campaigns, including his 1994 re-election.
That was the year that the former governor embraced anti- illegal immigration Proposition 187 and aired the “And they keep coming” ad, with its grainy footage depicting illegal immigrants dashing across the boarder.
Wilson, 56, and Ross, 61, cannot think of a single campaign in which they worked on the same side. But like Ross, Wilson understands that California has become a very different place.
Not long ago, Wilson read an article that Ross wrote recalling how a trucking company owner who is a third-generation citizen of Mexican descent told him that Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law spurred him to vote – vote against Republicans.
“That is the guy who should be a Republican,” Wilson said of the trucking company owner. “But the politics of his ethnic background supersedes his economic interest. That concerns me.”
Wilson knows Republican candidates cannot win statewide office without the support of Latinos. Donnelly’s event and his bill damage chances Republicans have of attracting Latino voters.
Donnelly’s bill had no chance of passage. In its first and only hearing Tuesday in the Democratic-controlled Assembly Judiciary Committee, the measure failed by a vote of 3-7. Republicans cast the three yes votes.
Wilson is glad it failed and said Republican leaders should “take (Donnelly) to the woodshed.” That won’t happen. Current GOP leaders don’t seem to see much wrong with Donnelly’s concept.
Wilson also is disdainful of the legislation approved last week by the state Senate granting “card check” authority to the farmworkers union to help it organize farm laborers.
But he sees the broader point of the bill, and the significance that the measure’s author is Darrell Steinberg, the Sacramento Democrat who as Senate president pro tem is one of the two most powerful legislators in the state.
“Darrell Steinberg is one of the leaders of his party and sees the importance of courting the Latino constituency,” Wilson said. “We have some back-bencher whose 20 minutes of fame occurred (Monday).”
Agricultural interests, traditionally among the most loyal Republican supporters, will fight hard to block Steinberg’s legislation. Ross will fight back. He is prepared to bring thousands of farmworkers to the Capitol to rally for the bill.
“Absolutely, we’ve polled it,” Ross said of Steinberg’s bill, SB 104. “Absolutely, it resonates.”
Its support will only grow. A majority of Californians younger than 18 are Latinos. As part of Cesar Chavez Day, a holiday that Ross helped bring about by pushing legislation a decade ago, all schoolchildren now learn about Chavez in class.
Republican legislators, their numbers waning, will vote against the farmworker bill. But they will be powerless to block it, in no small part because of events like the one Monday and because they are on the wrong side of the history now being written in this state.