While the California Republican Party over the weekend held another “Latino Town Hall” where its leaders sidestepped the central issue that alienates Latino voters, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spelled out for Calbuzz an immigration plan that would offer the GOP at least a chance with this huge electoral bloc.
In a sit-down with us, Gingrich said his party must make it clear that in addressing immigration “you’re dealing with human beings and not just symbols” and that he would like to see a “fairly open-ended” guest worker program that makes it easy for Mexicans to legally obtain a permit to work in the U.S.
And while he still believes the GOP can win Latino voters without fully embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, he reaffirmed his support for that portion of the Dream Act allowing young people to earn citizenship by serving in the U.S. military.
On other issues, Gingrich told Calbuzz:
— He’s for more oil drilling off the California coast but that he would leave it to the state to decide if it wants to maintain a ban on drilling or reap billions of dollars a year from 50% of federal royalties on drilling.
— Despite being at odds with the majority view of California voters on abortion rights, offshore oil drilling, gay rights and more a Republican could win California by making jobs, national security and energy independence the salient issues in the election.
— Because California and Texas are holding their presidential primaries so late, no Republican candidate will have the nomination sewn up until the big states have their say.
The GOP’s Latino Problem: In his 48-minute speech to convention delegates, where he laid out his plan for $2.50-a-gallon gasoline and accused President Obama of deliberately driving up gas prices, Gingrich spelled out his plan for energy independence in excruciating detail.
But it was in his interview with Calbuzz that he spoke at length about immigration policy. This issue is not the single most important concern for Latino voters: that’s jobs and the economy, just like it is for other voters. But it is a threshold issue: that is, when Latinos hear that a candidate (or a party) is opposed to allowing those living and working here illegally to become legal residents, they don’t care what the candidate’s (or party’s) position is on other issues. They’ve already tuned them out.
Gingrich recognizes that Republicans have to approach the issue with some measure of compassion and practicality if they have any hope of attracting Latino votes. [Photo by Shutterstock]
His is not the ideal platform position that Calbuzz laid out for the California GOP back in November 2010, when we advised the Republicans to align themselves with the nine in 10 California Latinos who support a path to citizenship for people who have been working here illegally for two years or more.
But neither is it the head-in-the-sand attitude that state GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro expressed at the “Latino Town Hall” where – despite excellent questioning from Univision’s Santiago Lucero – the GOP chairman said the party’s common ground with Latinos on the issue is “border security” that that the Democrats are only pushing the Dream Act to make Republicans look bad.
It’s not as if the CRP doesn’t have the information it needs to understand the urgency of dealing with immigration. Polling data prepared for Univision and presented at a convention panel about the presidential race showed that 83% of “Hispanics” live in 14 states with 256 electoral votes and that they represent 40% of the overall increase in registered voters since 2008. More: every 30 seconds a Latino turns 18 and while 52% identify themselves as “swing voters,” 39% say they’re Democrats compared to only 9% who say they’re Republicans.
What the GOP should not take comfort from is the finding in polling that immigration is number nine on a list of Latinos’ concerns, well behind jobs and the economy and education. The analogy is how women look at abortion rights: it’s not the top issue, but if you’re on the wrong side, they don’t care what you think about the top issues.
Oh, and by the way: the big Latino populations line up with battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina.
Here’s a transcript of the Calbuzz 15-minute conversation with Gingrich:
Can the GOP win Latinos without standing for a path to citizenship?
Yes. I think you have to be…the reason, for example, I drew a line at grandparents is you have to send some clear indicator that you understand you’re dealing with human beings and not just symbols. And if you say to people we want to control the border, we want English as the official language of government, we want to actually improve the legal visa system so it’s easier to go back and forth, easier to have businesses, easier to have tourists, you want to improve the deportation system so if you have an MS13 gang member you get rid of them faster, you want to have a guest worker program, probably outsourced to American Express, Visa or Mastercard, ‘cause the truth is you’re not going to have agriculture in the Central Valley without a guest worker program and there are other industries where, construction, where you’re going to end up in a guest worker program, you’re either going to make it legal or you’re going to have an unmanageable illegality. Now we can argue over that, but I think it’s very hard to suggest that you’re going to run this country without some kind of a guest worker program. When you have a guest worker program you can put very severe sanctions on employers who hire people illegally.
So would illegals who are here now be eligible for the guest worker program?
They would go home to apply for the guest worker program.
So you’d have to deport them?
Or they’d deport themselves because they wouldn’t be able to get a job. The one group I said that that’s impractical with are people who’ve been here 25 years, who are grandparents – for a very practical reason: their family and their community is going to support them, they’re not going to deport, and I even got Romney to agree at one point, they’re not going to self-deportation of grandparents.
But the gardener who’s been here for five years, there’s no way that guy can stay here and become legal under your system?
Right. What the guy does is he goes home and gets a guest worker permit and you apply to hire him under the guest worker program.
And who decides who gets those?
Oh, I’d make it fairly open ended and I’d do something like the way that Manpower and other organizations that are online – you could run most of the guest worker program online.
So when you’re talking to a Latino audience, how do you explain to them what it is that you want to do that doesn’t sound as if you’re saying I’m sending everybody home?
First of all, the only people I send home are people who are criminals. And those ought to be deported and they all nod yes because in fact their neighborhoods are being threatened by the very people I’m describing. The other people will self-deport because…what I make the case for is that we have to become a country that’s legal. And we have to become a country that has a path that has human concerns. And most of the Latinos…I think (California Gingrich supporter) Teresa Hernandez has now got 17 statewide co-chairs of Latinos With Newt. And I think she finds that the fact that I’m prepared to talk about grandparents in a way that emphasizes family and ties things together really changes people’s attitudes. I’m also, for example, for the part of the Dream Act which allows people who came here illegally with their parents to join the military and have a path to citizenship by serving the country. So I don’t automatically say I’m against all that, I say “Look here is a legitimate way that young people could earn citizenship.” Because you could do it if they were back home and they came here legally and then they applied.
How would you characterize the difference between yourself and Romney on the immigration issue?
I don’t know where he is anymore because he’s bounced around but I think originally he made a play for the sort of hard-line, anti-immigration…if you look at the ads he ran in Iowa, they were clearly aimed at the hardest line and I think would make it really hard for him in the Latino community.
You’ve characterized as environmental extremists, people who associate with Obama in terms of offshore oil and policy on that. But that’s a majority position in California and it’s long been a settled issue since basically the Santa Barbara spill…
In 2008, when gasoline was at $4.00…
There was one poll…
…58% of Santa Barbara County favored offshore off Santa Barbara. But what I say, and I said this to the Chronicle, is look: California’s two senators drew a line and they said these areas are too sensitive and any development has to be beyond this line. Now there are a lot of different ways to do it, as you know with the new drilling technology you could actually use the current sites at Santa Barbara and probably quadruple production…
Yeah. You could quadruple production. This is not a safety problem. This is not an environmental problem. This is an ideological fervor on the left.
So, would you characterize Californians who oppose offshore oil drilling really viscerally as environmental extremists?
No, unless they opposed it in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chukchi Sea, the sea at Norway. I said this in Florida…People in Florida, who are about to have oil drilling 45 miles off shore, because the Chinese are drilling in Cuban waters. And they’re going to drill with fewer safeguards and a lot less concern for the environment…So I started to say, let’s talk about the facts, if you rabidly don’t want your state to do this, that’s fine. One of the things I want to do is increase the state’s share of the royalties to 50%. Now, the morning that Sacramento’s faced with 50% of the royalties coming to Sacramento, I suspect you’ll have the beginning of a new conversation. … But I’d let each state define it. If the state says we do not want drilling period, fine. Then you just give up all the money….So the federal royalties…I’d give the same royalty Wyoming gets , which is 50%, which means California would have billions of dollars at stake. And I’d love to see how long a study went around Sacramento that said here’s how many billions of dollars available in the next decade.
In terms of Republicans in California the last pro-life Republican to win the state was George Bush the First in 1988. And on the choice issue or on the abortion rights issue, on offshore, on gay rights, on a whole host of other issues, what we’ve heard in the primaries and in the debates has been at odds with the majority views of California. How does a Republican win California?
You have to decide what issues are salient and whether or not you can make them salient. I think jobs, for example, are a big issue. The question is whether it’s a big enough issue to elect somebody. I think national security may become a much bigger issue. I think that energy independence is a big issue. We’ll see how it plays in California but when you think about depending on Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela for your future, I think you can make a pretty powerful argument you need to have an American energy plan.
So the broader economic issues, you think trump some of these other specifics?
I think $2.50-a-gallon gasoline will attract a level of attention that is across all ethnic lines.
The problem in California has tended to be, that for an awful lot of women in particular, that once a voter knows that you’re not pro-choice, they don’t want to hear what you say about the economy. And so there’s this threshold issue that has pretty much killed Republicans except for [pro-choice Republicans] Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenneger since 1988. It’s hard to envision how you overcome that.
And maybe you can’t. On the other hand, it may be that a woman who does not feel particularly threatened on that issue and goes down and puts in what might Mike Reagan sent me from Los Angeles yesterday was $4.54 a gallon, starts to say…
My goal is that you’re standing at that pump and you’re saying, “Let me get this straight. I’d be paying $2.25 less with Newt. Now how much does that matter to me?”…I also think you’ve got to look at the degree to which the Republican Party, by not being inclusive, by not having Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Latino Americans, et cetera, African Americans, then you get down to a fight only in the white population, which is actually more liberal. A lot of those issues you’re describing are actually not nearly as clear cut in those other communities.
How big a problem, when you look at what happened in South Carolina, where you had this smashing victory, is Mormonism for Mitt Romney?
I have no idea…How big an advantage in Nevada and Arizona and Idaho is it?
How big an issue is it?
My point is, I don’t know. It’s not something we work on.
But you’re a keen political strategist with a lot of years in the business…
I don’t know.
Do you think California’s going to matter in the end?
Yes. I think Texas and California coming late virtually guarantees that nobody’s going to have a majority before. Listen, I came to this convention to literally outline why I think California will be in play this fall. I’m going to talk about energy, I’m going to talk about Afghanistan and I’m going to talk about putting California in play.
In a cheerful way, we trust.