The new third rail of politics

Another week, and another week of nuthin' but good news for Colorado Dems. No Campbell, no Owens -- just put 'er on cruise control, count the votes come November, and anoint the amiable Ken Salazar as Colorado's newest United States Senator.

I know, I know--the Republicans will have a candidate, but Ken is the kind of smart, moderate, and thoroughly competent guy who'll appeal to voters across the entire political spectrum. Think Hank Brown, think Roy Romer, think Bob Isaac. And I know, our own favorite son, Mike Miles, is still in the race for the Democratic nod, but, as Doug Moe so famously said when his Nuggets went up against the Lakers in the playoffs a dozen years ago: "We've got no shot." Mike, reality sucks, but no way are you gonna get the nomination.

Too bad that Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo declined to run; he would have made things interesting.

Tancredo's so outspoken on the issue of illegal immigration, and so easily demonized by his foes, that he's even persona non grata at the White House -- no wonder Karl Rove didn't ask him to run.

Tancredo's been a burr under the Republican saddle for the better part of two decades, first as one of the "House Crazies," a handful of ultra-right state legislators in the1980s, then as an HUD administrator and now as a congressman. Tancredo has been the only member of Congress to call for radical change in our country's policies toward immigration, legal and illegal. His rhetoric is inflammatory, his solutions extreme; or so his foes suggest.

Now here's a little conundrum for you: Poll the American people, and you'll find that a majority would support measures to curb or stop illegal immigration. In principle, politicians agree; none of 'em support large-scale illegal immigration. But in reality, our country's policy is very different.

There are thought to be at least 7 million illegals (or undocumented workers, if you prefer) presently living and working in the United States. Many are from Mexico and Central America. Most live shadowy, invisible lives, receiving few benefits, living on the margins of society, doing disagreeable jobs for substandard wages.

As far as our two political parties are concerned, it's a win-win situation. Republicans, and their business allies, like having a permanent labor pool of hardworking folks who both keep wages down and dilute the power of organized labor. Democrats figure that Hispanics are a core constituency for their party and that anything that will ultimately increase the number of Hispanic voters is just fine.

And the rest of us, if we think of it at all, tend to personalize the issue. We might not approve of illegals, but our hearts embrace the poor, decent people who only want to make a better life for themselves and their children. And we're appalled (to cite a recent Colorado case) that callous, by-the-book bureaucrats rip families apart by deporting high school kids who have been in the United States since they were 2 weeks old.

But as former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm has pointed out, if we, as a nation, continue to allow current levels of immigration (legal and illegal), our population, far from stabilizing in the next couple of decades, will explode.

Right now, we admit twice as many immigrants as every other nation combined. Do we really want our population to double by 2050, to 500 million? Do we, as Lamm asks, have too much open space? Too much wildlife? Not enough sprawl? Not enough pollution? These are questions that ought to be at the very center of American policy discussions, not, say, gay marriage.

But immigration is the new third rail of American politics; touch it and you die. Gov. Lamm, along with a couple of like-minded folks, petitioned his way onto the ballot for election to the Sierra Club Board of Directors. Result: Incumbent officers and directors warned darkly of an impending "hostile takeover" of the Sierra Club by "outside forces." Executive Director Carl Pope smarmily remarked that although he doesn't think Lamm is a racist, "He's being supported by racists." The ballots are in the mail; we'll know the results in April.

Of course, there's another point of view. Few Americans realize that, at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the United States seized 55 percent of Mexico's territory, including all of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as parts of Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.

What we regard as manifest destiny ("From the halls of Montezuma ..."), Mexicans regard as the saddest chapter in their history. Not that we didn't compensate the Mexicans; why, we gave 'em a whole $15 million!!

So I guess that if I were a Mexican worker slipping across the border, I wouldn't think of myself as an illegal immigrant.

I'd think I was coming home.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com


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