Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Westlund Pt 2: Mr Fix it, or not?

[This is part two of a three part series based on my interview with Oregon goobernatorial candidate Ben Westlund. Part one is here.]

The question of whether Ben Westlund has the ability to build consensus and bring all sides to a common ground is a matter of some debate. Westlund's supporters certainly say that he can.

But a man who articulates a disdain for the "very partisan, self serving, feather-their-own-nest...monopoly parties" may find that while dissing the parties attracts some disaffected voters, it may actually be contributing to partisan rancor rather than correcting it.

One of the topics we covered at our interview was immigration.

There are two types of immigration coming into America that people should be concerned about. The worst are those coming across our borders to do us harm. Somehow we don't seem as concerned about those type of immigrants that can actually do us damage. What we seem to be concerned about are those immigrants coming across the border to work hard.

These people are coming here for the same reason that our families came here. And folks from the Irish Potato Famine came here. And the original peoples that inhabited the continents--to improve the quality of their and their families lives.

What concerns me about the latter are the people demonizing this whole segment of human beings for short sighted political gain in the next election cycle. Undocumented workers don't cost this society they contribute to this society.

What should happen to businesses who hire illegals?

I don't think the onus should be put on the business. The way to solve this is to secure our borders. What are you going to do--get people to go home? That's why the kids were out protesting. These naturalized citizens born here--you're going to send Mommy and Daddy home? We've got 12 million undocumented workers in this state. They're not going home. They're here.

To address those that are here we have to address some type methodology where they can earn their citizenship.

Westlund bristled when I asked if this meant "amnesty":

Not amnesty I didn't say anmesty. I said a program where they can earn their citizenship. Go to the back of the line in terms of those who've applied legally. But a real, sincere, no-trickery program to allow them to gain citizenship.

The way you prevent the continued onslaught is to secure the borders. It prevents undocumented workers from continuing to come. But more importantly it prevents those who are thinking about doing us harm from coming here.

But what does "secure the borders" mean? Westlund says he doesn't know. Its the federal government's problem. And while the governor of Washington says she'll allow the Washington National Guard to go the border if they volunteer for that duty to assist the President with border security, Westlund says he'd look to the federal government alone to solve that problem.

There are vagaries here, to be sure. Westlund aptly expresses the reasons most illegal immigrants flow into the country: to get a job and improve their life. But he doesn't make the connection with the fact that they get a job because businesses are willing to hire them. "Secure the borders" is a very conservative answer to a problem requiring a progressive solution: sanction businesses who hire them. Its also not a very well thought one.

Another area where Westlund has trouble is Measure 36. According to Westlund's press liason Stacey Dycus, Westlund agreed to sign off on the voter's pamphlet on Measure 36 when he was still in cancer recovery in the hospital. The campaign now characterizes that signing as a mistake.

A mistake indeed. While I understand that Westlund was still recovering, this is analagous to saying "the dog ate my homework". I have trouble buying into the idea that Westlund didn't have at least an inkling of what he was signing on to by his prominent endorsement of Oregon's anti-gay marriage Constitutional Amendment.

Nevertheless, Westlund talks about this as an impetus to his march away from the Republican Party of Oregon:

I can do the big tent thing even while they're bashing me on my tax increases. I can understand and simply disagree with people when they're doing the social conservative thing: prolife vs my prochoice position. I understand those are heartfelt, deeply personal issues. So is the gay rights issue. But wait a minute. Let's not "are you pregnant?" "Should you get an abortion?" "Is that fetus a child or a baby"? Those are different discussions than you're validity as a human being. When you start demonizing not just the gays--you can see it now in the undocumented worker issue. This whole demonizing of whole segments of society. That was the final straw. It isn't just the increasingly espoused dogma that's not good for Oregon. The real tipping point is this increasing intolerance and dissrespect of the family of human beings. That was the big one.

I can certainly relate to a disgust with the GOP over their lack of tolerance and respect for the human race, in general. That's an easy one. But it raises questions in my mind about why Westlund would ever consider signing on to an amendment banning gay marriage--when he articulates such a strong compassion for his fellow man whether they be gay or straight? It doesn't make sense.

And prochoice? That's something to ponder in the third and final post of this series.