Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Wingnut Bills Start Coming in Salem

You knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time before the more diehard conservatives who returned to Salem began ginning up bills forming solutions in search of problems, diving once more into the breach on faith and inexplicable resolve.

I say inexplicable, because more often then not the bills I'm talking about are recycled from previous sessions where they've already failed--sometimes more than once! And while they held the majority!

All right, let's back up a moment. Here's the dope from Janie Har at The O's blog:
Minority Republican legislators unveiled a package of House bills on Friday aimed at curbing illegal immigration -- and put the heat on Democrats to keep their campaign promises to get tough on the topic.

About 100 people showed up for a rally on the Capitol steps, many waving signs urging stricter border control and English as the official language. Headlining the event were Reps. Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Linda Flores of Clackamas, who are co-sponsoring the bills to be introduced on Tuesday.

Ten in all, the proposals range from requiring proof of citizenship before voting to giving police authority to ferret out people here illegally. In addition, House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, said the caucus will introduce two more proposals to give state agencies, such as the DMV and police, the power to crack down on illegal immigrants.

The Republicans' proposals include making English the state's official language; barring the state from hiring undocumented workers; banning human trafficking; and requesting the federal government reimburse the state for housing illegal immigrants.
Ah, the old 'proof of citizenship poll test' gambit again! This is what I mean: we now have the 2007 version, which reminds us of the 2005 version, which has the faint whiff of reminiscience from 2003's attempt. And what's sad--neither of the two previous bills made it out of committee. Ironically, both were tabbed as 'emergency' bills, which has come to mean simply an effective date upon passage, but as evidenced by the boilerplate language in each once was reserved only when "being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety."

For some reason, Republicans and their conservative base love these kinds of bills. They always seem to feed the more carnal, rapacious instincts--those centers of the brain that cause men to aggressively defend territory and pride. This (daily Pledge of Allegiance) bill good! This (make immigrants prove they're legal before getting poverty services) problem bad, bill good for stopping problem!

I have a couple of distinct problems with laws that force local agents to interpret and enforce federal immigration laws. First of all, it's a redundancy. They're federal laws, there should be federal agents to enforce them. If there aren't, by God what are they doing with that pile of dough parked on pallets outside Homeland Security? Not to mention the hodgepodge enforcement and interpretation from state to state, and in variance with actual federal law. Then there's the valid point that Uncle Sam (by proxy to the state legislature) is asking for these compliance efforts, without dime one coming to Salem to pay for it.

Another sticky wicket is that in Oregon, it's not legal for state agents to expend time and money working for the purpose of "detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws. [ORS 1818.850]" So of course, the zealots have put together HE 2682 to repeal it.

Finally, it is the height of the materialist, insular American character to bitch and whine about paying what amounts to a couple of dollars so that poor people and families might not starve or lack for assistance to do what they came for, which is to work. There's a real moral failing in that attitude for America, in my opinion--and we used to be different.

Even if you push me to the limit by getting me to agree on requiring citizenship papers to receive public services, it goes too far to let that kind of nonsense interfere with voting. There is no specific right to welfare in the constitution, but by George there sure is one for the unfettered franchise. We have too poor a history as a nation, interfering with the right to vote by imposing requirements that were thinly veiled suppression tactics, not to be tremendously skeptical about anything that stands between the humblest citizen and his vote.

I have no problem at all with the solutions used by some states, to require a checkbox self-certifying citizenship at registration, and a signature to indicate an understanding of the penalties for fraud and perjury. Everybody can check a box and sign their name. But having a clerk at the library or DMV ask me for my papers so I can vote?--no way. There's a reason those bills were nonstarters the last two sessions; it's because they're paranoid reactions to imaginary problems. There is NO history of any significant fraud committed by non-citizens trying to vote. (As an aside, in many states in the 18th and 19th centuries non-citizens were routinely allowed to vote! Land ownership was the poll tax of choice then, and had southern immigrants not had a tendency to vote abolitionist, maybe they'd still be voting today.)

But that's neither here nor there. The point is, the only thing these bills do besides waste the Clerk's time is to show the voting base how hard they're working. Meanwhile, the foreign population---legal and not--continues to rise in Oregon, and the witchhunt language and posture being employed is killing the Republicans with that sector of the population. The anti-immigrant posturing done by conservative candidates in the midterms, urged on by the xenophobic underculture, only served to push those growing blocs away in disgust.

None of these bills except perhaps the Pledge bill (ugh--at least it's not mandatory) will see the light of day on the floor, but meanwhile the Democrats are sufficiently upset about the unfunded mandates regarding the federal Real ID Xenophobia Act, to all but dare Washington to make them comply without funding. The O's Har does a nice job with both these stories in the blog format, giving just the information I'd hope for from a Capitol beat--what bills are coming? What's new from the hearings? Good stuff.

Also doing good stuff--even better, I think--is the Leg team at the Statesman-Journal. They've recently started their own blog, similar to The O's but I think better formatted and more in the proper style, without sacrificing traditional media standards of journalism. The three writers are pictured, which I always think is a nice touch for online writers (unless you look like me). They also let the stories scroll down a single page, while The O keeps one story to a page view. That's still less unnerving than their sickly "Updates" section which scrolls like a blog but reads more like classified ads, they're so uptight in their formatting. The background is so dark and wan that I get a little nauseated reading it. And when you try to link to a particular item, the bookmarking feature (that takes you to the piece you selected rather than just the top of the page) doesn't work.

What stands out for me in the S-J blog is the writing --it's great. It's written professionally but not stiffly, allowing for expansion and even--God Bless America--some opinion:
I’m not sure who’s right in the English language only debate, but I also wonder if it’s a debate worth having.

Write back and tell me if I’m wrong, but haven’t immigrants to the United States adopted English in a very predictable pattern for well over 150 years?

When the Germans came here, they lived in so-called “Germantowns” with German ads, German-language newspapers, and German spoken in all public facilities.

When they’re children were born here, they spoke German at home and learned English in the schools and on the playing fields.

When their children’s children were born, they lost the German.

The same for when the Italians came here. And the Jews. And the Russians. And the Chinese, etc.
That piece is written in response to one of the other blockhead bills coming from the supreme intellectual talents of Donna Nelson and Linda Flores, and takes a legitimate stand against it. Bravo!

Peter Wong's analysis of the first few sessions of the joint land use committee is more structured and sparsely written, but it's inside baseball politics that bloggers simply can't match. The relationships and experience from working the chambers and the hearing rooms and hallways only comes from being paid to do it for a while. We've got sources and we keep our eye on the session via Oregon Channel (my new fall-asleep channel at night, although sadly I can spend up to an hour watching some committee meeting), but nothing's like being there and talking to the principals.

All three of the S-J political writers do very solid, objectively written work, and frankly I don't think the paper gets enough attention as a news outlet. Certainly they have a news stranglehold on the Capitol, as they should, so their value is highlighted now. But I find all their stuff pretty crisp and straightforward. Could it be the traditional media is slowly getting their news rudder turned into the prevailing winds?