By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – Within Mississippi’s conservative community, the early takeaway from the 2012 session is that some discord exists as the new Republican majority in the Legislature seeks to accommodate GOP traditional Chamber of Commerce establishment types along with evangelicals and Tea Party members.
Such was evident in the Mississippi Tea Party’s somewhat pyrrhic attack on Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves through their issuance of a “legislative report card” that gave Reeves failing marks for his performance supporting the Tea Party’s position on illegal immigration enforcement as embodied in House Bill 488. The Tea Party report card offered this assessment: “Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves assigned the bill to the Judiciary B Committee, chaired by Democratic state Sen. Hob Bryan (whom he knew not to be an advocate of enforcement). Predictably Bryan let the bill die in committee, thus preventing a floor vote and killing the bill. Losers were taxpayers and legal working citizens. Winners were agricultural and construction interests who benefit from cheap illegal labor.”
Reeves said after sending the bill to Bryan’s committee: “Over the past several weeks, I have heard many concerns about House Bill 488 from leaders in law enforcement, cities and counties, the agricultural industry and Mississippi’s business community. They worry about the bill’s impact on law enforcement activities, local government budgets, agricultural and business operations, and the state’s image.”
The Tea Party’s assessment of Reeves’ stance on House Bill 488 is at best incomplete and at worst intentionally misleading.
Reeves isn’t at all out of step on the question of a state’s role in federal illegal immigration enforcement with the solid majority of the Republican Party. His position reflects the same position held by party luminaries like former Gov. Haley Barbour, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, 2008 GOP presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain and other conservatives who see the futility of an unfunded mandate for states to try to solve problems that the federal government has miserably failed – and consistently refused – to solve.
No slight to the folks in the Tea Party, but when the Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Mississippi Municipal League, Mississippi Association of Supervisors, Mississippi Sheriff’s Association and the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police are opposed to HB 488, it gets the attention of the legislative leadership. Those groups have demonstrated far more actual influence at the ballot box than has the Tea Party in its comparatively brief history.
Conservatives understand capitalism and the law of supply and demand – or they should. Illegal immigrants don’t come here seeking freedom per se, but rather opportunity. They seek jobs. Without jobs available, the hardships of illegal border crossings become less attractive.
But the broader questions for true conservatives are ones Reeves’ stance on HB 488 begs: Why should state and local taxpayers pay the freight on illegal immigration enforcement through almost certain local tax hikes to impede – as the Tea Party advocates – illegal immigrants from receiving federal assistance?
Why should the states give Congress and the White House – regardless the party in power in either branch of government – a continued pass on meeting their absolute responsibility to both legislate and enforce a workable solution to the illegal immigration riddle?
Reeves got far more political mileage out of not being bullied by the Tea Party on the immigration issue than he got across-the-board criticism from the broader rank-and-file of the Mississippi GOP. It is in missing that obvious fact that the Tea Party came up short on their own report card.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.