Perry has problems, but Latino Republicans still think he may be the best hope for victory

(Robert Scoble/Flickr)

While Rick Perry seems to take it in the shorts from both the rightand the left on any given day, he has quickly become one of the frontrunners for the GOP nomination for president. If he makes it, he will have one group to thank as much as any other–Latino voters.

While he may not grab the 40 percent of that group that George W. Bush did, he will probably do better than any other Republican candidate.

“He takes a common sense approach to immigration, looking at both the economic impact and the humanitarian impact of his positions,” Steven Rodriguez told the Colorado Independent.

Rodriguez, who lives in Pueblo, is Colorado director and national vice president of Somos Republicans. He is a Republican activist and a one-time candidate for the legislature.

Mother Jones makes the case that Perry’s position may well have a lot to do with the economics of his own fundraising needs, noting that many of his top donors employ people in the country without papers.


As Texas Gov. Rick Perry charts a course to the GOP presidential nomination, his stance towards workers like José could become a flash point. On the one hand, the GOP’s tea party base demands that undocumented immigrants be arrested and deported. On the other, wealthy Republican donors in Texas rely on the influx of cheap labor to make money. José, whose last name I’ve withheld for his protection, works for homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation), the governor’s largest political donor and a strong proponent of permissive immigration policies.

Torn between both wings of his party, Gov. Perry has occupied the middle ground—a place that he rarely inhabits. According to syndicated columnist Miguel Perez:

Perry led the nation in allowing undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition in Texas state universities. He has been opposed to immigrant-bashing and racial profiling laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070, saying they would not be right for Texas. He has questioned the effectiveness and rejected the use of the federal E-Verify system, designed for employers to check the legal status of job applicants. He has described efforts to deny citizenship to the US-born children of illegal immigrants as “divisive,” and he has been critical of Republicans who spew hatred of immigrants.

“Obama promised to make immigration reform a priority within 90 days of his election, but he didn’t. He’s deported a million people including thousands of veterans,” Rodriguez said.

DeeDee Garcia Blase, executive director of Somos, said Perry understands that immigration is an economic issue. “We believe he is the strongest presidential candidate. He’s from Texas. He’s Bush-like. He appeals to social conservatives.”

Still, her opinion of Perry has fallen over the last year or so. He once had an A rating from the group, but that is down to a B- because of his efforts to pass a bill that would have toughened immigration laws in Texas.

“John McCain made the mistake of going too far to the right on immigration then acted surprised when he lost Latino support. If Perry makes the same mistake, it will cost him too,” she said.

She said Tea Partiers need to understand that immigration is an economic issue and that immigration is good for the U.S. economically. “For every agriculture job taken by an immigrant, there are three jobs created for Americans–in packaging, transportation and retail,” she said.

“In Arizona agriculture is a year-round business,” Rodriguez said. “If they can’t find workers, the cost of food goes up. Americans don’t want these jobs. we’ve learned that.

“If you’re in the Republican Party and you advocate for common sense approaches to issues like this, you are called a liberal. Well, in Colorado, we are losing election after election after election and we will continue to lose if we continue to take far right positions on everything,” he said.

“The Tea Party has been hijacked by the anti-immigration crowd but they need to understand that immigration is good for the American economy. Business in Texas supports Perry because they know that immigrants provide farm labor, they are nannies and gardeners. Immigrants contribute to a competitive labor market. The Tea Party claims they want a healthy economic environment, but they really don’t,” she said.

In an email exchange later, Garcia Blase said,

In order for Rick Perry to win a chunk of the Latino vote when he has to be concerned about the Tea Party is to win the messaging battle that indeed the immigration issue is an economic one. Tea Party prides itself on ‘small government.’ However, they contradict themselves when they push for laws such as national e-verify which is a bureaucratic system imposed on small businesses by ‘big government’, or when they don’t admit that the millions who are here living in the shadows of society can easily be the new taxpayer that will ease burdens from current taxpayers.

We have noticed that Tea Party embraces some economic Libertarian-leaning CATO Institute principles, however, they ignore the well documented contributions of immigrants that Rick Perry is certainly aware of. According to the US Department of Agriculture: “There are 3.1 related middle income jobs off the farm for every one job on the farm that is worked by an undocumented immigrant…. Without immigrant workers, the most likely scenario is that we would simply produce less agricultural output as a nation.This would mean not only a direct loss of manual, on-the-farm jobs but a ripple effect of job losses in upstream and downstream sectors such as management, processing, packaging, distribution, and marketing.”

Winning the message is crucial to any politician running for office in high Hispanic populated states. We believe the GOP is on the path to winning approximately 27% of the Latino vote in 2012 unless GOP Senators make up for their dismal DREAM Act vote in December 2010, and the only way they can restore confidence with the Latino people in a post SB 1070 era is to take leadership in passing comprehensive legal immigration before 3rd quarter of 2012.

More from Mother Jones:

In a general election, it’s conceivable that Perry could turn his record on immigration into a strength. Texas is not a national outlier on immigration policies so much as a brutal testing ground. Here, exit polls in 2010 showed a higher tea party affiliation than anywhere in the country, and yet the low-wage economy—the bedrock of the so-called “Texas Miracle”—depends on a steady influx of workers from south of the border. Perry’s approach has been a shrewd blend of satisfying the tea party base by trumpeting the need to secure the border (which is a federal responsibility, not to mention pretty much impossible) while protecting his corporate donors from liability stemming from hiring undocumented workers. Even if he alienates some voters, that stance may have an upside in locking in donors such as Perry, chicken magnate Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, and H-E-B grocery chain CEO Charles Butt, all of whom have previously supported him.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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