When the Texas Republican Party made a guest worker program part of its 2012 platform, it was hailed as an important step forward for the party. The GOP needed to adjust itself, people said, to appeal to a new generation of Texas voters, and reorient itself toward some kind of immigration reform package. The acknowledgement of the need for a guest worker program was a small move in that direction, but it was significant. So naturally, two years later, some Republicans want to strip it back out of the platform ahead of this year’s state convention in June.
As reported by the Quorum Report’s Scott Braddock Monday, the Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams has been floating language that would strip the guest worker plank out of the party’s platform. Cathie Adams, as Phyllis Schlafly’s top lieutenant in the state, may seem like a marginal figure to some—she’s spent much of the last several years attempting to persuade tea party groups that major figures in the national Republican party and U.S. government are secret Muslims—but she’s also a former chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party, and she holds a lot of sway with tea party groups around the state.
Adams told Quorum Report that it’s a mistake for the GOP to have anything other than a hard-line position going into the 2014 midterms and 2015 legislative session. Her proposed language unambiguously rejects any congressional moves to address immigration:
THEREFORE BE IT IS RESOLVED that we reject any and all calls for blanket or incremental amnesty and encourage the enforcement of existing state and federal laws regarding border security, national security, immigration and employment.
News of Adams proposal brought a strong rebuke from Hispanic Republican state Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) who tweeted Monday night that the state GOP was facing an “existential” crisis.
— Jason Villalba (@JasonVillalba) March 18, 2014
This is primarily a fight, as it was in 2012, between business interests in the Republican Party and the more conservative faction personified by Adams. You might assume the former will win out—especially if the consequences are seen to be as dire as Villalba says—except that the adoption of the guest worker program last time around had seemed unlikely even then. It happened late on a Friday night at the convention. As a measure of how illegitimate some conservative activists see the change, several have told me they’re convinced that advocates of the guest worker program waited until many convention-goers were drunk or had left the hall before they made their move. In reality, the debate was well-attended and extremely heated.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who became prominently identified with the platform change, told Bloomberg Businessweek he was less than certain about his side’s success as he rose to speak in favor of the change. “Well, here’s the end of a political career,” he remembers thinking. But the platform did change. Supporters hailed it as a “bold step toward leadership” on immigration.
But it’s debatable how much that small shift is evidence of a larger one in the GOP. For one thing, it’s never presented as a humanitarian issue—it’s a business issue. The important thing is ensuring a steady supply of labor, not the welfare and well-being of the countless documented and undocumented migrants in the state. “I’m no bleeding heart; I oppose birthright citizenship,” Patterson said later. “But we need the labor.”
When I talked to the affable Villalba in January about the attempt to build up Republican outreach to the Hispanics in the state, he was characteristically sunny about his party’s future. “What you’re seeing today is this mind-shift,” he says. “There are some in our party that are resistant of [change.] But I think they’re starting to come terms with it.”
Now, we’re heading toward a GOP convention that seems likely to nominate Dan Patrick, one of the most anti-immigrant statewide candidates in recent memory, as the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor—someone Villalba has indirectly but pointedly criticized. The next couple months, as activists began to consider the party platform in more detail, will provide an opportunity to test Villalba’s thesis.