Wednesday, the day after the US Department of Justice announced its suit against the state of Arizona, politicians all across the state rose their press operations in protest.
It started with the more conservative crowd in TN-03, then the inevitable announcement from Ron Ramsey, and finally the surprise of the day Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee Mike McWherter, who released the following statement:
“I think the administration is wrong on this one. Arizona’s trying to get a handle on the immigration policy because of Washington’s total failure to deal with the real problem. Immigration has become another political football in Washington and this lawsuit only continues the game, rather than solve the problem. We need to control the border, crack down on businesses that employ illegal workers, and give businesses the tools to quickly and reliably verify a job applicant’s status.”
This means that every candidate for Governor in the race favors Arizona on this issue.
Or maybe not.
McWherter stopped short of saying he supported having a similar bill in Tennessee. Further, he didn’t place blame on the people who are illegally crossing, but the Federal Government, whose job it is to deal with immigration policy, and the employers who hire illegals.
This is an important distinction. Its one thing to say that the Federal Government has failed in its duty to protect the borders, but quite another to say that we should build a legal moat filled with alligators around the state.
That, however, was not the message that came across on a day that could have gone in so many other directions.
While the meat of McWherter’s statement isn’t really all that different from what he’s said before, by invoking Arizona at all he, at least gave many the impression that his position was indistinguishable from the three Republicans in the race.
The fact is, McWherter didn’t come out in support of the Arizona law, and hasn’t voiced any support for trying to enact such a law in Tennessee. McWherter said that the Feds were misdirecting their attention in the case of the lawsuit, that’s it.
But such nuance is lost in most cases, as Al Gore and John Kerry can attest. People rely on contrast to make decisions, and while McWherter’s statement is different, he effectively framed himself as supportive of the law and made himself indistinguishable from the Republican candidates in the minds of those precious few voters who are actually paying attention right now.
I understand that this is an emotional issue for many people in the state. I also understand that this issue probably polls very high among the electorate of the state. But folks, seriously, even the Republicans couldn’t figure out how to get a largely ceremonial joint resolution passed in the legislature on this issue. McWherter could have simply repeated his prior position without invoking Arizona, in doing so he would have remained consistent with previous statements, and not pissed off a bunch of people who already feel marginalized.
So that, in my mind is a missed opportunity, but it’s not the only one.
On that same day, reports of per diem abuses hit the news, as did the TNGOP FEC violations, and reports of questions about the citizenship of two Puerto Rican born children in Dyersburg. Talk about opportunities to offer distinctions!
I know these things are usually planned out far in advance, and that some of that news broke after the McWherter statement, but I wonder about the value of issuing such a statement in an echo chamber of seemingly similar statements from decidedly different political positions. It seems to me that on wedge issues such as this one, if McWherter wants to distinguish himself from the Republican field, he should give them the opportunity to beat the hell out of each other, then strike the final blows, at least until the Republican Primary is decided August 5th.
Hindsight is 20/20, I understand that, but in a melee such as this, the last man standing is the guy who throws the last punch. In this case, that may be the biggest missed opportunity of them all.