Meg ... Meg ... Meg ...
Meg Whitman's Gran Problema
On Wednesday, California Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman's former housekeeper -- Nicky Diaz Santillan -- held a press conference with her lawyer Gloria Allred to announce that Whitman employed her for nine years and knew she was an undocumented immigrant, but turned a blind eye and exploited their relationship. According to Diaz Santillan, Whitman knew for years that she was undocumented, but fired her just a few months before she announced that she was running for governor. "From now on you don't know me and I don't know you," Diaz Santillan claims Whitman told her in the summer of 2009. Santillan also alleges that Whitman "exploited, disrespected, humiliated and emotionally and financially abused" her and that she was not fully compensated for wages and transportation. Whitman has flatly denied knowingly employing an undocumented worker, telling reporters that she terminated Diaz Santillan's employment as soon as she learned of her immigration status. Whitman has also pinned the blame on opponent Jerry Brown (D), describing the allegations as "smear politics" motivated by Brown. Whitman has said she will take a lie detector test when Brown and Diaz Santillan submit to a lie detector. However, Whitman can't deny that she employed an undocumented immigrant for almost a decade, whether she knew it or not. Given Whitman's own politicization of the immigration issue throughout her campaign, she has largely dug this hole for herself. Her campaign has been marked by flip-flops and deception on the immigration issue -- and now possibly hypocrisy.
PRIMARY WEDGE POLITICS: Whitman once said that she favored a "program in which people would go to the end of the line, pay a fine, and do things that would allow for a path to legalization." Then, her primary race against immigration hardliner Steve Poizner tightened. When Poizner began portraying Whitman as soft on immigration, she went out of her way to clarify that what she really "meant" was that she supports reform that "secures the border first and includes a temporary guest worker program" and declared herself "100 percent against amnesty, no exceptions." She also proposed "holding employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers," and advocated for "a more efficient system" to verify the immigration status of workers seeking employment. Whitman and Poizner agreed that they would cut or end Assembly Bill 540, a state bill enacted into law in 2002 that allows undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to pay resident fees at colleges and universities. Whitman then proceeded to release an ad featuring her campaign chairman and former Gov. Pete Wilson (R-CA) who affirmed that Whitman will be "as tough as nails" on immigration. As the governor who backed Proposition 187 -- an Arizona-type law that was ultimately deemed unconstitutional -- Wilson's endorsement was meant to give Whitman credibility amongst the Republican right-wing base. In June, Whitman defeated Poizner "in the most expensive campaign in California history."
GENERAL ELECTION FLIP-FLOP: Once Whitman nabbed the Republican nomination, she quickly realized that she had to start focusing her efforts on repairing relations with the Latino community. On June 17, Whitman reminded California Latino voters of her opposition to Arizona's controversial immigration law in an ad that aired during the Spanish-language broadcast of the Mexico-France World Cup game. The ad would be the first of many. State Senator Gil Cedillo (D) called Whitman's Latino outreach "Orwellian" because of her "complete saturation" of Spanish language radio and television airtime. Billboards in Spanish also started to pop up all over California proclaiming that Whitman would have opposed Proposition 187 and opposes the controversial Arizona immigration law. For the first time in 30 years, Whitman opened a GOP gubernatorial office in the Latino-heavy and predominately Democratic East Los Angeles neighborhood. Meanwhile, Wilson quietly slipped behind the scenes. Rather than talking about "amnesty" or securing the border, Whitman began telling Latinos, "I'm engaging the Latino community early, because I understand and value the contributions you make to our state. My door is open. I really can't do this job without your support." However, her campaign was delivering a very different message to the rest of the California electorate. In English, Whitman reasoned that the Arizona law should be able to stand in Arizona -- explaining that the only reason she opposes implementing the Arizona law in California is because it is a "much bigger state with much bigger geography." In an interview with conservative radio hosts, Whitman explicitly affirmed that she opposes a path to legalization for undocumented workers despite the fact that she proclaimed in a Spanish-language editorial that she and Brown share an almost identical immigration platform. Brown, however, does support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a legalization program. In a debate against Brown just this week, Whitman vowed to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers and reiterated her opposition to legalizing undocumented immigrants. Unsurprisingly, these tough immigration messages were never broadcasted by her campaign in Spanish.
THE POWER OF THE LATINO VOTE: Particularly in the wake of Arizona's SB-1070 bill, Latino voters care deeply about the immigration issue. A recent poll found that "since the end of 2009, immigration has catapulted to the top issue of personal concern among 1 in 4 Latinos." The same poll revealed that 68 percent of Latinos said they would support candidates who favor immigration reform, while only 19 percent said they would be willing to support a candidate who opposed it. In California, Republicans are still hurting from the effects of Proposition 187. In a report released by the Center for American Progress, CAP policy analyst Gebe Martinez writes, "after 1994, California Democrats won every presidential, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial election until 2003" -- largely thanks to a Latino electorate that was deeply offended by Wilson and his party. How Whitman presents her immigration views to Latinos is especially critical given that they represent 21.1 percent of California’s registered voters. Meanwhile, 44.6 percent (or 4.4 million people) of California's immigrants are naturalized U.S. citizens. Even before the controversy involving her housekeeper broke, Latinos were already skeptical of Whitman. Polls show Brown at anywhere between a seven to 19 point lead amongst Latino voters. This week's events probably won't help. Fernando Espuelas of Univision writes, "Whatever the merits of the case now being litigated in the media by suffering victim specialist attorney Gloria Allred, the optics of this issue are horrible, and possibly fatal for Whitman's candidacy." The Service Employees International Union captures the hypocrisy of Whitman's posturing on the immigration in a Spanish language radio ad: "Whitman attacks undocumented workers to win votes, but an undocumented woman worked in her home for nine years." Whitman has already had a tough time trying to explain her shifting position on immigration reform to the general electorate. Chances are it's going to be even harder now that she has to justify her recently articulated zero-tolerance immigration policies and lack of support for reform despite her firsthand experience with the broken immigration system.