Walker’s unsurprising move on immigration reform

Last week Gov. Scott Walker made news on immigration reform while speaking with the Wausau Daily Herald editorial board. I say he “made news” because typically with these types of interviews politicians tend to stick to known talking points where they don’t typically stray from the beaten path.

Rarely will a politician make the sort of waves that Walker did Tuesday when he said he would be open to a pathway for citizenship for those 11 million undocumented workers currently living in the United States.

Previously when asked about his stance on immigration, Walker was non-committal on the issue of citizenship, telling Politico he supports a “legal pathway” but nothing about citizenship. When asked by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to clarify that statement, Walker said “I think you would greatly reduce if not outright eliminate the number of people who come in illegally if we had an effective, time-effective particularly, system of dealing with legal immigration.”

That’s not exactly taking a stance on what to do with those undocumented workers currently living here.

Walker’s spokesperson, Tom Evenson, tried to walk back the governor’s comment from last week he hasn’t taken a specific position on a any bill or policy action. Evenson told the Washington Post “Governor Walker recognizes that we have a broken immigration system, and while he hasn’t endorsed a specific policy, the Governor believes this is an issue that must be addressed.”

But is Evenson’s statement true? Did Walker not really endorse a pathway to citizenship when he met with the editorial board? It sure seemed like he did at the time.

Rob Mentzer: The biggest split, right, is about what to do with those 11 million (undocumented workers). Can you envision a world where with the right penalties, and waiting periods and meeting requirements that those can get citizenship?

Walker: Sure. I think it makes sense.

Sure sounds like an endorsement to me, despite Evenson’s best attempts to say otherwise.

Now the conventional wisdom is Walker is going to run for president in 2016. Given his  move on immigration, and his further statements about how the United States needs fundamental immigration reform to make it easier for people to legally come here, it’s pretty clear Walker is positioning himself for that campaign.

After the 2012 presidential election, it was widely seen that Republicans hopes of every having a remote chance at winning a national election in the near future would rely on their ability to convince minorities – specifically Latinos – to vote for them.

The Washington Post has a neat infographic on the breakdown of the 2012 vote. But suffice to say, the white vote is getting smaller, and the minority vote is getting larger. The idea that Texas could be a blue state in eight to 12 years isn’t so far fetched, though the idea that it will go blue by 2016 are a little far fetched.

There has been some disagreement among some columnists and pundits whether or not there are “missing white voters” that Republicans could pickup, and therefore stave off the demographic changes in the country, though I’m in the Nate Cohn camp in thinking it won’t save them:

There is indeed room for the GOP to improve among white voters, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be painful, too. If Republicans don’t want to compromise on immigration reform, they will probably need to do something else to make up ground. It could be moderating on social issues or economics—or a little bit of both. Either way, the GOP will have to pick its poison.

For as much as Walker’s critics want to paint him as a conservative governor – and he has been – he’s not a dyed-in-the-wool tea partier like Sen. Ron Johnson. (Sidenote: Speaking of Johnson, he’s going to be running in an entirely different electorate in 2016 then he did in 2010. That should be an interesting race to watch, but that’s a different topic.) Walker hasn’t been afraid to take on members of his own party on some issues he’s not particularly fond of – bail bonds and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to name two recent examples – but immigration reform would be far the biggest one to date.

By coming out for a pathway for citizenship – while also saying he’s not sure there needs to be increased border security! – Walker is hedging his bets that the bill fails, and he can point to his support for parts of it when he runs in 2016 as an attempt to reach out to the Latino community who would otherwise disregard him as another Republican politician.

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