Lesson learned: bipartisan effort likely now on Latino issues

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DENVER — And people say journalists run in packs.

Almost as soon as Tuesday night’s elections results were coming into focus, and ever since, politicians of all stripes have been talking about Latinos and the need for Congress to focus on comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.

“It’s just time to get the job done,” said Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, at a news conference in Washington Friday. He said lawmakers from both parties want to resolve the issue. “But again, on an issue this big, the president has to lead.”

In reality, the onus is on Republicans, who watched President Obama draw more than 70 percent of the Latino vote Tuesday night, to support legislation that would secure American borders while also addressing the future of the 11 million people living in the country without documentation, possibly by offering them a path to citizenship.

“I think one of the issues that may surprise people that we have an opportunity to focus on is immigration reform, what we’re going to do to fix a broken immigration reform,” Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, told FOX31 Denver Wednesday morning.

It’s not going to surprise anyone next year if and when Congress focuses on immigration reform, given all the post-election talk — talk that started well before the election.

It was actually President Obama himself who first tipped his hand in an interview with the Des Moines Register that he gave initially on the condition it remain off the record.

“Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” Obama presciently told the newspaper’s editor.

“And so I am fairly confident that [Republicans] are going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.”

Already, there are indications the GOP’s immigration is going to be a lot more like that of Sen. John McCain, who called for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 before being silenced by more stridently anti-illegal immigration forces in his own party, and lot less like that of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed that state’s S.B. 1070 into law in 2010.

“The best thing about Republicans losing is that it will likely force them to cut an immigration deal,” former Bush aide Mark McKinnon told NBC News Friday.

Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, also recognizing which way the political wind is blowing and facing reelection in 2014, sent out his own statement on the issue Friday morning.

“America is better and stronger because of its immigrants,” Udall said. “The voters sent a clear message on Election Day that we need to renew the promise of the American Dream and make comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act among our top priorities after we get our fiscal house in order. These issues are too important for Colorado businesses and families to languish on the back-burner over the next four years.”

The same saga is set to play out inside the Colorado statehouse come January, when Democrats, who again control both the House and Senate, will push through the ASSET bill, lowering college tuition for undocumented students, in the first month of the session.

Two years ago, Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, elected in 2010 by a margin of fewer than 100 votes, cast the deciding vote that killed the measure.

On Tuesday, Ramirez, who would have given the GOP another Latino lawmaker to point to as Democrats boast about the diversity of their own House caucus, lost his seat.

Come January, it’s a good bet that more Republican lawmakers, knowing they’re powerless to stop the bill, cast votes for it based, perhaps, on personal epiphanies but, more likely, on the realization, learned in a painful way on Tuesday night, that the GOP has a Latino problem that isn’t going away.

As Colorado Republicans continue to commiserate and cast blame for Tuesday’s losses, it’s worth noting that some of them sounded warnings about the need to improve the party’s Hispanic outreach.

Last January, the state GOP held a press conference at the Capitol — featuring Ramirez — and declared it “Hispanic Republicans Day.” The message might have been more effective had it not been undercut by the timing — the ASSET bill was up for a debate in the Senate the same day.

GOP Chairman Ryan Call, who spoke at that press conference, didn’t think it his job to instruct lawmakers about how they should vote on specific bills; but he was outspoken about the political implications following the death of the ASSET bill for a second straight year.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the vote,” Call told FOX31 Denver back in April. “I am. It does make it more difficult for Republicans to talk about issues that are important to the Hispanic community when a bill like that can’t get through the legislature.”