Rolly: Utah may lead on immigration
Republican leaders and conservative pundits have been wringing their hands since the Nov. 6 election about what to do about the Latino voting bloc that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
That was one of the most important factors in Mitt Romney's 2 percent loss to President Barack Obama, as roughly 10 percent of the 122 million voters were Latino and they went for Obama 71 percent to 27 percent.
That was a larger gap than the one Obama forged against John McCain in 2008 when about 68 percent of the 9 million Latino votes cast that year were checked on the side of the Democrat.
The tide of Latinos flowing into the Democratic column has been consistently growing ever since Republican George W. Bush was able to garner 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, which helped him defeat Democratic challenger John Kerry.
So Republicans quit naturally are asking how to improve the GOP brand with Latinos.
And they're looking at Utah.
That's because the state's Legislature passed a package of immigration reform bills in 2011 that included HB116, legislation that provides a path for immigrants in the country illegally to pay a penalty and then earn a permit allowing them to work in the U.S. legally.
It's the most progressive state law for immigration reform in the nation and it was passed in what arguably is the most conservative, Republican state.
That HB116 is accompanied by the Utah Compact, a statement of support for immigration reform signed by Utah business and civic leaders that includes a compassionate approach to families in the country illegally.
That makes Utah, in the eyes of conservative Latino leaders, a potential model that Republicans can build upon to improve their brand with the increasingly important Latino voting bloc.
"What Utah has done will certainly be an inspiration to conservative Republicans in Congress to work on this issue," said Alfonso Aguilar, spokesman for the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles in Washington, D.C.
"It shows there are conservatives willing to work on this issue," he said.
Aguilar, like the Utah Republicans who got the bill passed in 2011, acknowledge that immigration reform must come from Congress, because it is a federal issue.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, one of the lawmakers instrumental in passing HB116, said that is why the Utah law has a provision that requires a waiver from Congress to give the state authority to implement it. Bramble has said proponents hope that if the waiver doesn't come, the bill at least will nudge Congress to act.
"The law is a model in the sense that we need a guest worker program that works, with a mechanism based on market forces instead of an arbitrary quota set by Congress," he said.
Aguilar said Bramble has partnered with conservative Hispanic groups to spread the word of meaningful reform across the country and, now that the national Republican defeat has gotten their attention, conservatives are taking a hard look at the Utah approach.
Influential conservative commentator William Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard, is a proponent of reform that can win the approval of the Latino community.
He has discussed the Utah model with Bramble and with Gov. Gary Herbert, who has also been approached by other Republican governors about Utah's leading role on the subject.
The irony is that HB116 opponents within Utah's Republican Party tried to defeat Bramble and other reformers in the Legislature on that issue.
Delegates at the 2011 Republican State Convention passed a resolution calling for repeal of the bill.
Maybe they just can't stand all the national attention.