Progressive voters have countless reasons to avoiding voting for Gov. Gray Davis' reelection. Here's another one:
Ever concerned with self-centered political strategy over genuine leadership, Davis last week vetoed legislation allowing immigrants who are in the process of applying for citizenship the right to obtain a driver's license. It was a bill he had promised to support.
Currently, you need a social security number to get a driver's license. You can't get a social security number if you're not yet a citizen. The bill, AB 60, escorted through the state Legislature by Los Angeles-area Assemblymember Gil Cedillo, was aimed mainly at helping Mexican immigrants, who are playing by the rules, maintain their self-sufficiency. A driver's license is key to being able to contribute to society and the economy-everybody needs to get to work, get the kids to school and get to the grocery store.
All AB 60 would have done is allow people to be on the road legally. Of course, people need to feed their families, so many people will drive anyway. Given the sorry state of public transportation in this state, for lots of them, driving is the only way to get there. A nice byproduct would have been having safer, more knowledgeable drivers on the road.
But there are others who are terrified of being caught and having their cars impounded. Those are the people who will find it exceedingly difficult to be productive-to get to college, to work and to contribute tax dollars to the economy.
Gov. Davis is not an idiot, despite what his handling of last year's energy debacle might have indicated. He knows that the anti-Mexican immigrant fervor that dominated public policy in the mid-1990s is still alive and simmering. Now, the voters who brought you the mean-spirited, uncivilized Proposition 187 are indirectly, partly responsible for Davis' veto of AB 60.
You see, Davis never does anything unless he can gain politically from it. In the past, he has courted Latinos when he needed their increasing voter power to get elected. Well, he doesn't need them now that he's facing Bill Simon, a wealthy right-wing Republican. There's nothing that California voters have liked less in recent elections than wealthy right-wing Republicans. Davis can snub Latinos because he knows they have no one else to vote for; meantime, he can maybe pick up a few conservative votes by appearing not to be too friendly to non-citizen immigrants.
Davis' stated reason for vetoing the bill was that he didn't want to make it any easier for would-be terrorists to commit their violent deeds-a driver's license is one of the documents that gets people on airplanes. But under Cedillo's proposed legislation, driver's license applicants would have to undergo background checks. And besides, considering the sophistication of today's terrorists-and the lengths to which this country is going to thwart them-who really thinks it'll be a failure to legally obtain a driver's license that is going to get in the way of their plans?
The real shame here is that too many people fail to understand the impact of immigrants on the economy. More than half of farm workers, maids, janitors, restaurant cooks, gardeners, household childcare workers and manual laborers are immigrants. Instead of making policy that criminalizes them, why can't we just make it easier for them to contribute?
Answer: because the governor is a shameless watcher of polls-and not a leader.