Texas Democrats are longing for their “Pete Wilson moment” to swing more Latino voters and retake the state’s electoral-vote motherlode.
Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary city” law, might not be that moment.
But Democrats are darn sure going to try.
With Texas set to swing as many as 42 electoral votes by 2024 — as many as, say, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin combined — Democrats are going to do their best to portray Republicans as reactionary, radical and “out of touch with Texas values.”
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In California, that happened in 1994, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson rode a populist wave back into office by supporting Proposition 187, a show-us-your-papers immigration law meant to halt public spending on anyone here illegally.
“In the early 1990s, it was hard to paint California Republicans as too conservative,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, now a University of Houston political science professor but in 1998 a campaigner for an Orange County, Calif., Democratic congressional candidate.
“By the end of that decade, it was extremely easy to paint Republicans as extremist conservatives and out of touch with California values.”
It was extremely easy to paint Republicans as extremist conservatives and out of touch with California values.
UH political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus, remembering California in 1998
Half the Latino Republicans who had supported President Ronald Reagan switched to the Democratic side, and never came back.
Texas Republicans believe that can’t happen here.
Gov. Greg Abbott, married to a first lady who is the granddaughter of immigrants from Monterrey, Nuevo León, carefully presents Senate Bill 4 as a law-and-order bill to make sure local governments cooperate with federal requests to hold prisoners for immigration officers.
But although he continues to say the law targets “people who have committed dangerous crimes,” it allows police to ask the immigration status of anyone stopped or detained by police who is not a complainant, victim or witness.
If you’re worried about civil liberties, Senate Bill 4 already has its first victim.
Express an opinion about the constitutionality of a new state law, and you might get sued.
Texas Municipal League advisory to cities, headlined “How Not to Get Sued by the State.”
Austin and Travis County are being sued this week by Attorney General Ken Paxton, not for violating the law (it goes into effect Sept. 1) but simply for “various public statements” disagreeing with the law.
That led the Texas Municipal League, the statewide organization of cities, to issue an advisory headlined “How Not to Get Sued by the State.’ It recommended cities not “express an opinion” against state leaders.
TML’s Twitter line was blunt: “Free speech? Not in this state.”
Texas’ leaders don’t seem worried about being “too conservative.”
Neither were California’s.