- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

When Gov. Gray Davis signed last Friday night SB60, which allows illegal aliens to obtain California drivers’ licenses, he was gambling he could betray the majority of California voters and thereby beat the Oct. 7 recall.

Yes, Californians, you were sold out.

Mr. Davis had vetoed similar legislation because it failed to include a mechanism to keep violent fugitives from obtaining licenses and asked for no assurance that license applicants had jobs.

But in his desperation to pander to Latino voters, Davis announced that he would sign SB60 — without insisting on the safeguards he previously had required.

On a political level, the SB60 strategy is as risky — or as baffling — a gambit as you’ll find in politics. Team Davis is pandering to the fringes and outraging the majority in the hope that fringe turnout can kill the recall.

Then again, since 1994 when 59 percent of California voters approved Proposition 187, which pledged to deny illegal aliens state benefits, California Democrats have danced a dangerous dance. The Dems have argued that voters who distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants are racist. They have denigrated those of us who treasure the spirit and skills that immigrants have contributed to America but nonetheless believe the state should not reward those who break U.S. immigration laws.

In so doing, the Democratic Party has made it very easy for the Latino left to argue there is no difference between legal and illegal immigrants. Team Davis believes some 400,000 fewer Latinos participated in the gubernatorial election in 2002 than in 1998, in part because Mr. Davis vetoed a licenses-for-illegals bill months before the November 2002 election. According to a Los Angeles Times poll, the Latino share of the vote fell from 13 percent to 10 percent.

Ergo, Mr. Davis has had to pander double-time to atone; he didn’t dare demand safeguards in SB60 this time.

The SB60 strategy is risky business on two levels: First, if Mr. Davis can boost Latino participation back up to 13 percent, there’s always the risk Latinos will vote to dump Mr. Davis in order to help elect California’s first modern-day Latino governor, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. (The new Field Poll shows 54 percent of Latinos want to recall Mr. Davis.)

Second, Mr. Davis has betrayed the majority of voters who, by a 2-to-1 margin according to a Los Angeles Times poll, supported his veto of SB60-like bills. That majority includes Latinos. About a quarter of Latinos voted for Proposition 187 in 1994, according to the Times.

Mr. Davis is selling out the majority of voters just as his “town hall” meetings seemed to be turning the tide. Moderate voters seemed to respond to the message: Respect the election, oppose the recall.

But it’s hard to respect the 2002 election when Mr. Davis has signed a bill that says: Forget the law, license illegals.

In an attempt to mollify the public, Team Davis has concocted the specious argument that SB60 will make roads safer because all drivers — as many as 2 million illegal immigrants are driving without licenses on California roads — will have to pass the driving test and learn the rules.

Bunk. SB60 does nothing to raise the penalties for driving without a license — there’s a measly $100-$200 fine for a first offense. Nor does the bill raise the penalties for driving without insurance. Yes, prospective licensees would have to study for the test, but then, some of them could be violent felons — who will end up with licenses that make it possible for them to travel and work in previously unattainable jobs.

That’s safer?

Further, SB60 could promote fraud. When SB60 becomes law, the Department of Motor Vehicles will automatically give voter registration forms to noncitizens.

“The DMV has absolutely no choice in the matter,” explained DMV spokesman Bill Branch. “We are under a mandate from the federal Motor Voter law.”

Before the recall, Mr. Davis rejected bills to grant drivers’ licenses to illegals because the legislation lacked the needed public safeguards. After the recall, well, SB60 became a Davis anti-recall safeguard.

Forget safeguarding the public. In politics, you only hurt the people you disdain.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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