- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

DENVER — A third Western state is moving forward with a ballot measure to deny state services to illegal immigrants, an effort that could spell trouble for the White House by galvanizing opposition to President Bush’s guest-worker proposal.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, began the latest campaign last week by announcing that he had filed papers for a Colorado constitutional amendment that would restrict all but non-emergency services to U.S. residents and legal aliens.

His proposal follows similar efforts in Arizona and California, where organizers are circulating petitions for citizen initiatives that would ban state welfare and other services for illegal aliens. If they gather enough signatures, all three measures would appear on their state ballots in November.

“The only way you’re ever going to get a handle on this is to restrict social services so that they [illegal immigrants] will leave,” said Mr. Tancredo, a prominent opponent of Mr. Bush’s guest-worker plan.

Proponents say the measures could spell trouble for the president’s re-election campaign by energizing voters, particularly Republicans, against his guest-worker plan. All three measures are either led by Republicans or have the support of some state and local Republican leaders, despite the opposition of top Republican elected officials.

President Bush’s plan would grant guest-worker status to those who have jobs waiting for them in the United States. Foes of the White House proposal argue that it would encourage illegal immigration by making the estimated 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens eligible for what amounts to amnesty.

“If amnesty goes through, Bush will lose the White House,” said Ron Prince, the author of Save Our State, the California initiative. “He’s not going to pick up any votes on the other side, and Republicans won’t vote. And that’s the message Republican elitists need to understand: They say, ‘Where will Republican voters go?’ and I say, ‘I don’t have to go anywhere. I can stay home.’”

Arizona organizers echoed that sentiment. “Bush barely won Arizona in 2000, and the polls show that people are less likely to vote for him after they hear about his amnesty program,” said Kathy McKee, director of the Arizona initiative, known as Protect Arizona Now.

The issue reached a boiling point Saturday when delegates to the Arizona Republican Party’s annual convention defied the state’s leadership by voting 317-109 to support Protect Arizona Now, which is gathering signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Two weeks earlier, the Maricopa County Republican Party voted to endorse the initiative. Polls show as much as 85 percent of Arizona Republicans support the measure, which also would require proof of citizenship and identification before voting, despite the solid opposition of the state’s party leadership and congressional delegation.

“A lot of these people are strong supporters of President Bush, but the message has to be sent: We are tired of pandering to President [Vicente] Fox [of Mexico]. Let’s take care of our own citizens before we start worrying about people who are here illegally,” said Arizona state Rep. Russell Pearce.

Supporters of the Bush proposal insist that it doesn’t include amnesty and that the issue won’t stop Republicans from rallying behind the president on Election Day.

“The president is proposing policies to address the challenges facing our nation, and people will support his strong and principled leadership in November,” said Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

In California, the battle lines are drawn for a repeat of Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative that banned state and federal services for illegal immigrants. The measure passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote, but later was struck down by a federal judge.

This time, Mr. Prince, who also headed the Proposition 187 campaign, has removed any mention of federal services, including public education, in an effort to pass judicial muster. Save Our State would prohibit nonresidents from receiving state welfare benefits and drivers’ licenses, and would prevent public agencies from accepting foreign identification cards, such as the matricular cards issued by foreign consulates.

As in Arizona, the measure faces a virtually united front of opposition from Republican elected officials. One exception is Howard Kaloogian, the former California state assemblyman who has made his support for Save Our State the centerpiece of his campaign for the 2004 Republican Senate nomination.

“While President Bush has been a great leader on issues such as taxes, national defense and the fight against terrorism, this proposal granting amnesty on the installment plan for illegal immigrants is the wrong answer to deal with our illegal immigration problem,” said Mr. Kaloogian, who would face Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer if he wins the nomination.

In Colorado, the Tancredo proposal still must jump through several hoops, including an elections board hearing, before signature gathering can begin. Speculation had it that White House political adviser Karl Rove might try to find a primary challenger for Mr. Tancredo, although the congressman said he hasn’t seen any evidence of that.

“I’ve heard the rumors. I don’t know if they’re true,” Mr. Tancredo said. “I think he [Mr. Rove] would be happy to have it happen, but he doesn’t want to get too involved. If someone said, ‘Hey, I’m going after that Tancredo,’ I think he’d give it a wink and a nod. But he doesn’t want to have his fingerprints on it.”

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