Monday, June 5, 2006

Republican candidate Brian Bilbray, running for the California seat in the House of Representatives vacated by former Rep. Randy “Duke”Cunningham, says this election is about illegal immigration. Democratic candidate Francine Busby claims it is about ethics. In one campaign-jolting moment late last week the Democratic candidate did the unthinkable: She brought both issues together at once.

“You don’t need papers for voting.” Those were the words uttered by Mrs. Busby while speaking late last Thursday night at a lightly publicized meeting to a largely Spanish-speaking group. In the audience and secretly recording her speech was a member of the San Diego Minutemen. If there is one sentence that can determine the outcome of an election, this may be the one.

Then, this past weekend, in dramatic fashion Busby campaignspokesperson Brennan Bilberry, San Diego Minutemen Founder Jeff Schwilk and even Rep. David Dreier each called into my talk-radio show and attempted to explain their interpretation of what happened.

“Francine simply misspoke,”saidBusby spokesperson Brennan Bilberry. “What she meant to say was ‘you don’t need to be a registered voter in order to help the campaign.’ In fact it’s on the tape as well.” Mr. Bilberry is correct, those words are also on the tape. During the meeting a man in the audience said the following in Spanish: “I want to help, but I don’t have papers.”

It was translated and Mrs. Busby replied: “Everybody can help, yeah, absolutely, you can all help. You don’t need papers for voting. You don’t need to be a registered voter to help.”

Mrs. Busby’s spokesperson claims she was speaking to an audience of mostly under-age-18 youth soccer players, and because of that, she was merely pointing out that they do not need to be a registered voter in order to help her campaign.

“I don’t buy it,” says San Diego Minutemen Founder Jeff Schwilk. “Why would a candidate in in a tightly contested race, less than one week before election day, spend her valuable time speaking to a group of underage voters? It doesn’t add up.”

Mr. Schwilk is right. It doesn’t add up. Republican candidate Brian Bilbray, like Mr. Dreier, says we should give her the benefit of the doubt. “At worst, Busby was encouraging someone to vote illegally,” Mr. Bilbray says. “But if we give her the benefit of the doubt and call it an honest mistake, which we should, then at best, she was encouraging someone who is illegally in the country to work on her campaign. Which is itself illegal.”

As big as this potentially is, there may be an even bigger story at play here. In a confidential e-mail I obtained from sources within the San Diego Minutemen, a local pro-amnesty, pro-open-border activist sent an e-mail message inviting friends to attend the Busby meeting, in which he wrote:

“Mrs. Busby has met with a group of us assuring us that she’ll be close to our communities in every possible way. You and your organization are invited to be here with us in this moment that could be history for the 50th district and a model to follow for the rest of the nation. All the media members (Spanish) let me know if you’re attending to make accomodations for your members.”

For many on the right, this smacks of a political backroom deal. It also raises many important questions, such as, how is she expected to be close to the community “in every possible way?” What actually is the model that is being followed? How is the model to be applied nationally?

The voters in California’s 50th District are about to elect someone in a race that has significant national ramifications — not only over which party may ultimately take control of the House of Representatives, but apparently now, over ethics and immigration as well.

Rick Amato is a radio talk-show host and political commentator.

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