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Orange County GOP Reassessing Immigration Reform After Election

Brianna Sacks |
November 26, 2012 | 3:45 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Republican Party (Creative Commons)
Republican Party (Creative Commons)
The Orange County GOP is working at immigration reform after this year's election.

A mixture of a decreased percentage of Republican voters and Latino-dominated communities has lessened the GOP stronghold in Orange County. Republicans now account for 42 percent of registered voters, compared to 52 percent in 1996.

And for a second time, Irvine-a historically Republican-dominated city, voted for Barack Obama, even after electing a Republican mayor and a Republican dominated council.

After assessing its loses, the O.C. GOP is dissecting data and statistics from this recent election to see how it can gain ground in Latino communities, redefine its immigration platform, and revive the party's waning support in a key Republican area of Southern California that is quickly becoming one of the highest Latino populated areas in the country.

Orange County ranks 6 out of 10 in U.S. Hispanic population and Santa Ana, the designated County seat and second largest city in the County, is almost 80 percent Hispanic. The Latino vote is single handedly shifting Orange County out of its Republican roots, and party leaders are trying to figure out how redefining their stance on immigration could slow this trend.

According to Republican national committeewoman for California Linda Ackerman, it has a lot to do with miscommunication.

"I think it's a misunderstanding of the party itself. We need more of a unified voice; we need to better communicate our values and what we stand for," said Ackerman.

Ackerman said that the GOP has been seriously discussing immigration reform and what changes could help bridge the gap between Latinos and the Republican Party, particularly in Southern California.

Other county Republican groups are working on a compromise for the party in terms of immigration reform. The Lincoln Club of Orange County has proposed a three-point, common sense policy statement on immigration reform that will solve the issue of illegal residents and hopefully establish a better relationship between the GOP and its burgeoning Latino communities.

Teresa Hernandez, however, thinks the problem runs deeper than miscommunication. Hernandez has been running the immigration reform subcommittee for the Lincoln Club for the past three years, and said she has been pushing this immigration reform policy for years and Republican leaders like Ackerman have not listened, untl this election.

"We have been screaming for this for the past three years and many other Republican Party officials have been pushing this aside," she said. "They did not see this as important, but the day after the election my inbox is exploding and they are scrambling to get something done."

Her program works with individuals in Mexico, as well as illegal California residents, who wish to obtain a work permit.

"It will streamline the process and make it easier," she said. "We will set up process centers for people who are already here. They will pay a fine, get a background check, prove they have a job, and then be given a permit to work. It has nothing to do with citizenship, it's for people who want to come here and work legally."

Hernandez believes that state, and Orange County, Republicans were scared of pushing an immigration reform policy like the Lincon Club's because it may have been viewed as amnesty, but recent election results changed that.

"I am very upset with the Republican Party," Hernandez added. "They have turned a blind eye to a 60-year-old antiquated immigration system and we could have possibly gotten enough votes in California to win if this [immigration reform policy] had been looked passed."

A more moderate take on immigration may save Orange County from becoming a more liberal area, according to Hernandez.

Because of Orange County's location, and its expanding Latino communities, the GOP needs to moderate its stance on immigration to have a chance at keeping the county from swinging left over the next few election cycles, she added. 

"The whole party does not want, or have, to move into a moderate area," said Hernandez. "But we need to on immigration and that will allow the rest of the party's beliefs to stay as they are."

If Latinos agree with the Republican platform on immigration, Hernandez and other Republican leaders in the area believe these voters will align themselves with the party. And Hernandez affirmed that the Latino communities she has been in contact with support her three-point policy.

However, the effort to garner a stronger Latino presence has proved almost impossible for the GOP because of the county's reputation "as a cradle of border-crackdown activism," such as Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative intended to cut public services for illegal immigrants, according to the L.A. Times.

But officials believe that Latinos should be drawn to the GOP over the Democratic Party based on the party's emphasis on faith, family, education, and hard work. But the issue of immigration has warded off a vast majority of these voters and has shifted once-red counties, like Orange County, into a more moderate zone.

Ackerman says that this transition is occurring all along the California coastline, pushing the state too far left.

"There is a more moderate influence along coastal communities, and it's changing California as a state...it's a problem here."

As to Orange County's so-called shift into the "pink zone," Ackerman says "its more of a bright shade of rose" that can be altered with registering voters, and reaching out to the area's immigrants and explaining what the GOP really stands for.

"It's game on again in terms of a competition of ideas and values," O.C. GOP chairman Scott Baugh told the L.A. Times. "You could wipe out a decade of declining registration by demonstrating to the Latino community that the values they have are the values we have."

Immigration may be a hot topic for Latino voters, and Ackerman says that the County's GOP is working hard to handle this issue, but Orange County is not just comprised of Latino immigrants who go blue over red in election season.

"We have a large Indian, Asian and Muslim communities," said Ackerman. "And I can't say why they would go for Obama, but often times, new immigrants like government and sometimes the rhetoric from the Republican side makes it seem like we don't."

Ackerman believes that if her party can successfully explain its values to Orange County's immigrant populations, they will "see the benefit of working for themselves versus relying on the government, and they will do a lot better."

Hernandez said she will try and get her immigration reform policy passed at the upcoming February Republican Party National Convention, to be hosted in Orange County.

Overall, the O.C. GOP seems to be moving in the right direction, according to Hernandez. Rockey Chavez was elected to state Assembly, Cecilia Iglesias, a Mexico native, was elected to the Santa Ana Unified School District's Board of Education, and four out of the twenty-one Latino Republicans elected to local office statewide are from Orange County. 

Hernandez said she believes that Orange County Republicans will continue to transform, as long as party leaders are open to it.

"I've been pushing for a long time with the state party to adopt this plan so we can stop talking about immigration and start talking about other things that resonate with the Hispanic community here, like jobs," said Hernandez.

Reach Staff Reporter Brianna Sacks here.



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