Forget the hype, threats and rumors about a deal brewing in Sacramento, California's capital. The state is not going to enact a bill to allow illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses this year or any time soon.
It's bad politics, as the history of similar bills should make clear. In his first term, bygone Gov. Gray Davis vetoed measures that would have allowed illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses, and he lost a considerable chunk of the Latino vote when he ran for re-election. But when Davis finally signed such a bill, SB60, he lost his job.
California legislators then promptly repealed SB60, in order, they said, to thwart a voter initiative that would have allowed voters to recall the measure -- and maybe, someday, them.
SB60 author Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, proclaimed that the Legislature's about-face was a good thing because the new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had agreed to work with him on a bill this year that would be more acceptable to voters.
Did Cedillo actually believe that? At the time, I figured that Cedillo and his supporters were running away from the bill in order to save their own sorry political skins -- and that they had to know Schwarzenegger, no fool, would not sign on to such an unpopular measure. I thought they were just pretending to believe there was a deal to save face.
Wrong, says Garry South, Davis' one-time political guru: Cedillo genuinely believed that the governator and he had a deal on a new bill -- even if Schwarzenegger limited his public commitment to a pledge to consider a new bill. South says that Cedillo was "sucker-punched."
And to South, there would be "poetic justice" if Cedillo's new bill (SB1160) "never gets Gov. Schwarzenegger's signature, given the way (supporters) handled this in 2003."
Make that "mishandled." SB60 was the worst possible illegal-immigrant driver's license bill. It would have allowed illegal immigrants to get licenses without a criminal-record check in their home country. Early versions of the measure had included security safeguards, background checks among them. But when Cedillo and company saw that a desperate Davis would sign virtually any bill handed to him, they handed him the worst. Voters were doubly outraged at what they perceived as a bad idea made worse in its final form. The rest, like Davis, is history.