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Immigration could test Bryant allegiances to GOP, Tea Party

Gov. Phil Bryant and other Republican leaders in Mississippi state government may soon find themselves pressured by national GOP leaders to be kinder and gentler on immigration.

In the end, the first-term Republican governor could find himself pulled one way by a national party that wants to soften its image as anti-immigrant to regain at least some of the Hispanic vote and the other way by Tea Party supporters who want a “papers please” law like Arizona’s.

Bryant led a failed campaign last year to enact a stringent immigration law that would have authorized law enforcement to demand legal residency documents of motorists. His measure also would have prevented the renting of residences and providing of utilities services to undocumented immigrants. School administrators would also have been obligated to report students whose parents could not provide proof of legal residency.

Bryant supported a failed effort to enact a similar law the year before.

The coming year could be different, although Bryant has not indicated any retreat in his insistence on tough immigration enforcement.

In Washington, congressional Republicans are also under pressure to compromise with President Obama on a bill that the New York Times says provides illegal immigrants, or at least those who arrived in the United States as children, with a path to legal status. Senate leaders in both parties said on Sunday that they were renewing negotiations to seek a deal.

Washington is only half the battle, however.

Governors such as Bryant will have to be persuaded that the GOP can’t truly have a big tent until it becomes more welcoming to immigrants.

Latinos will never vote Republican, “if they think your political party just doesn’t want you as a neighbor,” said Joshua S. Treviño, a speechwriter in George W. Bush’s administration who now works for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, in a NY Times interview Sunday.

Some of the pressure on Bryant and other Tea Party supported governors could come from rising GOP leaders such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. “Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to” Hispanics, Rubio said in a Times interview after a GOP presidential election defeat last week that included losses of heavily Hispanic states such as Florida, Colorado and Nevada.

Rubio insisted the party can stand firm on conservative principles while finding a “proactive response” on issues like immigration and gay rights.

“We can’t simply be the party of no,” he said in the Times interview.

The Tea Party is not ready to say yes, however. Many of its members, including House incumbents from safe districts and deep-pocketed financiers, hold outsize influence in the GOP, the Times reports.

Bryant and other conservative governors are likely to hear that compromise would amount to a moral violation, says former Republican presidential candidate and current Fox News host Mike Huckabee.

The former Arkansas governor told the Times that many conservatives don’t see their positions on immigration as political. “They’re deeply held moral positions by the people who hold them,” he says.

But how long Mississippi’s governor and legislative leaders will continue to hold their positions in the face of national Republican Party pressure isn’t clear.





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One comment

  1. I may not agree with Bryant’s politics, but I think the article misses a key point when assessing the political position Bryant must balance between the national position and the state position when it comes to Republican politics.

    1) Mississippi is not now, nor has ever been in modern U.S. politics, a battleground political state. It leans conservative and votes conservative, regardless of what the Hispanic vote does in Mississippi.

    2) Bryant really has no need to pander to Tea Party types since the state is already Republican until one looks at what has actually become the real political in-party conservative fight political that is taking shape in Mississippi that Bryant will end up being be most concerned about: the Tea Party and social conservatives (the side Bryant has been pandering toward) versus the fiscal conservatives and limited government types (the side represented by Lt. Governor Tate Reeves). Over the next 3 years, Bryant will not be worried about national politics but instead worried about an impending in-state party battle with what may be his potential challenger for the mansion in Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and his current political adversary in the Senate.

    To which side Bryant chooses to balance himself within the Republican Party in Mississippi is much more the story than which side he chooses nationally (likely a non-story).

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