Oregon Republicans seem to have missed a key lesson of the 2012 election, and are embarking on a symbolic campaign that will succeed only in further alienating Latino voters.
When Republicans fared worse than expected at the polls last November here and nationally, some soul-searching rhetoric from within the party suggested the GOP needed to reach out more effectively to Latino voters who rejected their message. A bipartisan immigration reform effort is still working its way through Congress despite vocal opposition from some in the GOP.
A key element of that reform bill would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in this country.
Oregon Republicans, meanwhile, continue to oppose measures designed to allow those immigrants to better contribute to the state's economy. GOP lawmakers opposed two such bills that ultimately passed the Legislature and will become law.
One permits the children of parents who brought them here illegally to pay in-state tuition at public universities as long as they live in Oregon and graduated from high school here. The other will allow undocumented residents to obtain a permit to drive legally in Oregon.
After the driving permit bill passed and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed it, Republican Reps. Sal Esquivel of Medford and Kim Thatcher of Keizer launched a referendum to overturn the law — despite the fact that the state's 14 GOP senators split evenly on the bill on final passage.
If the two, aided by the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform, can gather more than 58,000 signatures from registered voters within 90 days of the Legislature's adjournment, the referendum will appear on the November 2014 ballot. The new law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, would be put on hold until after the vote.
Supporters of the new driving permit law argue it will make the state's roads safer by encouraging undocumented residents to purchase insurance and have their driving skills tested. Opponents say residents who came here illegally should not be rewarded with driving privileges.
Despite the bipartisan support for the bill in the Legislature, the Oregon Republican Party has endorsed the referendum campaign, warning of voter fraud and "subversive terrorist acts," in the words of GOP Chairwoman Suzanne Gallagher — although the driving permits may not be used to vote, board a plane or purchase a firearm.
We're not convinced the driving law will do what its backers say it will, but it's unlikely to do any real damage — except to the image of the state's Republicans among Latino voters.