In yesterday's preview of an immigration summit organized by the Republican Study Committee, Senator Kevin Lundberg, the committee's chairman, insisted that he was more interested in finding solutions to a big problem than playing partisan games.
But Representative Sal Pace, leader of the Democratic minority in the Colorado House, isn't buying that. He sees the session as publicity-seeking that's unlikely to lead to positive legislation.
The House Democrats' press release about the get-together characterized those who took part in the session, including Senator-elect Kent Lambert, who says he's planning to introduce an Arizona-style immigration measure, as extremists. Pace, who's based in Pueblo, doesn't back away from that descriptor -- and he suggests that the committee's agenda was more about political gain than coming up with workable immigration laws.
"I think if you looked in that room, you only had Republican representatives and senators from safe Republican districts, all of them probably working on their next primary election or their next run for Congress in the fifth or sixth CDs," he says. "It probably did them some good -- but it didn't do any good for the State of Colorado. If people like Senator Lambert actually wanted to accomplish anything, he could work in a bipartisan fashion and try to work on compromise and consensus to reach a Colorado fix, not an Arizona fix. But sadly, I don't think that's his goal."
Is it Pace's?
"Americans are clamoring for immigration reform, but it needs to be comprehensive," he maintains. "We need to remember that we're a nation of immigrants, but also a nation of laws -- and we need to come up with a national fix. But Coloradans also expect us to do something about this in Colorado. So, as much as we can, we need to come up with comprehensive immigration reform that's not only punitive -- which is all the Republicans care about -- but is also considerate of people who want to follow the law, want to pay taxes, want to be productive members of society."
Speaking with Westword yesterday, Lundberg argued that Colorado's current immigration laws have no teeth. Pace disagrees.
"In 2006, Colorado passed some of the toughest immigration laws in the nation," he says. "There's a lot of teeth on the books. So the reason these guys are pushing this issue now is for personal and political gain. They're politicizing immigration for personal reasons."
He also believes that some of the facts and figures put forward at yesterday's meeting are suspect, including the assertion by Federation for American Immigration Reform director Jack Martin that immigration costs Colorado $1.5 billion every year.
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"Lawmakers should be given accurate information," Pace allows. "And when you have some snake-oil salesman telling them immigration costs us $1.5 billion a year, it's a disservice to the state, because those legislators are going to be making laws based on faulty information."
Do such tactics make him fear that nothing will get accomplished in the next legislative term, especially since Republicans and Democrats are so evenly divided in the House and a Democrat, John Hickenlooper, will be ensconced in the governor's mansion?
"We're not going to face gridlock," Pace promises. "We'll take on probably several hundred bills. But what's disappointing is, we have serious economic problems in this state. Democrats want to work across the aisle with Republicans to fix some of those economic woes, but instead, Republicans are focused on divisive social and political questions again. And that's got to make you question whether or not they're actually interested in doing any work to fix the State of Colorado."
More from our Immigration archive: "Tom Tancredo not part of Republican Study Committee immigration summit at the Capitol?"