Utah Republican AG Derides ‘Help’ From Nativist Organization

It’s long been something of a mystery how conservative Republicans can expect to keep winning elections when so many of them spend their time dissing Latinos, a critical and rapidly growing portion of the electorate. Indeed, many Latino rights organizations argue persuasively that it was Latino voters who took Barack Obama over the top in the 2008 presidential election.

But that hasn’t stopped large numbers of conservative leaders, perhaps even the majority, from embracing anti-Latino rhetoric, activists and organizations. A case in point is how many of these politicians have gotten into bed with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). IRLI, its chief legal counsel Michael Hethmon and another lawyer, Kris Kobach, have been behind the vast majority of recent, draconian anti-immigrant laws, including those in Arizona and, worst of all, Alabama.

Yesterday, one Republican seemed to break with the pack.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, even as he defended his state’s somewhat less harsh law in court, derisively dismissed a friend-of-the-court brief filed by IRLI. Shurtleff said the 34-page brief could actually be “harmful” to the state’s defense, and he told the paper that he called IRLI and left a “terse” message for Hethmon. “The attorneys I assigned to handle the case are highly qualified experts,” he said. “We do not need the support of IRLI.”

No kidding. There’s a reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed FAIR as a hate group. In fact, there are quite a lot of reasons.

FAIR’s president, Dan Stein, has said that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 — which overturned a racist 1924 act that President Lyndon Johnson correctly described as “un-American in the highest sense” — was a form of “revengism” by those who wanted to “retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance.” He has warned that immigrants are engaged in “competitive breeding.” He led the group’s efforts to land $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a hate group started by Nazi sympathizers in 1937 to study race and intelligence. FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has said that if the borders aren’t closed, the United States will be overrun by people “defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs.” He’s warned of a “Latin onslaught” and complained of Latinos’ “low educability.” He has said America needs “a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” He has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, hard-line white nationalists and even a Ku Klux Klan lawyer.

And that’s only the beginning.

IRLI, for its part, has left a swath of misery everywhere it goes. In the wake of passing IRLI-drafted laws and local ordinances, communities have been torn apart racially and economically, lost round after round in court, and spent fortunes in legal fees — one town even had to raise taxes to defend its IRLI-backed ordinance.

Mark Shurtleff seemed to see the threat to his party early on. Last October, he told a Salt Lake City immigration summit that it was too late for the GOP. “The party has lost those [Latino] voters,” he said. “They’re aren’t in danger [of losing them] – we’ve lost them.”

But Shurtleff’s latest implied criticism of xenophobes and nativists yesterday kicked up a small storm. Hethmon told the Salt Lake paper that Shurtleff’s defense of Utah’s law was “weak.” Hethmon added: “We suspect Mr. Shurtleff would personally be glad to see the law nullified and that he views any public debate on this point as a threat to his image as a political kingmaker in state politics.”

The contentious Mark Hethmon might not like Shurtleff’s attitude and be willing to attack him publicly for rejecting IRLI’s “help.” But Shurtleff is not alone in his party, and those who agree with him are not all “treason lobby” liberals.

ThinkProgress, a blog published by a liberal-leaning think tank, yesterday asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — hardly a liberal — about the nativist politics now seen so frequently in the GOP. Stating the obvious, Bush said that “Hispanic voters hear these debates and see the ramifications of the Alabama law and other things like that and get turned off.” Later, he added that “from a practical point of view, putting aside policy, it makes no sense to me that we are sending these signals.’

But perhaps IRLI and FAIR aren’t trying to make sense. Perhaps, as all the evidence seems to suggest, they are driven by simple xenophobia and nothing more.