If it signified anything, Steve Poizner's failed gubernatorial campaign may yet become a significant landmark: the effective end of blatant anti-immigrant wedge politics in California.
It has been 16 years since voters passed Proposition 187, which sought to deny all public services, including schooling, to illegal immigrants. Although a federal judge quickly threw out the measure, a lot of the force behind it seemed to linger. One should never say it will never happen here again, but Poizner's campaign didn't find much force left to harness.
The California of 2010 is dramatically different from the California of the early 1990s. We are a majority- minority state where, within a few years, Latinos will outnumber non-Hispanic whites.
Whites still constitute more than 60 percent of the electorate — it's that gap between voters and population that's influencing so much of our politics. But the percentage of Latino voters has roughly doubled in the past decade and a half, from 9 to 18 percent, and will continue to grow in the years ahead. By now it's a truism that the party that doesn't welcome that constituency consigns itself to irrelevance.
The only mystery is that Poizner seemed not to understand that the clock couldn't be turned back that far. In March, when the Public Policy Institute of California last asked the question, just 3 percent of Californians rated immigration as their top concern.
So it seemed especially bizarre last week when Poizner proudly announced the endorsement of Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County who, in his loud pursuit of illegal aliens, became the embodiment of Arizona's anti-immigrant backlash long before his state had passed the detain-on-suspicion law that's lately made it more famous than the Grand Canyon.
When Arizona passed its law, one of several aimed at driving illegal — and sometimes legal — aliens out of the state, some asked whether the fever would spread to recession-plagued California. But California has already been Arizona.
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