DALLAS — Politicians, like adolescents, tend to crave instant gratification.
And if the next Idaho Legislature runs an Arizona-style immigration bill, lawmakers might as well call it the Instant Gratification Act of 2011.
The immigration issue allows Idaho lawmakers to flex their states' rights muscles — even if it is a blatant over-extension. The issue plays to constituents' fears and economic angst — even though this legislation is unlikely to save lives or preserve jobs for Idahoans. And it provides a distraction from the session's unpleasant budget decisions, as if the state can afford such a sideshow.
The need to be seen as doing something may outweigh all of the short-term pitfalls, and override any stray worries about long-term fallout.
Since there is life after the Nov. 2 elections — and maybe even the 2011 legislative session — let's consider lasting implications. Idaho's Hispanic population is growing rapidly, from 101,690 in the 2000 Census to 147,680 in a 2008 Census estimate. This trend has changed the face of Idaho's demographics, and will eventually change the face of public policy. It is in the state's long-term economic interest — and the political parties' long-term self-interest — to anticipate and embrace this change, and skip the inflammatory flavor-of-the-month politics.
If Idaho politicians are having a hard time envisioning this changing reality, they can simply turn their focus to Texas. They can ask themselves why, in a state that shares 1,254 miles of border with Mexico, neither of the major-party candidates for governor have embraced Arizona's flawed model, which requires police officers to check immigration status if they suspect they have stopped, detained or arrested an illegal alien.
Sometimes it is good politics to reject bad policy. So it is in Texas, where Hispanics represent a growing political bloc and economic force. In 2000, Hispanics comprised 32 percent of the state's population. By 2008, that figure had increased to 36.9 percent. This is a young population, relative to aging Anglos, and the bulk of the Hispanic community's population growth stems not from immigration, but from the birth rate, says Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor who was the U.S. Census Bureau's director under President George W. Bush.
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