Dream on: Little chance of bill to end in-state tuition reaching Abbott’s desk

Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, and Tim Moore pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church

Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, and Tim Moore pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church

Good morning Austin:

Tim Moore, the white, 62-year-old senior pastor of Austin’s Walk Worthy Baptist Church, stood on the south steps of the Capitol as part of a press conference and rally sponsored by the Coalition to Save In-State Tuition yesterday, and proclaimed his support for maintaining in-state tuition rates at Texas colleges and universities for unauthorized immigrants who meet certain residency and other requirements.

As a pastor, I don’t think there’s any person of faith – and I think most of the people in this building profess to be people of faith – and as a faith advocate in this state I am here to tell you that I am conservative, I am a Republican, I am a little “t” tea party member, I come from a conservative point of view, but I will understand the need  of good people of conscience and people of  faith to willingly make a sacrifice for the good of their neighbor. The Bible says in Leviticus … the Lord is talking to just his people, and he said, “Remember that you were in bondage in Egypt, in Babylon, but you are to treat those immigrants, aliens, sojourners among you, the immigrants among you, as though they were native born.”

The Dreamers – as those who have benefited from the in-state tuition provision have come to be known – are deserving of that treatment, Moore said, and Texas, its economy and it everlasting soul, are the greatest beneficiaries.

Said Moore:

It’s hard to stand here and say that everything conservatives do is something I support. I’m more inclined to  tell you that my brand of conservatism, if I’m still that, is more in line with the conservatism of 2001 than the conservatism of 2015, and I’ve always believed that the strength of conservatism in this state is that good people who may come to different conclusions have the ability to know the value of those things that need to be conserved. In-state tuition is worthy of being conserved.

With their compelling personal stories, the Dreamers have proved their own best advocates in the campaign to maintain in-state tuition. But folks like Moore and Bill Hammond – the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, who also participated in yesterday’s midday press conference – play a critical role as bulwarks and symbols of what was once a practical conservative consensus behind a policy that has, of late, fallen victim to rising tea party passions on the issue of immigration.

 

Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, and Tim Moore, pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church

Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, and Tim Moore pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church

“This is a sound policy,” Hammond said. “It would be a cruel tragedy if this were to be repealed.”

He said that he thought that the Dreamers were bearing the brunt of frustration with the failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, to bring form and order to national immigration policy.

“It’s red meat, it’s just red meat,” Moore said afterward. “It’s, `You leave, you’re not one of us.'”

“It denies this time of history and it denies the minority majority that’s coming,” he said.

“Conservatism is being redefined,” Moore said afterward. “I want to be principled.”

On the practical politics of it, said said, “We believe we’re one vote short of killing this thing in the Senate. We’ve got all the Democrats. We need two Republicans.”

The one they have on the record is Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who has said that repealing the law would be “punishing the wrong people.”

“We need two, we’ve got one,” Moore said. Of the prospect of finding that second Senate Republican, he said, “Let me just tell you the sun is bright, it’s looking good, we’ve got no storm clouds. We believe there is a (second) reasonable Republican that doesn’t like the taste of this.”

“But the lieutenant governor pledged and ran on this and has got that closed-door, arm-twisting ability,” Moore said.

The 2001 law was passed nearly unanimously by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

But the public has in recent years grown deeply divided over the provision.

Here from Ross Ramsey on how it fared in the most recent, February 2015, University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

In-state tuition for undocumented immigrants continues to split Texas voters on decidedly partisan lines, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Under current state law, undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities if they have lived in the state for three years, graduated from Texas high schools, applied for U.S. citizenship and have the grades and scores to win admission to those schools.

Overall, it looks like the electorate is deadlocked on that policy, with 42 percent saying those students should continue to pay lower in-state tuition and 43 percent saying they should pay higher out-of-state rates.

The partisan differences, however, are striking: 67 percent of Democrats think the students should pay in-state rates; 75 percent of Tea Party Republicans think they should pay out-of-state rates; and non-Tea Party Republicans fall in between, with 51 percent saying the students should pay out-of-state rates and 35 percent saying in-state tuition should apply.

Moore pointed to a recent survey by LifeWay Research in Nashville that, while it didn’t ask about the in-state tuition question, showed growing evangelical support for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, a term which has been a trip-wire for conservative concerns.

From LifeWay:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.– When it comes to immigration reform, American evangelicals want it all.

Nine out of 10 (86 percent) want more border security. Six in 10 (61 percent) support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. More than two-thirds (68 percent) favor both. And they want Congress to take action soon.

Those are among the results of a new survey of evangelicals from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief, found widespread support for immigration reform.

“Evangelicals are united in their desire for significant immigration reform,” says Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.

A number of high profile evangelical groups have promoted immigration reform in recent years, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Many evangelical pastors also support reform.

A November 2014 LifeWay Research study found many pastors want a mix of justice and mercy when it comes to immigration. More than half (54 percent) support a path to citizenship. Most (91 percent) evangelical pastors also say the government should stop illegal immigration.

In the February 2015 study, researchers found similar views among all evangelicals.

Nine out of 10 (88 percent) say reform should respect the rule of law and secure the national borders (86 percent).

They also want to protect the unity of immigrant families (72 percent) and to respect people’s God-given dignity (82 percent).

More than two-thirds (68 percent) of evangelicals say it is important for Congress to take action on immigration reform this year. And half (50 percent) are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports border security and citizenship.

“Evangelicals care about immigrants and want immigration reform,” says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “We pray for Congress to stop waiting and start legislating.”

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Perry, meanwhile, appears to be backing off his strong past support for the measure as he prepares for another run for president. While his last bid for president is best remembered for the “Oops” moment at a Republican debate that is generally thought to have sounded the death knell for that campaign, it can be argued that he was done for from the moment, at an earlier debate, that he defended the in-state tuition policy, suggesting that those who would deny those young people that opportunity “did not have a heart.”

From a recent story from the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Gov. Rick Perry, whose support for Texas’ in-state tuition law has drawn conservative criticism and complicated his failed 2012 presidential campaign, offered a less than forceful defense of the measure Tuesday, largely deferring to state lawmakers who are considering a repeal. 

“I’m not the governor anymore,” Perry told reporters before a business roundtable at the Central Electric Power Cooperative. The Legislature, he added, “will make a call on whether this is right for Texas or not, but here’s what I’m not going to change on, here’s what I’m not going to back up from, and that is to continue to call for the federal government to do its constitutional duty and secure that border.”

Perry’s remarks came hours after a Texas Senate subcommittee advanced a bill to undo the law, which offers in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who wish to attend public colleges and universities in the state. Perry has provided varying defenses of the statute since it emerged as an issue in his unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2012, more recently suggesting the reasons legislators backed it in 2001 still resonate today.

“We were hoping to look to Rick Perry as our voice of reason. He signed in-state tuition into law and when it was being debated (in the 2012 presidential campaign) he stood firmly behind it,” Ramiro Luna, the director of community affairs for the Keep HB 1403 campaign, said after yesterday’s rally.

“Right now is the time we need him to stand firmly behind it,” said Luna, 30, who came to the U.S. when he was seven and benefited from the law by being able to afford to attend the University of North Texas at Dallas. “The fact that he’s been mute is disappointing to us.”

When he ran for governor, Greg Abbott’s campaign did not seek to make the policy an issue, but, when pressed, said  in-state tuition was a “flawed” policy that could stand to be improved, and that he would sign repeal legislation if it reached his desk as governor.

“We’re going to fight to make sure it doesn’t get to his desk,” Luna said. “I’m afraid of the governor if it gets to him. We want to keep it away from him.”

Meanwhile, he said, in the House, Speaker Joe Straus is a “great ally.”

“Right now the Republican Party is a little bit torn,” Luna said. “They don’t want to pass this legislation but some of them feel they have to pass it to appease the extreme right. So there is  this conflict. If we are able to create this gap between the moderate Republicans and the extremists   – this is not legislation  that you want to give that much attention to – we can deal it a slow death, that’s what we’re hoping for.”

I talked to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones yesterday, and he said that’s the likeliest outcome.

“Anybody who’s thinking about the future of the Texas Republican Party or winning swing seats or swing counties in 2016 doesn’t want to see this on the governor’s desk. There’s really no positive outcome. It’s all negative and there’s virtually no positive,” Jones said.

The idea of reforming the program, as suggested by Abbott during the campaign, would not satisfy anyone on either side of the issue, he said.

“There’s really no advantage to a narrowly tailored revision of the in-state tuition law that requires people to do everything possible to apply for citizenship and then follows up, because the reality is everyone is doing that anyway,” Jone said. “I think you would be hard pressed to find anything but a handful of the beneficiaries of in-state tuition legislation who don’t want to become  American citizens.”

“All it can do is open up a Pandora’s Box once it gets to the floor  and needlessly antagonize Hispanics without providing what the Republican base really wants, which is the repeal of in-state tuition, not some cosmetic modification.”

Ultimately, Jones said, it is in Abbott’s best interest to see the bill never reaches his desk.

“I think if you’re Greg Abbott you don’t want to be forced to make that decision. That’s a decision that Abbott’s people have to keep him from having to make. From Abbott’s perspective it would be very damaging to have an in-state tuition repeal on his desk and be forced to either sign it or veto it.”

Jones said he didn’t know about Moore’s prediction that defenders of the law would be able to pick up a second Senate vote. (The most likely second Republican, he said,  would be Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo.)

“The reality is there may be votes in the Senate to block it, or maybe not, but I don’t see any way in-state tuition legislation gets out of the House. That’s  legislation that divides the Straus coalition at its core. Actually, it doesn’t even really divide it. The Democrats are 100 percent against it and most centrist and pragmatic  Republicans are against it. So really it’s a piece of legislation  that already has a majority of Texas House members opposing it.”

“The problem in the House, from Straus’s perspective, is that it’s an issue that will galvanize the conservative base and really pit the various wings  of the Republican party against themselves. That’s a losing issue for Joe Straus if it comes to the floor because it needlessly puts Straus-aligned Republicans either at odds with the speaker or at odds with the Republican primary base.”

The answer, Jones said: “Run the clock out.”

But, Jones said, Straus and Abbott would undoubtedly “prefer that it never come out of the Senate.”

“If they still had the two-thirds rule they could blame the Democrats,” he said. “Alas, it no longer exists  and either the in-state tuition bill is going to pass the Senate or two Republicans are going to have to step out in front of it.”

After yesterday’s rally, I walked around to the north side of the Capitol where there was a rally by advocates for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender rights against nearly two dozen bills that have been filed that they say would jeopardize those rights, including constitutional amendments that, they say, would, in the name of expanding religious freedom, provide a license for discrimination.

“We will not allow these bills to pass,” Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, told the rally, to a shouted “Amen.”

As in the cases of the Dreamers, González told the activists who were going to spend the day visiting legislators’ offices, “personal stories are important to the political process. When we humanize policy, we create good policy.”

“We have to put ourselves at the foreground. We have to use our stories to makes sure these bills don’t get through,” she said. “Thank you for being here and thank you for being brave. If you need anything or anyone’s mean to you, you can come to my office.”

There was a synchronicity between the two rallies – and the two causes – yesterday.

In addition to the personal stories, in both cases the argument is being made by Hammond, and others, that there would be an economic cost to Texas for either repealing in-state tuition or enacting the new constitutional amendment.

And, Jones said, the precedent set by the extraordinary backlash against Indiana enacting similar legislation, has killed any small chance those “religious freedom” measures might have had in Texas.

“I think the Indiana experience is effectively going to cause Republicans throughout the country to the  shelve similar legislation. The learning experience of everything that (Indiana Gov.) Mike Pence and Indiana Republicans have gone through – the local, national and international backlash they’ve seen – is sufficiently strong that I don’t think you’re going to see too many Republican legislatures throughout the country passing similar legislation, in part because I think the LGBT movement has effectively framed that legislation as discriminatory. The  actual content of the legislation doesn’t really matter any more. It could be identical to legislation passed five years ago or ten years ago, but symbolically, it’s seen by a large number  of political actors and corporations and the media as being discriminatory. They’ve effectively won the battle.”

Like repealing in-state tuition, enacting the “religious freedom” amendment was an issue important to the Republican primary base and one that Patrick campaigned on.

But, Jones said, “in the post-Indiana frame, the context now is very different than the context even as close back as early March.”

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers to place it on the ballot.

“There’s no way on earth it’s going to get a two-thirds vote of the House,” Jones said. “It was probably dead in the water from the very first day of the session, but any lingering hope by the legislation’s supporters, those were eliminated after the blow up in Indiana.”

 

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