Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

A few weeks back I criticized a Joe Battenfeld column in which he argued that the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants would be “a gift” to Charlie Baker. In that post I implied that it may actually be more useful to the Democratic candidate(s) for governor. Thanks to some insightful analysis by Professor Cunningham, I’m having second thoughts about that.

Basically, Battenfeld argued that vocal opposition to driver’s licenses for “illegals” would help Baker rally social conservatives. I argued that rallying social conservatives on this issue would create blowback and make it easier for Democrats to tie Baker to the harsh anti-immigrant posture of Republicans on Capitol Hill. While this may well be true, in speculating that the Democratic nominee could take up the cause of undocumented immigrants and use it affirmatively against Baker I failed to consider the impact of such a move on Democratic legislators on Beacon Hill, for whom the issue lacks a clear political upside.

Professor Cunningham was quoted extensively this morning in an excellent and well researched article about the lack of progress of immigrant-friendly legislation on Beacon Hill over many years, a situation that seems at odds with the state’s “deep blue” reputation. What Professor Cunningham makes clear is that there is very little electoral upside for Democrats in the state legislature to champion the cause of folks who don’t vote or to spend political capital on an issue that isn’t on the radar screens of average voters in the state. In other words, it’s not that Bay State voters are overwhelmingly opposed to immigrant friendly proposals like driver’s licenses or in-state tuition, it’s that most voters are unmoved by these issues. The voters who are moved by these issues are much more likely to be against these immigrant friendly proposals than for them. It is, from the average Democratic legislator’s perspective a distraction and an unnecessary risk to champion the interests of undocumented immigrants. It’s unlikely that a Democratic gubernatorial nominee would be well served by putting the party’s rank-in-file legislators in an awkward position in the fall campaign.

Professor Cunningham’s analysis is a reminder that Democrats on Beacon Hill are professional pols, not activists, whose electoral security depends on the faithful stewardship of their constituents’ material interests, not on faithful partisanship. The inability of Republicans to gain traction in state legislative elections is at least partially due to the fact that Democratic incumbents are highly responsive to the interests of the business communities in their districts.

Interestingly, just as it is probably too risky for Democratic legislators to champion the interests of undocumented immigrants, it is probably too risky for business leaders in the state to sponsor and support Republican candidates for the state legislature, both because of the overwhelming majorities enjoyed by Democrats on Beacon Hill and because of the possibility that Republican legislators will be pulled to the right on social issues like gay marriage and abortion. Mainstream Massachusetts Republicans are fiscally conservative, but not socially conservative. Social conservatism, frankly, is “bad for business.”

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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2 Responses to Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

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  2. Ramon says:

    None of us prefer the sntiencneg to death or slaughter of any animal, regardless of the species; but, the reality of it all is, that we need horse slaughter houses as a practical alternative and solution to govern the horse population. Public Laws forbid burying a horse on your own property these days because of possible contamination of water sources and supplies; so, what’s the practical alternative or solution? I agree that the need of unnecessary suffering needs to be resolved in all slaughter houses, regardless of species . . . cow, pig, chicken, etc. As for horse meat for human consumption, if it is untainted and USDA inspected, it is an excellent source of meat protein and an alternative to beef, pork, poultry, and other human-grade meat sources. If that is too hard for the U.S. human meat industry to consider, use horse meat for carnivorous animal food diets, just as other animal sources are used. The horse industry has crashed since the close of horse slaughter houses, and reopening of the horse slaughter houses is the only resolution to the over population of horses in the U.S. Do you really think that hunter’s get the shot exactly right for an instant kill every time, or slashing the throats of cows and pigs is a quick death, or wringing the necks or cutting-off the heads of chickens is instantaneous demise? Sit-back and give serious thought to all animal slaughter solutions, not just that of horses; if you’re going to sympathize with one species of animal, sympathize with them all; but the end result and reality-check has been the same for thousands of years of animal slaughter for human and animal consumption. Citizens within the U.S. need to ban together and offer better solutions to the overall humane slaughter of animals for whatever the meat by-product use is and not the concentration of one species.

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