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On Scott Walker's Immigration Quandary

What is a Flip-Flop?

scott walker campaigning

In politics, a flip-flop is when someone reverses a position, not because it was wrong or because it's the right thing to do, but because there is a perceived advantage in doing so.  It's merely a Machiavellian ploy intended to help the politician survive or advance his career.

During a presidential debate, for instance, John McCain said he would not "erect barriers or fences" to stop illegal immigrant crossings. Just recently, however, McCain released a re-election ad that shows him telling an Arizona sheriff that he would build a fence. 

McCain has long opposed building fences, but he's currently facing a tough primary challenger that fiercely opposes illegal immigration.  In order to reinforce his Republican credentials, he is now pro-fence building.  McCain reversed his position, not because he had a revelation that fences protect the border, but because his opponent would gain a serious political advantage if he didn't change course.  This is an instance of flip-flopping.

However, not all reversals are flip-flops.  Let's say that I believed Mrs. Perez skipped her lunch today because she simply lost her appetite.  But during the course of the day, let's say I found out that she had begun a three-day fast yesterday morning.  This new information puts my earlier position in dispute.  Changing my beliefs about why Mrs. Perez skipped her lunch is not a flip-flop because there was no perceived advantage in changing my mind.  It's merely drawing a different conclusion based on new information.  Scientists do this every day, and so do we.

A Summary of Walker's Immigration Problem

Scott Walker has taken heat the past few weeks for his stance on Arizona's bill.  In an interview with El Conquistador, Walker spoke out against the bill saying that the Arizona law usurped the rights of the federal government and provided broad powers to local officials.

Two weeks after our interview, the Associated Press (AP) got involved and published Walker's view on Arizona's law.  This caused a disturbance on Walker's Facebook page.  Some supporters said they were stunned by his position, and others said they were changing their support to Mark Neumann.   The next day, Walker released a statement saying he was now satisfied with Arizona's modified bill (HB2162C).  He said the revised bill did not violate the 10th Amendment, and it also provided sufficient safeguards to protect against racial profiling. 

El Conquistador Interviews Walker Again on the Arizona Bill

This past Friday, I met with Scott Walker at the Hyatt Regency and asked him what changed his mind since the last time we spoke.  He said when we met on April 30th, he drew a conclusion about Arizona's new law based upon the facts that were available to him at the time.  He said that when those facts began to change, so did his conclusion.

On April 23rd, about a week before El Conquistador interviewed Walker, Arizona's Governor signed SB1070 into law.  Soon after, there were serious concerns that the law might have the effect of codify racial profiling.  Thus, Arizona lawmakers re-examined SB1070 and made changes designed to resolve those issues.  It wasn't until April 30th, the same day we interviewed Walker, that Jan Brewer signed an amended bill (HB2162C) into law.  It's important to note, therefore, that the details of HB2162C were not available to Walker at the time we had interviewed him.

After the push-back on Walker's Facebook page, he called Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce for a consultation on Arizona new law.  It's not exactly known what was said, but Walker came to the conclusion that HB2162C did not violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution as he had initially supposed.

Walker was also convinced that HB2162C, unlike SB1070, provided sufficient safeguards to protect against racial profiling.  For instance, the original bill (SB1070) permitted the use of race, color, and national origin when determining what constitutes a reasonable suspicion.  The bill stated:

"A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection."

Also, SB1070 allowed for officers to develop a reasonable suspicion after a "lawful contact" was made.  A lawful contact can include something as common as a casual encounter, which opened the law to all sorts of problems.  In theory, a police officer could instigate a casual encounter with an individual, and during the process of conversation develop a reasonable suspicion that the individual is in the country illegally.

In an effort to fix that problem, the new law states that an officer can only act on a reasonable suspicion after an "arrest" or after a "Terry stop" is made.   In plain language, this means that in order for an officer to pull you over, you must have committed a crime or be under investigation for committing a crime.  This is supposed to prevent an officer from pulling you over because your skin color is a little darker than his.  After speaking with Senator Pearce, Walker believed that these changes were sufficient to protect Hispanics from racial profiling.  

Did Scott Walker Flip-Flop?

Walker doesn't consider his reversal on Arizona's immigration bill to be a flip-flop, but critics argue that Walker sought a distinct political advantage by supporting the new law.  The Associated Press indicated that Walker changed his position on Arizona's law after he had received a push-back on his Facebook page.  Fair enough, but the only evidence they have is that one event happened to occur before another.

According to Walker, he changed his position after the HB2162C was signed into law and after he had talked with Senator Pearce over the phone.  Because the details of the HB2162C came out after Walker had made his initial stance, he could not have been privy to any of the changes.  Walker therefore alleges that after new facts were made available to him, changing his viewpoint was just the appropriate thing to do.

But even conservative commentators like Charlie Sykes and Jay Weber aren't that quick to defend him.  They believe that Walker flip-flopped and there is just nothing more to it.  Mark Belling, on the other hand, was much more kind.  Belling inferred that Walker's initial opposition to Arizona's law was simply meant to appease Milwaukee's Hispanic community.  He said that after the AP reported on it, it's possible that Walker did more research and just realized he was wrong.  We're not sure how it went down, but Belling's narrative seems just as legitimate as any other.

Conclusion

To be sure, there is an apprehension in the Hispanic community that law enforcement officials will target law-abiding Hispanics in their search for illegal immigrants.  But what many don't understand is that Arizona's new law, in substance, is really no different than existing federal law.  In fact, it was specifically designed that way to withstand any Constitutional challenges.  The only difference between Arizona and the federal government is that Arizona is willing to enforce the law.

Whether the Arizona law is racist or not is worthy of considerable debate.  But one thing is certain, flip-flops require a political calculus.  Is a little push-back on a politician's Facebook page sufficient to force a flip-flop?  It appears this is what the AP would have you to believe, and perhaps they're right.  Or perhaps the more reasonable explanation is that Facebook got Walker thinking, and rightly so.  I think it's unfortunate that Walker's interview with El Conquistador occurred before HB2162C was signed into law.  If the interview had occurred a week later, Walker might not be in the predicament he's in today.


Comments (2)
  • Anonymous

    Walker had plenty of opportunity to learn what was in the Arizona law before giving a statement to the Associated Press -- not El Conquistador -- on May 12, not April 30:

    "I have serious concerns about the Arizona law — both because the law impedes on the inherent right of the federal government to do its job and to protect our borders, and also because in America we don't want our citizens getting pulled over because of how they look."

    Walker changed his position three days later because he thought it was costing him support in his hard-fought, close primary race with Mark Neumann. The reaction from his own supporters on Facebook made him worried enough to change his mind.

    Here's your definition: In politics, a flip-flop is when someone reverses a position, not because it was wrong or because it's the right thing to do, but because there is a perceived advantage in doing so. It's merely a Machiavellian ploy intended to help the politician survive or advance his career.

    It fits Walker's flip-flop perfectly.

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I'll start by saying that we don't know what role Facebook played in Walker's reversal. The only reason you mention Facebook is because the AP made the post hoc ergo propter hoc inference from it.

    It is likely that Walker received some pushback from loyal supporters. Perhaps a supporter more versed in the new law provided him the reasons why he was wrong.

    Personally, I think Walker provided an instinctual response that happened to be wrong. And you're right, he had 12 or so days to review the law better, but apparently he didn't. But to infer that the reversal was a matter of political calculus rather than an honest concession is presumptuous. It presumes the worse in order to prove the worst.

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