This past weekend, gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann staged a press conference outside the Democrat state-party convention. Surrounded and outnumbered by liberal activists, he held his ground ready to discuss the issues. He was heckled and booed by a posse of Tom Barrett supporters, and yet Neumann graciously thanked them for their views and kept talking about smaller government and fiscal conservatism. Did that take political courage? I would certainly think so. But the irony should not be missed.
Neumann may be willing to go toe-to-toe with a crowd of liberal hecklers at their own convention, but he's unwilling to meet with the largest Hispanic newspaper in the state at his own campaign headquarters.
Not more than a month ago, El Conquistador interviewed gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker on a range of issues from immigration reform to job creation. Walker told the paper that he opposed Arizona's immigration bill because it usurped the rights of the federal government while likely breeding a predilection for racial profiling. A few weeks after the interview, Walker reversed his position announcing that new provisions in the Arizona bill safeguarded against racial profiling.
Ultimately, El Conquistador may fault Walker for his reversal, but we respect the fact that he had the backbone to meet El Conquistador to discuss immigration reform. Neumann, however, failed the political courage test. Last month, when the Associated Press prodded Neumann for answers about Arizona's bill, he declined to respond even though his opponents Tom Barrett and Scott Walker laid out their positions. It wasn't until after Walker took a lot of heat for his reversal that Neumann was willing to lay out a brief summation his viewpoints and only on his campaign website.
In the past two weeks, El Conquistador has called the Neumann campaign four times for an interview. Chris Lato, the communications director for Neumann's campaign, initially told El Conquistador that he would try to work us into Neumann's busy schedule. But since we last talked, he has refused to return our calls.
The issue, we believe, is that Neumann sees a danger in answering our questions. Hispanic issues are a particularly volatile topic in the country right now, and meeting with us might be viewed as unnecessarily risky. Answering questions about Arizona's immigration law, the callousness of mass deportation, the economic benefits of pathways to citizenship, and the equity of college tuition reimbursement are indeed risky for any politician. It's quite possible that Neumann didn't want to take that chance.
On Neumann's website, for instance, it says he opposes amnesty, in-state tuition reimbursement, and driver's licenses for illegals. However, he provides no insight on what he means by amnesty, why the children of illegal immigrants should bear the punitive burdens of their parents, or why it's a good policy to forbid undocumented workers the training to drive on public roads in a safe and responsible manner. An interview with Neumann would clarify some of these more important points.
In September of last year, Neumann met with Hispanics to discuss his candidacy for governor. He had answered a question posed by the son of illegal immigrants. The young man had problems getting financial aid because his parents didn't have social security numbers. At the time, Neumann stated it was a tough situation to be in and that as governor, he would certainly fix such problems in our education where the diligent were not rewarded. Neumann showed his more empathetic side, but then again he was also courting Hispanics.
After their exchange, I posed a question about what we could do about the illegal immigrants who are here, but do not plan to leave? I said that since the mass roundup and deportation of illegal immigrants was politically untenable for any party, we need to find fair ways of dealing with immigrants in such a way that it does not promote a permanent underclass. For instance, denying a kid tuition reimbursement because his parents decided to break border laws years before is not only unfair to the child, but it has the result of building a future underclass of individuals since the child does not have an equal opportunity to receive an affordable education.
We would like to know more about Neumann's views. Without an interview, however, all we are left with is conjecture. Right now, the ball is in Neumann's court. Does he want to interview with the state's largest Hispanic newspaper, or does he think that the Hispanic community is inconsequential to his gubernatorial campaign?
What do you say, Mr. Neumann? Are you interested in courting the Hispanic vote?