Illegal immigrants - f0r that is the issue emerging in Northwest politics, not that of immigration as such - may be reaching the front burner. Whether it stays there depends, presumably, on what sort of response it gets over the next two to three weeks.
The subject of illegal immigrants - and again to be plain about it, we're talking mainly about persons who have crossed the border from Mexico and points south without legal permit - degenerates easily into a nast racist matter, ugly finger pointing at "them." It doesn't mean there aren't legitimate issues related to illegals, including the batch of matters in which we treat illegal aliens as if they were here legitimately. (No, the idea of someone who is here illegally being officially licensed by our government to do things, such as drive, seems simply wrong. We would not expect to illegal cross over into Mexico - or Canada, Japan, Germany or Russia for that matter - and expect such licenses; at best, we would hope to con our way into them.)
That ethnic aspect is fuzzed at bit in Idaho where a congressional candidate of Hispanic descent (but United States birth), Robert Vasquez, has been waving it as his personal bloody shirt for years.
But did Ron Saxton, the Anglo Republican Oregon gubernatorial candidate, give it much thought when he took the lead on the issue in Oregon - "I will support a zero tolerance policy for illegal immigrants."
In this Dorchester weekend, that has prompted his two Republican competitors, Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson, to jump all over the issue alongside him. How did it become so hot an issue so abruptly? Maybe because the candidates all were looking for a hot button to ride - there has been none very decisive so far - they felt they had to ride this pony quickly. Certainly no major new development has made illegal aliens that much more critical a matter today than it was, say, four or eight months ago, when it wasn't getting the attention.
A note of caution is warranted, though. As a matter of policy, there really isn't a massive difference either between these candidates or between then and the man one of them likely will face in November. A statement solicited from Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski said that "The governor has a strong record of fighting to enforce immigration laws in Oregon."
The difference here could be in one of tone. And if Republican candidates, or any of them, start sounding bigoted, they could be doing themselves a world a damage. There are good reasons this issue hasn't emerged in many political campaigns in the last few years, and been decisive in . . . any?