Nowadays, across the country, there are local anti-immigrant politicians fanning the flames of mistrust and misinformation, exploiting fear in an effort to win elections and appeal to the extremist fringe.
When nationally-known politicians demagogue like this, we hear about it on the radio, see it on TV, and read about it in headlines. But when local politicians do the exact same thing – or, in many cases, worse – it often goes unnoticed by the public at large.
Right now, they’re shameless. It’s time to change that.
Welcome to the Local Hall of Shame.
Every inductee earned this designation in word and deed, engaging in extremism for their own political advantage. Perhaps they thought that nobody was paying attention. They were wrong. Every inductee was nominated by everyday people across our country – Americans standing up and calling on these politicians to stop the extremist rhetoric and rumor-mongering that prevents our broken immigration system from being fixed and reformed.
Presenting, in unranked order, the 10 members of the Local Hall of Shame:
- Kris Kobach
Secretary of State - Kansas
- Matt Ramsey
State Representative - Georgia
- Richard Jones
Butler County Sheriff – Ohio
- Steve Smith
State Senator – Arizona
- Russell Pearce
State Senate President – Arizona
- Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County Sheriff – Arizona
- Marie Waldron
Escondido City Council—California
- Scott Beason
State Senator – Alabama
- Virgil Peck
State Representative – Kansas
- Steve Drazkowski
State Representative – Minnesota
Kris Kobach, Secretary of State - Kansas
The leader of the anti-immigration movement’s legal arm, Kobach, age 45, has helped draft anti-immigrant laws in communities across the nation – including Arizona’s “papers, please” law. He was harmful enough as a lawyer, but now he’s Kansas’s Secretary of State – using that perch to spread fear and push through laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, photo ID when voting in person. He called it the “SAFE Act,” but nobody is safe from Kris Kobach’s misguided and radical views.
Matt Ramsey, State Representative - Georgia
Matt Ramsey looked at Arizona and liked what he saw. That’s why he wrote Georgia’s HB 87, the Arizona copycat bill, rammed it through the state legislature, and got the Governor to sign it. Aside from authorizing local police to demand papers proving citizenship and proof of status, Ramsey’s bill makes it a crime to drive undocumented immigrants to hospitals or houses of worship, and forces all Georgia businesses to use E-Verify to investigate potential employees. Georgia farmers estimate that Ramsey’s bill could cost them more than $250 million, devastating local economies. Matt Ramsey may represent Peachtree City, but his agenda is all pits and no peach.
Richard Jones, Butler County Sheriff – Ohio
You may remember Richard Jones for his pathetic attempt a few years ago to sue the US federal government and the government of Mexico for the cost of detaining undocumented immigrants in his jail. Or you may remember him for the fact that he was illegally enforcing immigration law at the local level years before Arizona made it vogue (including the time he detained 18 Latino workers at a construction site while lacking the authority to charge anyone).
When he’s not drumming up headlines – see his failed attempt last year to get Ohioans to pass a “papers, please” ballot initiative – Jones is flagrantly abusing his power. In 2010, an undocumented worker, Luis Rodriguez, sued Richard Jones for violating his constitutional rights after Jones seized Rodriguez, interrogating him without probable cause. Rodriguez, who lived in Butler County for 11 years, was charged with providing a false ID – a charge he was acquitted of – and was deported. After suing Jones, Rodriguez was awarded a $100,000 settlement from the Butler County government. That’s Richard Jones in a nutshell: abusing others’ rights and wasting taxpayer money, so long as he can get headlines.
Steve Smith, State Senator – Arizona
Last year, Steve Smith was elected to the state senate from a moderate swing district. In his first five months in office, Smith has shown himself to be out of touch with the common sense citizens of the 23rd district, taking his meager mandate and using it as a battering ram for an extreme anti-immigrant agenda. He was the lead sponsor of SB 1405, a bill to require hospitals to check for immigration documentation, a bill so extremist that even the Arizona State Senate – the originator of the “papers, please” law – rejected it. But that’s not all. Steve Smith wrote a bill authorizing the Arizona Governor to join together with other states and build a border wall, proposed a law requiring public schools to check for immigration status of students, and supported a bill to require Arizona to issue two classes of birth certificates: one for citizens, and one for non-citizens. Unlike Senator Smith, the people of Arizona’s 23rd district are reasonable and moderate – something we suspect that extremist Steve Smith will find out the hard way in next year’s elections.
Russell Pearce, State Senate President – Arizona
Last year, Russell Pearce took center stage in the national immigration debate when he introduced Arizona’s SB 1070, the broadest, more restrictive and discriminatory anti-immigration law in recent American history. Pearce’s sponsorship of that law is, in itself, enough to earn him a spot in the hall of shame. But sadly, Pearce’s extremist agenda only started there.
Pearce sponsored SB 1097, legislation requiring public schools to identify and count undocumented students (essentially turning every public school teacher and administrator into an immigration agent), and supported measures to create two classes of birth certificates and require hospitals to check immigration documentation. Earlier this year, he wrote SB 1611, forcing landlords and business owners to investigate potential renters and employees for their immigration documentation – threatening landlords with loss of licenses, and forcing companies out of business if they fail to follow Pearce’s lead. Russell Pearce’s “Immigration Omnibus” package would also ban undocumented students from enrolling at any public university.
Now, Pearce is facing a recall election after residents turned in more than 18,000 recall signatures – more votes than Pearce received in 2010.
Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Sheriff – Arizona
There are few local officials in America on the national news as often as Joe Arpaio (in 2008, he bragged about having been on more than 3,000 national news shows). When he’s not auditioning to become the next FOX News talking head, or showering praise on himself with yearbook superlatives like “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Arpaio tramples on the Bill of Rights. Earlier this year, he launched his 18th “sweep” of Maricopa County – targeting Latino neighborhoods, employing racial profiling tactics, and rendering himself into a modern-day Bull Connor.
After all the sweeps are done, what’s left? The slow realization of what Arpaio has been doing all along: sweeping up hysteria, and sweeping aside America’s constitutional rights – all in a vain attempt to earn himself media headlines and adoration from fringe activists.
Marie Waldron, Escondido City Council—California
In 2006, Escondido City Councilwoman Marie Waldron decided to run for State Assembly. Apparently, she decided the best way to appeal to hardcore conservatives in the primary was to use her post on the city council to prohibit landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants – making Escondido the sixth city in the nation to adopt such legislation. The effort endeared her to extremists; she was endorsed by the San Diego Minutemen in the assembly primary, and made campaign appearances alongside them. She accepted the Minutemen endorsement, boasting, “I am proud to have the support of citizens who value the sovereignty of our nation.”
Now, as she prepares to run for the California State Assembly in 2012, Marie Waldron is fanning anti-immigrant flames again, suggesting that E-Verify be used for all businesses in Escondido. Many politicians pathetically try to harness anti-immigrant fervor for their own political benefit, but few are as blatant about it as Marie Waldron – she’s trying desperately to partner with the Minutemen even as she realizes her 15 minutes are up.
Scott Beason, State Senator – Alabama
It’s one thing to propose Arizona-style legislation. But to actually call for violence against undocumented immigrants is despicable. State Senator Scott Beason has done both. On February 5, 2011, Beason gave a speech on immigration. According to an article in The Cullman Times, Beason said, that “the reality is that if you allow illegal immigration to continue in your area you will destroy yourself eventually.” As The Cullman Times reported, “Beason ended his speech by advising Republicans to ‘empty the clip, and do what has to be done.’”
This spring, he was the lead sponsor of SB 256, a bill which took the Arizona law as its baseline, and built on it: requiring voters to bring proof of citizenship with them to the polls, and prohibiting undocumented K-12 students from “participation in any extracurricular activity” banning kids from sports, drama, prom, and many of the other milestones of a typical childhood.
Scott Beason is an extremist in action and an extremist in rhetoric – continuing in the worst tradition of another former Alabama politician; Scott Beason fancies himself a 21st century George Wallace.
Virgil Peck, State Representative – Kansas
In spring 2011, State Representative Peck found himself in national headlines after he went on the record in an official meeting of a House committee, and said, “To me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a [solution] to our illegal immigration problem.”
Virgil Peck later claimed he was ‘joking.’ Calling for violence is no laughing matter. Comparing undocumented workers to feral hogs isn’t a punch line. Ultimately, though, the joke is on Virgil Peck; violent, extremist rhetoric is rejected by everyday Americans – which is precisely why Virgil Peck’s remarks are credited with forcing the Kansas House to table an Arizona-style immigration bill later that same month.
Steve Drazkowski, State Representative – Minnesota
In May 2010, Steve Drazkowski introduced a bill in the Minnesota House that was modeled on AZ SB 1070, permitting local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, requiring possession of alien identification cards, and prohibiting transportation and housing, among other provisions.
But it’s the way Drazkowski defended the bill that makes him distinctive—fanning the flames of fear and mistrust of people different than you; Steve Drazkowski told the Minneapolis City Pages that “even more important than the money is the government’s role of protecting its people. If we have people here who don’t have a loyalty to their country, we need to be concerned.” In particular, Drazkowski said, he’s concerned about “criminal alien felons who are being incarcerated for murder, rape, and child molestation.”
It’s shameless to exploit and prey on people’s fears. Drazkowski can claim to be concerned about “the government’s role of protecting its people,” but when he uses fear as a cudgel to divide people and spread mistrust, he’s the one creating the greatest danger and putting everyday Minnesotans at risk.