A fascinating new story from MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin documents Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner's continuing attempts at "evolution" on the issue of immigration reform as disaffection with reform advocates grows–this time, making an assertion about his record that appears to contradict, well, the record.
Enter Colorado, which may be reformers’ last chance to prove they can make the GOP pay a price for their intransigence before the next presidential election. There, activists are organizing to defeat three-term Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in his re-election bid and, more importantly, working to thwart GOP Rep. Cory Gardner in his campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall…
“I will do everything in my power, my community will do anything in our power, to make sure [Gardner] is not elected,” Sonia Marquez, northern director for [Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition Action Fund], told msnbc.
This wasn’t the role immigration groups hoped to play at the outset of the election cycle. In fact, activists originally saw Gardner and Coffman as promising candidates to help put reform over the top in the House.
Marquez personally spent more than a year trying to win Gardner’s support for immigration reform. Under her guidance, activists met with him personally, held rallies across his district, and organized roundtable discussions with supportive local businesses, all with the goal of making Gardner comfortable with legislation granting legal status to undocumented immigrants. Gardner offered them encouraging words throughout and his staff was friendly and accessible, but he never quite took the leap, always telling constituents that while he wanted the GOP to address immigration he opposed the Senate’s bipartisan plan…
Finally, Marquez gave Gardner an ultimatum: Either release your own plan for the undocumented or face the consequences. The deadline passed and Marquez and her fellow activists occupied Gardner’s office with a mariachi band to mark the point of no return.
This is a fact that needs to be driven home: even to the point of annoying partisan Democrats, immigration reform proponents were genuine in their attempted engagement of Reps. Gardner and Mike Coffman. Both Gardner and Coffman had every chance to meaningfully get behind any number of immigration reform proposals, only to see even baby steps like Coffman's bill for immigrants who enlist in the military stalled out by GOP House leadership. Eventually, it became clear to immigration reform advocates in both Coffman and Gardner's cases that the rhetoric just doesn't match their actions–and a small gesture on a pet issue like military service is no substitute for the broad reforms needed.
With all of that said, check out Gardner's attempt to extricate himself from the wrath of activists who gave him every chance, but understand now that he was playing them the whole time:
Gardner said he was disappointed with how things turned out as well. Despite reports to the contrary, he told msnbc he had tried to sell his colleagues on the House GOP’s ill-fated immigration principles and shared activists’ goals of passing significant legislation.
“It’s a shame, I thought we were working very well together,” he said of his relationship with pro-reform groups. “I would like to see them work with people opposed to immigration reform instead of trying to play politics with people who support immigration reform.”
Gardner's opposition to the moribund House GOP "immigration reform principles" was documented by Roll Call back in March. We'll be happy to note for the record if Roll Call updates that whip count six months later to reflect Gardner's new version of events. Until then, we have to assume that Gardner simply hadn't made up his mind where to position himself on immigration for this race yet. Now that he has a better sense of where he needs to be–that is, as far from his previously anti-immigrant politics as he can–a clear need to revise that history presents itself.
You know, like he did with Colorado's Personhood abortion bans on another Friday not so long ago. Or a few Fridays after that, when he did a 180 on the issue of child adoptions by gays and lesbians. Or just a couple Fridays ago, when Gardner claims to have "never supported the shutdown" despite a wealth of evidence that he did. In all of these cases there is a common thread of not just reversal, but an attempt by Gardner to revise the record in the face of documented evidence to the contrary. With Personhood, Gardner claimed to have begun reconsidering years ago–but his continued sponsorship of equivalent federal legislation makes a liar out of him. Same with LGBT adoptions and now immigration: there's what Gardner says today as he runs for the U.S. Senate, and then there's a longstanding record that makes it very difficult to believe him.
The best rejoinder for any of these would be action: but whether the result of their own failings or the intransigence of GOP House leadership, that's the one thing we can feel pretty confident isn't going to happen before the election.