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August 1, 2014

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Brian Sandoval’s move right distresses Hispanics

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Leila Navidi

GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval speaks with volunteers and supporters earlier this year at the Bootlegger Bistro in Las Vegas.

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Gov. Jim Gibbons, center, answers questions with candidates Brian Sandoval, left, and Mike Montandon during the Republican gubernatorial debate in Reno on Friday, April 23, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Although his position on Arizona’s tough new immigration law has drawn applause from conservatives, former federal Judge Brian Sandoval is facing a backlash that may have minimal effect in June’s Republican primary, but could weaken his support from a significant voting bloc in November’s election.

The GOP front-runner represents Hispanics’ best opportunity yet at seeing one of their own in the Governor’s Mansion. And fair or not, identity plays a role in politics and which lever voters pull.

President Barack Obama overwhelmingly won the black vote in 2008, and it was presumed that Sandoval’s heritage — he was the first Hispanic attorney general and federal judge from Nevada — would give him a built-in base of support in a general election.

“I think many of us were basically placing our hopes on Brian,” said Fernando Romero, president of the nonpartisan group Hispanics in Politics, Nevada’s oldest Hispanic organization. Yet since Sandoval staked out his position in favor of Arizona’s law during the April 23 gubernatorial debate in Reno, “there is a tremendous backlash,” he said.

Romero said Democrats and independents were going to register as Republicans to vote for Sandoval in the primary.

“I’m sure there are some Republican Hispanics who probably will stay along party lines and go with him ... Others who were planning on crossing party lines? I don’t know of anyone right now.”

On Friday, the Las Vegas Spanish-language paper El Mundo printed a column and editorial on Sandoval’s positions. Both criticized Sandoval and praised Democratic candidate Rory Reid, who opposes Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which compels local and state law enforcement to question the identity and immigration status of people if there is reason to think they are not here legally. Those who cannot produce evidence of legal status could face six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“Hispanics are surprised that Sandoval ... has declared himself in favor of SB1070, a move that will surely diminish Hispanic votes for him,” the editorial stated. “On top of that he isn’t in favor of driving privileges for undocumented (immigrants). That does not speak well for his thinking.”

Columnist Eddie Escobedo wrote, “By declaring that he is in favor of SB1070 and against driving privileges for the undocumented, Brian Sandoval is distancing himself from causes that are of interest ... to the Hispanic community.”

During the gubernatorial debate, Sandoval told the audience that he had anticipated a question about the Arizona law. “I would support Arizona’s law. I do not support amnesty. I do not support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.”

In statements later, Sandoval said he is aware of concerns that the law could lead to racial profiling. “Racial profiling is illegal and I do not support it,” he said.

In an interview Friday with KINC Channel 15, the Spanish-language TV station and Univision affiliate, Sandoval appeared to back away, if only slightly, from his support of Arizona’s law, saying the law is what residents of that state deemed necessary. He said he would listen to a broad cross section of the public before advocating something similar in Nevada.

Sandoval’s position on other issues related to illegal immigration appear to have changed.

Romero recalled that when Sandoval spoke to Hispanics in Politics in January, he said he would consider supporting driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. He made a similar statement to a Hispanic group in Reno in February.

But at the Reno debate, Sandoval was decidedly against the idea. The shift was the result, according to his campaign, of careful deliberation.

Click to enlarge photo

Mo Denis

To be sure, the Hispanic community is not monolithic on Arizona’s law or driver’s licenses for undocumented residents.

Tony Alamo Sr., 68, emigrated from Cuba when he was 19. A Republican and Sandoval backer, he said Arizona’s law makes sense.

Police would not stop Hispanics for no reason, he said. “There’s nothing wrong with checking somebody’s ID when that person is suspected of committing a crime. If you’ve done something criminally wrong, the police department has a right to ask you for ID.”

Yet critics claim racial profiling of Hispanics is inevitable.

Assemblyman Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said, “This bill doesn’t just impact those here legally. It impacts everyone who’s Hispanic.”

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