LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in Las Vegas, Nev., this weekend to help spark enthusiasm among Democrats ahead of Tuesday's primary election as the keynote speaker for Saturday's Nevada Democratic Convention.
In September, Villaraigosa, who is serving his second term as mayor, will chair the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Before speaking at the state convention, Villaraigosa, who is also current president of the United States Conference of Mayors, sat down with the Sun to discuss immigration, education, Latino voters and the 2012 presidential race.
Republicans have pointed to the Obama administration's deportation rate (the 396,906 deportations reported by the Department of Homeland Security in 2011 are the most in history and deportations in President Barack Obama's first four years were about double that of George W. Bush's first term) and the lack of progress on immigration reform as indicators of the president's failure to fulfill promises to Latino voters. How do you counter the argument that a Republican president may be more likely to pass immigration reform?
It's funny when they talk about the deportation rate. In Congress, they're saying he's not deporting enough people.
In Congress, under President Obama and Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi's leadership, they passed a Dream Act, but they couldn't get it out of the Senate. They filibustered it, and there were 11 Republicans who had previously voted for it who didn't that time.
So, that's hypocrisy at its highest. They don't support comprehensive immigration reform. They don't support the Dream Act. ... (Romney) said that he not only does not support comprehensive immigration reform, he called for the self-deportation of 11 million people.
For a party that talks about family values, what it means is that you are going to divide families. You are going to force families whose children are U.S. citizens, who know no other country but this one, to have to stay when their parents leave or go back to Mexico or some other country and be a stranger in their own land.
(Romney) calls the Dream Act, getting a college education or going to defend our country in Afghanistan or some other place in the world a handout. That kind of thinking is out of the mainstream. When you hear that talk, it's almost laughable.
I saw those debates, the venom when talking about immigrants, the disdain, the demonization. You know, not one time did you see Romney have one of those moments where he stands up and says, 'Hold it. I'm not for comprehensive immigration reform or the Dream Act, but I'm not for demonizing human beings, either.' Not once. When (Herman) Cain talked about electrifying the fence, you never heard Romney say, 'You've gone too far.' That's outrageous.
As a California politician, you have seen how wedge issues can be used to spur voter participation. (Villaraigosa was first elected to the California State Assembly in 1994, the year California Gov. Pete Wilson used the controversial Proposition 187, legislation to deny state services to anyone who could not prove a legal residency status, to help win re-election.) Are there lessons from California that can be applied to how campaigns are now handled nationally?
California is a blue state in no small part because of 187 and other wedge issues, because every few years there is a new wedge issue.
(Republicans) have used marriage equality now for a number of elections as a dividing point, there's no question about it.
Today we have a candidate (Romney) who not only doesn't support marriage equality, he doesn't support civil unions and would enshrine in the Constitution discrimination on those issues. The wedge-issue politics that they engage in has short-term benefits and gains, there's no question about it, but in the long term, they're now not only losing Latinos and African-Americans, they're losing women and young people.
Most people are in the middle, not real strong this way or real strong that way. When they push these issues, they're marginalizing themselves.
How do you see the economy affecting the election, specifically Latino voters?
Look, this is going to be a very close election. I've been saying that for a year. The country's evenly divided, and it's going to be a close election.
(The 2008 election) was an aberration in some respects. I expect that this is going to go down to the wire. The economy will dominate the debate and the ultimate results of this election.
But character matters, values matter, and records are important. So, in that vein, I'd say Latinos care about the economy, without question. (It's the) No. 1 issue. They also care about schools, and President Obama has been very strong in that.
They cared about health care. In fact, when he passed the health care act, that was their No. 1 concern at the time. Nine million Latinos will have health care as a result. ... Those are records that we're going to share with people in the course of this campaign.
Recently, American Principles in Action, a nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors, helped launch Nevada Hispanics, a campaign to engage Latino voters around conservative issues and candidates. Are you concerned about the influence of so-called "dark money" and groups such as Nevada Hispanics having an outsized influence on this election?
I'm very concerned about that money. Their focus is going to be to try and suppress the Latino vote. They are going to lose upwards of 65 percent of Latinos to the president. You've seen this in the 22 states that have passed voter-suppression laws led by Republicans. ... They are going to use very negative campaigning to depress the Latino vote and to depress the vote of our base, and, importantly, they are going to use those super PACs to cynically keep people at home and away from the polls.
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