POLITICS
12/06/2012 01:38 pm ET

Scott Walker: Immigration Bills Would Be 'Huge Distraction' For Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) flipped on Arizona-style immigration laws on Wednesday, telling reporters he would encourage state lawmakers to leave the issue alone even though he once said he would sign such a bill if it were passed.

"I think that would be a huge distraction for us in the state," he said. "There's our niche and our priorities. I don't think that falls into one of those priorities, so I would certainly hope that the legislature didn't spend time focusing on that, instead focused on the economy."

Walker declined, however, to say whether he would veto an immigration bill.

"I'd push to make sure it wouldn't come up," he said.

Listen to the interview here, courtesy of WisPolitics.com, with the discussion of immigration beginning around 7:15.

Walker said as a candidate in May 2010 that he would sign an Arizona-style bill if he were elected, after initially saying he had serious concerns about the law, SB 1070.

"The federal government has failed to secure the border, and states have a right to protect their law-abiding, legal citizens," he said in a statement at the time. "The 10th Amendment gives states the right to act as Arizona has with the immigration law."

Two years later, though, there's ample evidence that SB 1070-style laws can wreak havoc on a state, be it through lawsuits or costs to businesses. The Arizona law includes a number of provisions aimed at driving undocumented immigrants out of the state and drew multiple legal challenges, including from the Justice Department and civil rights groups, and cost the state money in legal fees, boycotts and dips in tourism. The Supreme Court struck down some provisions the law in June.

Perhaps of more concern in the aftermath of the 2012 elections is the impact such immigration laws could have on Latino voters. The Arizona immigration law is extremely unpopular with Latinos, who make up about 6 percent of the Wisconsin population.

Although that population is relatively small, the Latino population is growing nationwide, and a number of Republicans have warned that their party needs to appeal more to them.

Walker told WI Magazine in a post published on Thursday that Latino voters would support the GOP if Republicans spoke more about freedom and less about more polarizing issues.

"The vast majority of Latino voters I know in Milwaukee County and statewide are very much driven by the small-business, entrepreneurial, hard-work mindset, and they really don’t want the government in their way," he said.

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