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Jason Salzman

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Party of Inclusion?

Posted: 01/23/2012 12:29 pm

Sometimes one media outlet says one thing, another says something else, and you're left saying, WTF.

That's what happened last week when we heard different news about whether Rep. Robert Ramirez would back legislation this year reducing college tuition for some children of illegal immigrants. The bill is often referred to as a Colorado version of the Dream Act.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Ramirez might support the bill, as long as no tax money goes to students.  Ramirez was working with Democrats and even writing amendments to try to pass the bill, according to the AP.

Then, on Thursday, three days later, Channel 8 in Grand Junction, delivered a different picture of Ramirez's thinking. The "actual bill" would "give the right of a citizen to a noncitizen," Ramirez was quoted as saying, and he opposes this.

Channel 8 mentioned nothing about Ramirez working on amendments, and the piece left you with the impression that Ramirez would definitely vote against the legislation, as he did last year.

He told Channel 8: "I have not seen the new bill, I just have heard what the changes are but they're so minimal that I don't think they'll make a difference."

So I called Ramirez to find out if he'd soured on the bill during the week, of if the media got something wrong.

He told me both AP and Channel 8 were accurate. How could that possibly be?

Ramirez says the phrase "in-state tuition" means, by definition, that government funds are included. So that's why he told reporters only citizens should receive in-state tuition.

Ramirez favors tuition breaks for illegal-immigrant students, he told me, but he doesn't want to call it "in-state tuition."

"Charge them the actual expense," he told me. "You don't have to charge them the exorbitant out-of-state expense."

But no matter how you define "in-state tuition," illegal-immigrant students won't get any tax money as part of their tuition reduction, under SB-15, which is this year's version of the "Colorado Asset" bill. "Previous concepts" of this legislation did not remove all tax dollars from the tuition rate that would be offered to illegal immigrants, according a website promoting the bill. This year's bill does this.

But Ramirez told me that his decision on whether to support Colorado Asset does not hinge solely on the issue of tax dollars. He said there are "other things," but he didn't specify what they are. He says he has not seen the bill yet.

Ramirez's position on the Colorado Asset bill is under scrutiny not only because he could cast a critical vote on the State House education committee, as he did last year, but also because he's Latino.

Ramirez says his Latino heritage is irrelevant to how he'll vote on the legislation. He told me he's American and doesn't want to "re-segregate" as a Hispanic.

He drives the point home by joking that he didn't know he was "Latino" until he "started running for office."

"Prior to that, I was just Bobby Ramirez," he said on Art Carlson's online radio program last May 14.

"All of a sudden, it's a big deal that I'm Hispanic," he told me. "But I consider myself an American."

Perhaps it's this perception of himself that makes him unconcerned about some racial slurs toward Hispanics.

Asked about a story he told on the radio about being called a "wetback" when he was a child, he said:

"I don't care if someone calls me [a wetback].  I don't think it's appropriate. It's a slur. But I'm not offended by it. It doesn't bother me. To me that shows your ignorance."

Ramirez says he's "very proud to be Hispanic," as he told the AP in the article Monday.

Not that he thinks Hispanic culture is perfect. He told Carlson in May that some in Mexico are the "nicest people in the world." But he also said:

"But god forbid [when you are in Mexico] you talk to somebody from Puerto Rico, because they are just horrible people, and they [Mexicans] won't have anything to do with them. So they are the most divisive group of people. We still fight each other. It's amazing."

"Depending on how much money you make, and what part of Mexico you are from, and your bloodline, [Mexicans] are vile to each other," he said.

Ramirez, whose father is a Mexican immigrant, told Carlson that illegal immigrants are lazy.

"I don't blame them for trying to come here," he said. "What I do blame them for is when they get here, they've gotten here illegally and expect everything for free. They don't want to work for it."

Still, Ramirez understands why companies want to hire Mexicans at a lower wage, and he wants to help them employ Mexicans to work legally in the U.S. by setting up an employment office in Mexico. Responding to a caller on Carlson's, Ramirez said:

"Or let's just open up an employment office on the other side of the border. You know? For any of these companies that want to hire people at the lower wage, they go through this employment company who makes sure all the paperwork is processed correctly in the United States, before somebody comes in here. There's a lot of things we can do that will make enough little changes than can fix our problems. It's just that nobody is willing to step up and say it or do it."

Carlson, a conservative, didn't respond to Ramirez with the how-dare-you-propose-draining-American-jobs line that you might expect from a conservative. Maybe that's because Ramirez told Carlson stuff like, "Our laws and lawmakers, and the people of this country, are trying to make it easy for everyone in this country but Americans."

Still, if I were Carlson, I'd want to know how that sentiment squares with what Ramirez told the New York Times back in October:

"We can't pretend the Latino vote doesn't exist. It's time we became the party of inclusion."

Asked about this, Ramirez said, "I think some kind of compromise [on Colorado's Asset legislation] is part of making the GOP the party of inclusion."

 

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