THE BLOG
05/23/2014 02:19 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2014

Trying to Make Republicans More Immigrant-Friendly

American Spectator columnist Ross Kaminsky reported on a private meeting last month between Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner and "a small group of Republicans" to discuss immigration policy.

"The roughly 10 people in the room," Kaminsky wrote in his much-discussed column about the meeting, "included representatives of business, of the media (me), prominent former Colorado politicians and party leaders, and -- perhaps most interestingly -- two evangelical Christian pastors."

"To me the most interesting part was those two evangelical pastors from different churches and how surprised they were in the rapidity of the change in the views of the people of their congregations, how fast and how far those views have been changing," Kaminisky told me of the meeting. "And for these guys to say that they think that evangelicals, both in the leadership of churches and within the congregations, are more likely to support reform than oppose it, I thought was pretty amazing."

But Kaminsky, who's also a talk-radio host on 850 KOA, thinks the Republican Party isn't getting the message, and he wrote his column, titled Changing Immigration Politics in Colorado, to do something about it.

In his piece, which generated debate in conservative circles, Kaminsky argued that hardline immigration policies, like those of GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo in particular, will poison Republican candidates in Colorado.

Unlike many Republicans, Kaminsky favors modest immigration reform, but not the comprehensive variety, and without a path to citizenship (except possibly for young immigrants). Kaminsky wants a bite-sized approach.

Kaminsky says he was invited to the Gardner meeting in part to express his views to Gardner.

"I was [at the meeting] partly in my capacity as a media person and partly because the people who organized the meeting know my views on immigration and wanted me to express them to Congressman Gardner," Kaminsky told me. "So I was there in a dual role.

"They wanted me to write about it. I wanted to write about it. The only stipulation given to me was not to name the meeting participants, other than Congressman Gardner."

I asked Kaminsky if he had any insight into why the meeting was private.

"One thing that came up in the meeting, which I think is true, is, when you're talking about immigration, it seems people will give very different answers in small private groups than they will in public, especially on the Republican side," replied Kaminsky, who's registered as an independent. "I think there are a lot of Republicans who are becoming more sympathetic to immigration reform but are a little bit afraid to say it in public. It might be the equivalent of a pro-life Democrat. So I think the purpose of the meeting was not to hide stuff, because if it was I wouldn't have been invited, right? I think the organizers felt like getting a small group together would allow a more honest conversation. And I think it happened that way. I think that analysis was right."

Kaminsky complimented Gardner for favoring a guest-worker program, and he's not troubled by the fact that Gardner opposed a guest-worker program back in 2008 in the state legislature that would have created a guest-visa program for agricultural workers.

"People change, things change," replied Kaminsky. "And you know what, staying cynical, even though I like Cory, politicians frequently do what's best for politicians. Even the ones who I think are good people, they are always balancing, how do I make sure I keep my job versus what's best for the country. And I think that of all of them. I don't think Mark Udall is a bad person. I've met him. He was very pleasant to me, and I enjoyed talking to him. I just disagree with him. Whether it's him or Cory Gardner, they're just considering their futures."

In his column, Kaminsky accused Democratic Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of having "no interest in actually dealing with the question; they, like their party leaders, want a wedge issue more than they want a solution."

Given that 68 Senators passed comprehensive immigration reform in bipartisan fashion, with 32 Republicans opposed, how is immigration reform, as accomplished via the Senate bill, a wedge issue? (Gardner has made no secret of his opposition to the Senate immigration bill, even though he supported comprehensive reform after the last election.)

"I think there's a continuum here," Kaminisky said. "I don't think it's exactly fair to say that I think it's just a wedge issue. I do think, on balance, they would prefer to have the issue than any solution that's actually politically conceivable at this time. I think there are reform measures that Democrats would accept and give up having the issue, but I think what they would accept would include a path to citizenship that's shorter and easier than would have any chance of getting through the House of Representatives at this time. I don't give politicians a lot of credit for voting for something that has no chance of passing... This is true on the Republican side as well. They know it would have absolutely zero chance in the House of Representatives and therefore their consideration is not so much for the policy as it is about their own personal political situation. I don't think a vote for the Senate bill proved that they would rather have a solution than the issue."

Kaminsky agreed with me that, along the way, media coverage made it appear as if the Senate bill might pass the House, and it certainly would have passed had it come to a full vote, but Kaminsky never thought House passage was possible.

I thought about the pastors who were at the Gardner meeting with Kaminsky. I wish I knew who they were, so I could ask if they also thought the Senate bill had no chance of passing the House, especially if people like Gardner heard what they were saying about people's support for immigration reform.