Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gingrich attracts crowds in Florida, as rivals continue attack on immigration stance

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich attracted huge crowds in Florida this weekend, but he continued to face down accusations from his rivals that he is too soft on immigration to win the Republican presidential nomination.

Gingrich, 68, who joined former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at the top of the field less than two weeks ago, showed no sign of slipping at two appearances along the southwest Florida coast — a conservative enclave and critical battleground in the state’s Jan. 31 primary.

On Friday night, a standing-room-only crowd of at least 800 fans crammed into a hotel ballroom to listen to Gingrich speak. Hundreds who couldn’t fit into the room watched on TV monitors out in the hall.

And on Saturday, at least 500 stood in line for more than four hours at a Books-a-Million bookstore, where Gingrich and his wife, Callista, posed for photos and signed books, t-shirts, photographs and other memorabilia.

The growing energy around Gingrich on the campaign trail may explain why some of his rivals are continuing to go after him on immigration, an issue that surfaced at the most recent televised debate last Tuesday. Gingrich called on Republicans to be “humane” and support a path to legal residency for certain long-time illegal immigrants with deep ties in this country, and since then, two rivals — Romney and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann — have attacked Gingrich for what they say is his support for amnesty.

On Saturday, Bachmann repeated her accusation on Fox News claiming that Gingrich has a long record of supporting amnesty for all illegal immigrants, not just those who have been here for decades.

“He would not limit this to people [living here] 25 years,” Bachmann said. “Anyone who is here, he would make legal, that 11 million to 12 million people, overnight.”

Gingrich pushed back forcefully against Bachmann’s comments, telling reporters during his book-signing that he does not support amnesty and did not say he supported amnesty at the debate.

His spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said Bachmann is either “confused or lying,” while Gingrich said: “I’m prepared to talk about substantive change in a number of areas, including Social Security and how we deal with immigration. The American people are prepared to listen to a campaign that deals with substantive issues. Those of my friends who refuse to tell the truth make it harder to do that.”

Nearly all of those who stood in line to hear Gingrich or have their books signed said they did so because he is the smartest candidate seeking the Republican nomination. Many have followed his career in public life for decades, have read his books or watched his documentaries or seen him years ago on C-SPAN, where, early on in his congressional career, he established renown as a conservative commentator.

“There's no hesitancy,” said Pamela Burditt, 48, a pharmacist visiting Florida from Bucyrus, Kansas. “His intelligence is so well-rounded that he doesn’t have to stop and think what his answer will be.”

Gingrich said he was gratified to continue attracting crowds in southwest Florida, a relatively conservative enclave in this enormous state and a critical battleground in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary.

“It’ll be pretty clear by Jan. 31 that I’ll be the conservative candidate in the race,” Gingrich said, adding that he expects the Republican nomination to wind up as a contest between him and Romney.


Republicans blast Democrats' opposition to immigration law

A group of Democratic congressmen were in Birmingham Monday to host a hearing on the law. Immigrant rights advocates and illegal immigrants were also scheduled to speak.

The GOP leaders spoke in a telephone conference call sponsored by the Alabama Republican Party. Speakers included party chairman Bill Armistead, State Rep. John Merrill, R-63 and Congressman Mo Brooks, R-5th.

Armistead chastised Democratic lawmakers from Washington who were “coming down to tell us how to do business” and “meddling” in the state’s affairs.

“We have been bold in coming forth with a comprehensive legislative reform package,” he said. “We should be instructing Washington.”

Brooks, who has praised state lawmakers for creating and passing the legislation, said the state did what it had to do because of dereliction by the federal government. He said if the county had strong federal immigration laws, Gov. Robert Bentley would not have had to sign HB 56 into law.

A bevy of state and national human rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice have filed lawsuits to block the law. Brooks said he was disappointed that President Barack Obama hasn’t been more grateful to states with tough immigration laws.

“He should be sending ‘thank you’ notes to Alabama, Arizona and Georgia, but this president and judiciary department is sending them lawsuits,” he said. “I find it to be very disappointing and most unsatisfactory.”

Brooks said the state and nation welcome immigrants who enter legally and who are interested in obtaining permanent citizenship. He pointed out that 600,000 to 1 million immigrants achieved citizenship last year, while another 150 million immigrants have entered the country as tourists, students or through work visas.

And while he acknowledged there is a great sense of compassion for the plight of the immigrant, he urged Alabamians to consider harm being done to the state by illegal immigrants, especially in regard to jobs, health care and education costs and crime.

“Illegal aliens have committed hundreds of thousands of crimes against American citizens and tens of thousands are in jails for their crimes,” Brooks said. “In Madison County, we’ve had more citizens killed or murdered by illegal aliens than in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would be alive today if not for the dereliction of the federal government.”

On April 17, 2009, 19-year-old Tad Mattle and his girlfriend, Grissom High School sophomore Leigh Anna Jimmerson, were killed when Felix Dominguez Ortega slammed into the back of Tad’s pickup truck while fleeing police officers. His blood-alcohol level was reportedly more than three times the legal limit.

In a case out of Limestone County, Marcello Ortiz-Velasquez was indicted on reckless murder charges stemming from a 2005 crash that killed his passengers, Martin Ramos and Marcos Lopez.

Ortiz-Velasquez was never found after his indictment, however, so the case has not come to trial.

Brooks said the state and national unemployment rate is another factor Alabamians should consider in light of the new law. He said the state’s unemployment rate dropped seven-tenths of a percent from July to October, which he considers proof that illegal immigrants are leaving the state and opening up jobs for citizens. The U.S. rate, he said, dropped just one-tenth of a percent over the same time period.

“Alabama is doing seven times better than the national number,” he said, adding that there are 7.4 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. who hold jobs. “(The plight of immigrants) is something we should have compassion for, but we have to weigh that for the compassion for American citizens; compassion for Americans who don’t have jobs.”

State Rep. John Merrell, who represents Tuscaloosa, said he and other Republican lawmakers welcome immigrants who want to enter the state “the right way.” He also said the law was not written to intimidate or mistreat immigrants.

“Anyone who comes to the state and wants to become a citizen, we want them to come,” he said. “What we want is for the law to be enforced equally for everybody.”


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