Trapping Republicans: The New York State Driver’s License Controversy

City of Troy
Rensselaer County
New York

My county clerk, Frank Merola, has been making a name for himself lately.  Reacting to NY State Governor Eliot Spitzer’s change in the requirements for a NY State Driver’s license, which would drop the need for a social security number, Merola told the press “As long as I am county clerk, I will never process a license for anyone who cannot prove they’re here legally.”

A number of Republican county clerks in Upstate New York have joined Merola in saying they will refuse to comply with the governor’s policy change. Merola has been featured on immigrant basher Lou Dobbs‘ CNN news show.

Spitzer, who has been embroiled in the so-called “Troopergate” affair for quite some time now, would seem to have lost his mind if some upstate newspapers were believed.

Nothing is further from the truth, however.  Spitzer knows exactly what he is doing, which is a great service to the national Democratic Party.

He has led the New York Republicans into a trap as neatly as a Yates County farmer might snare a woodchuck.

By blanketing the news statewide and nationally with their opposition to a change in policy that is very limited, one that would only grant a driver’s license to an immigrant with a valid passport, something that hundreds of thousands of the undocumented are unlikely to have, Republicans have further isolated themselves from the rapidly growing Latino vote.

As an article in the American Prospect website points out “In 2004, John Kerry won the Latino vote by 58-40 percent, a healthy 18-point margin.  Since he lost the overall popular vote by 3 points, this means that Kerry outperformed his national numbers among Latinos by 21 points. . . .  [N]o matter what Democrats have or haven’t done to attract Latinos, they certainly know which party is against them. . . .”

Intelligent Republicans, an endangered species, evidently, know which way the wind is blowing.  That is why New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg enacted Executive Order number 41, mandating that no city agency can ask anyone their immigration status.

Now Spitzer has done exactly the same thing with driver’s licenses.

I was among about 20 supporters of immigrants rights who picketed and then delivered a letter to Merola’s office asking him to follow the governor’s proposed policy.

“They are not terrorists.  They are not criminals.  They are not parasites,” Guillermo Perez, president of the Capital District Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said of license-seeking immigrants.

Our Renssalaer County picket was small and beleaguered by a driving rain.  But behind us in the shadows there is a giant, the fast-growing legions of recent immigrants from Latin America, whose drive for a place in the North American sun won’t be stopped by a handful of County Clerks in upstate New York.

Jon Flanders is a member and former president of IAM LL 1145 and a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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