Whitman And a "Path to..."?

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Photo: Getty Images

The issue of illegal immigration doesn't seem to be getting any easier for Meg Whitman.

In a bruising half hour interview with Los Angeles talk show hosts John Kobylt & Ken Chiampou this afternoon, the Republican gubernatorial nominee said she's against any path to citizenship for those who are in the country illegally, even though she seemed to be for such a path 10 months ago.

The KFI-AM talk show hosts were riled up about what they see as inconsistencies between Whitman's primary campaign rhetoric, her rhetoric now that she faces Jerry Brown, and her own statements compared to those made by her campaign ads. And they insisted that a "path to citizenship" is synonymous with "amnesty" for those here illegally.

The candidate agreed.

"I know," she said, "and I am not for a path to citizenship. You know that, right?"

Whitman was being grilled at the time about an op-ed piece she penned for Spanish language newspapers, one in which she said she and Brown have essentially the same stance on illegal immigration. But Brown supports some kind of citizenship process... which is the gap over which the talk show hosts grilled her for what seemed like an eternity.

At one point, Kobylt pushed the following point: "No illegal alien is going to get any kind of citizenship unless they leave the country and apply through the [normal] process. Is that true?"

Whitman's answer: "Yes."

But here's the rub: the candidate's visit to the U.S-Mexico border in October 2009 resulted in a story from the San Diego Union-Tribune which began as follows:

With the San Ysidro border fence as her backdrop, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman spoke out on immigration policy issues yesterday, saying it is "simply not practical" to deport the estimated 12.5 million illegal immigrants living and working in the United States.

The candidate, 53, said the solution is to find a mechanism that allows them to live here legally. "Can we get a fair program where people stand at the back of the line, they pay a fine, they do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization?" she asked.

And then there's the video from an area TV station's interview that day.

That sounds like a different take on the complicated issue than Whitman offered this afternoon. In a sit-down interview I did with her in May, I asked about a bipartisan measure in the United States Senate that would require a number of steps for illegal immigrants, but steps that nonetheless would allow many to remain in the country. Her response at the time was noncommittal, saying simply that border security was the first priority.

And on the issue of amnesty, Whitman at the time defined it this way: "Amnesty is when you don't face any consequences at all for having broken the law."

The nominee's attempt to sort out what's a decidedly complicated issue (and one on which the next governor will have more rhetorical than legal power) appears... well, complicated. So how is the campaign squaring all of this?

Simple, apparently... they say she wasn't referring to citizenship in that October 2009 interview.

"She was talking about a temporary guest worker program," said spokesperson Sarah Pompei in an email this afternoon. "She supports a comprehensive solution that secures the borders first and includes a temporary guest worker program. What she said today is entirely consistent with what she has said before."

The key word, of course, is "legalization," though the phrase "path to..." usually conjures up the issue of citizenship.

With so many huge hurdles facing California, it's hard to see illegal immigration as the key issue in this race. But Whitman's critics on the left and the right are likely not going to stop talking about this for some time... an example of what happens in campaigns these days when someone thinks they sense a candidate has either changed their mind, or changed their approach. Or both.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Peter North

    Enough is enough! Legal U.S citizens unite! Help take the steps to save our country take our jobs back and stop this illegal immigrant invasion. Support our cause before illegal immigrant criminals have more rights than us. This is our last stand! Also we must take steps to lower local city and state councilmen salaries too they are all robbing & hurting the people they serve. So please read and sign this online petition. “Petition to Reduce the Wages of Congress Men and Women from $174,000 per year to $50,000 per year at “change.org’. ” Copy & Paste below link into your web address bar:

    http://uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/petition_to_reduce_the_wages_of_congress_men_and_women_from_174000_per_year_to_50000_per_year

    Pass it on!

  • Lloyd Robins

    With her commercials urging hispanic kids to become doctors and lawyers and her flip flopping on Prop 23, she can’t be trusted. She has no moral fiber, and her handlers are just feeding her positions to eek out every last vote. Well, here is some news for you, Meg, I’ve never voted for a non-republican in 30 years of voting, and I refuse to vote for you, Maldonado, or Villines.

  • Marino

    Whitman contradicts herself as if she doesn’t care how obvious it is. Worse than Arnold? Why can’t we find one decent Republican to run for governor in a state with 30 million people?

  • Duffy

    Um..because Republicans can’t govern and have no good ideas? Actually, if a Republican actually flat out said that mass deportation and/or arrests for being in the US illegally is virtually impossible and would devastate our economy, and that the only realistic option is to provide illegal immigrants a path to legal residency, even I might give them my vote. As long as a dirt-poor country riddled with crime and political corruption has the richest country in the world as a neighbor, we’re going to continue to have an influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico, no matter what security measures we enact at the border or what penalties we threaten. Until they have positive reasons to stay in their own country the immigration problem with Mexico will never be solved.

  • KFI listener

    I listened to the show on KFI AM 640. Meg is quite scattered on the CA top issue of illegal immigration. Why is she so concerned with the latino vote? It’s only 5-10 percent, illegals can’t vote (luckily). she should just have one stance, a tough stance, a stable stance, she will grab Poizners’s who don’t know where to go. Can we please forget the latino vote for a couple of elections and favor Average Americans here? CA is crumbling and bankrupt. Millions of Americans are jobless. It looks like Tijuana in a lot of parts of CA now.