Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign wants you to see David Garcia as an open-borders-loving, cop-hating radical.
Last week, the process of painting that picture of Garcia accelerated, with opponents tying Garcia to a foul oath written by Phoenix activists against the Border Patrol.
Does this shoe really fit Garcia? It doesn’t matter — the Ducey team and Republican Governors Association will be jamming it onto his feet if he wins the Democratic primary this week no matter what.
Garcia is challenged in the primary by Steve Farley, the state senator from Tucson, and Kelly Fryer, the director of the YWCA of Southern Arizona. Ducey is being challenged by former Secretary of State Ken Bennett in the Republican primary.
The process of positioning Garcia as an open-borders radical has been interesting to watch and shows where we’re headed during this fall’s general election season nationwide, no matter what the seat. It’s no coincidence that last week, Ducey attended a made-for-the-campaign event in appreciation of immigration agents, hosted by President Trump at the White House.
Then, last week, a man illegally in the country was arrested in Iowa for the murder of a young woman, which served to confirm where we’re headed.
We’re going to be hearing a lot about open borders and criminal immigrants again this fall, and proportionally less about stagnant wages, excessive health-care costs or inadequate education. It’s a shame, because those immigration issues shouldn’t be central to campaigns for state offices. These officeholders have little or no say about immigration and border issues. But Republicans know they are still hot-button concerns for some voters who could determine the outcome of the governor’s race.
In that sense, by talking about immigration and the border, opening himself up to interpretation, Garcia has stumbled into the trap.
It began July 9, during this summer’s furor over federal agents separating migrant parents from their children, when Garcia said in a written statement: “Trump’s immoral actions — which Ducey has enabled — demand that we rebuild our immigration system top-to-bottom and start by replacing ICE with an immigration system that reflects our American values, values I and so many before have served to protect.”
Ducey’s side said Garcia had embraced the “Abolish ICE” movement, something The Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts echoed in a subsequent column. The Republican Governors Association then quoted Roberts’ column in an ad condemning Garcia. That’s the roundabout way an accusation becomes a reality.
The “Abolish ICE” movement is something the GOP is hoping to make a centerpiece of its campaigns nationwide this year. This month, the New York Times quoted Corry Bliss, the chief strategist of the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, as saying, “If the choice is: ‘Do you want to raise middle-class taxes? Do you want to abolish ICE? Do you want Nancy Pelosi as speaker?’ — that’s a debate we’ll win.”
Garcia kept giving Ducey’s team chances to label him. He said at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, “Just imagine, no wall in Southern Arizona. Just imagine that on Nov. 7 when Trump opens up his Twitter account, and sees that in Arizona of all places, the good people of Arizona have just elected a guy named Garcia governor of Arizona.”
Ducey’s team and the Republican Governors Association turned his “no wall” comment into a desire for open borders, though Garcia said he was talking about opposing Trump’s proposed new wall.
It went on. Garcia said he would consider eliminating state spending on border enforcement such as the National Guard or Ducey’s signature Border Strike Force, which is run by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Republican leaders in the Legislature then chastised him in a letter full of faux concern, saying “We urge you to reconsider making the elimination of Border Strike Force resources a main platform in your campaign.”
Now, this is a legitimate state issue in the campaign. We can and should have a good debate whether the state officers dedicated to stopping cross-border crime would be better used on the state’s roadways, where 1,000 people were killed in traffic mishaps during 2017.
Finally, on Wednesday last week, Garcia visited the Tucson offices of LUCHA, a progressive activist group based in Phoenix. It was the same day LUCHA members in Phoenix marched on the Maricopa County jail, demanding that the sheriff prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from the premises. The group used a vulgar, Spanish-language hashtag on Twitter during the event that essentially means “f*** the Border Patrol.”
Garcia has stated he is aligned with LUCHA, so that turned into the latest line of attack on him around border issues. As the Border Patrol agents’ union put it in a written statement: “This kind of rhetoric is a direct threat to the men and women who serve in the Border Patrol. Men and women who — I would remind David Garcia — live in our state.”
I asked Ducey Friday in Tucson about the immigration-related attacks on Garcia. “Today’s not a day for politics,” Ducey said, citing Sen. John McCain’s announcement that he will no longer receive treatment for brain cancer.
On Wednesday in Tucson, Garcia told me that the GOP’s focus on immigration is intended “to distract Arizonans from the real issue, which is public education.”
“I’m not surprised that they did this,” he said. “They’re going to focus on immigration because it’s the playbook. It’s intended to create fear, to divide communities, and we’ve seen it not just in this race but around the country.”
He’s not wrong. And yet it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Garcia keeps walking into the trap of talking about immigration and border issues. They are not, after all, a significant part of any governor’s duties.
Farley, Garcia’s primary opponent, told me, “Garcia has been playing right into the strategy of the national Republicans. They want to distract us from having the election being about health care, education and jobs. They want to talk about open borders, raising taxes and Nancy Pelosi.”
“The only reason the Republican Governors Association isn’t going after me is I don’t give them any material to go after me with,” Farley said.
Maybe — but Farley is also opposed to the border strike force and has similar views on Trump’s wall and hasn’t been attacked over it. It’s just as likely the association sees Garcia as a greater threat to win and would happily attack Farley more if they were more worried about him.
Fryer is closer to the unabashed open-borders advocate that Ducey’s team wants you to see in Garcia. She advocates for human rights and demilitarization as the top priority in border enforcement. But again, it would probably be a waste of time for them to attack her for it, because she’s running third in the Democratic polls.
So there is some substance to the attacks on Garcia’s immigration positions. He is allied with LUCHA, he’s opposed to Trump’s border wall, he probably would do away with the border strike force, and he does want ICE replaced. But only one of those positions — the funding of the border strike force — is relevant to the issues governors grapple with.
Mainly, it is a wedge issue that we’ll be hearing a lot about this fall, no matter what the office.