Gonzalez says lawmaker’s remarks helped derail reform
by Dennis Sharkey
Some remarks made by a southeastern Kansas state representative last month are being blamed for the legislature’s inability to move legislation involving immigration reform forward.
The remarks were made by Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, last month during a committee meeting. Peck made a joke about shooting illegal immigrants from helicopters much the same way as officials shoot feral hogs.
The remarks forced Jefferson County’s representative, Ramon Gonzalez, R-Perry, into the national spotlight because of his surname. Gonzalez was interviewed by CNN.
Peck eventually apologized, although some felt halfheartedly and showed it with protests and petitions. Gonzalez accepted his apology. However, he told voters at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast earlier this month that the remark derailed the talks.
“Don’t make this a racial problem,” Gonzalez said he told fellow Republicans. “Make it what it is, an immigration problem, and deal with it.”
Gonzalez said Peck’s comments are not the only comments that have to be addressed. He said another lawmaker, who he did not name, also made comments during a meeting that were personally offensive to him. He said the representative made the comment, “These Spanish speaking people are taking all the jobs.”
“It’s ‘these people,’” he said. “These are the kind of remarks that will hinder us passing an immigration bill.”
Gonzalez also said he has problems with the language in the bill and pointed to some hypocrisy by the legislature. He pointed to a racial profiling bill the House passed that would prohibit people from being targeted because of race, color or religion.
“But at the same time we pass an immigration bill saying if it looks like, talks like and walks like it must be,” he said. “We can’t do that.”
Gonzalez said he was recently asked how many illegal aliens are in the state.
Gonzalez lightly joked that the state doesn’t know and that’s why they are called undocumented in some references.
He pointed to the state of Utah that has a program that tries to identify illegal aliens who have jobs and are working toward citizenship. He said the state issues a visitor’s pass that documents the person.
He said inappropriate remarks are not the only hurdle in the state. He also said meat packing plants in the western part of the state are putting up some resistance. Some lawmakers want to require employers to use the federal E-verify system that checks a person’s ability to work in the United States.
“If you run E-verify you’re liable to lose 90 percent of your work force,” he said. “It’s one of those issues you’re either going to have it or not.”
Gonzalez said lawmakers realize the problem is a federal issue, but the state also will address the issue. Although the main problems lie outside the scope of what Kansas can do, there are some measures that can be taken.
“We recognize it’s a federal issue,” he said. “It has to be addressed at our borders and it’s not just the southern border. We can’t put up a fence all the way around the United States.”
Gonzalez also backed the voter identification law that was signed by Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday.
The law’s main component will require everyone who votes to show an ID. New voters will be required to prove they are a citizen of the United States before being registered.
Gonzalez also addressed a question about the defunding of the Kan-Ed program that provides high speed internet access to rural parts of the state. The program is paid for by a $0.25 charge added to phone bills.
He said he supported the bill to defund the program because it was never meant to be a lifetime tax and was supposed to sunset in 2006.
There are also concerns about Kan-Ed director Brad Williams. Gonzalez said Williams stood up lawmakers for one meeting and then appeared arrogant when he did appear before lawmakers. He said Williams had no plans for losing the funding and there was an overall lack of foresight by the leadership. Salaries comprise more than $875,000 of the Kan-Ed budget.
“We’re paying the guy $131,000 a year and he has no contingency plan,” he said. “His attitude was arrogant and I had a problem with it.
“We can’t just keep feeding the cow year after year at the taxpayers’ expense,” he added. “There’s a lot of waste going on. If you’re getting paid $131,000 a year, you better know where your program is headed.”
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