City Council candidates' forum tonight at Hayti Heritage Center
Young Dems'/NCCU SGA City Council candidates debate wrap-up

Stith and immigration: The candidate responds, and how did we get here, exactly?

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Thomas Stith released a statement on Tuesday, sent by at least one campaign supporter to at least one Partners Against Crime listserv, clarifying the purpose of his proposed revision of the City's resolution concerning interactions with those termed illegal immigrants. Stith's response appears below the jumpcut here.

Barry has an analysis of Stith's statement at his blog that is worth reading. I don't agree with every point of the analysis (since my read of G.O. 4073 suggests it and the DPD practice are aligned, though whether the Order and the Council resolution are aligned is open to some interpretation), but I won't repeat that debate here.

That said, there are two points I think are worth noting, given the following text in Stith's statement:

"I feel it is important to correct the misconceptions about my effort to correct our current city policy that states our police in particular should not determine legal status of individuals who they are investigating for specific crimes.... [S]ome people have characterized this issue in a negative manner and that is unfortunate. I would hope that we would not let the real issue of providing our department with the proper guidance become lost in the current misinformation that is curculating."

Point #1: There was, to my knowledge of the local blogosphere and listservs, any significant online discussion, criticism or coverage of the immigration policy change before or immediately after Stith brought up the subject of re-aligning the City's resolution with current policy at the September 6 Council work session, save for that at the John Locke Foundation's blog. (The family that financially backs the JLF also backs the Civitas Institute, of which Stith was a VP until this spring.)

Point #2: Coverage of the topic on Durham blogs only began when the robo-calls began late last week from the Stith campaign. The average recipient of a robo-call likely walked away with the impression that Stith was taking a far more strident stand on illegal immigration broadly, implying that Durham was "a safe haven for illegal immigrants."

Put directly: the robo-calls created an outroar precisely because they left a far different impression on callers than reconciling City policy with on-the-beat practice. They were best interpreted as, and -- I can only conclude -- intended to be, red-meat fodder to shock and awe the voting public.

Can you directly reconcile Stith's more nuanced statement yesterday about aligning policy with practice with a close textual read of the robo-call? Yes. Can you make a case that a variance of policy and practice sets up Durham for still more litigation, as Stith asserted on Monday night at Council? Yes.

But is it reasonable to believe that the robo-call was meant to inform citizens about this procedural question -- instead of using the specter of "illegal immigration" to score points among Stith's political base and moderate voters? That the typical recipient would perform a close analysis of the message text and cross-reference it back to the interaction of two policies and one in-the-field practice?

I doubt it. There's no logical reason for Stith's campaign to have chosen the robo-call tactic, in terms of the precise word choice and the (alleged) targeting of recipients, except to appeal to the basest, darkest, most emotional instincts in us. Not to say you can't and shouldn't have a rational debate over immigration policy (a subject on which I'm fairly middle-of-the-road, personally.) But rationality seemed far removed from this discussion.

I opined here last week, tongue in cheek, that both mayoral candidates live closer to Morrisville than to the heart of Durham. I didn't expect that either of the candidates would actually borrow from the negative campaigning playbook so common in traditional Sunbelt cities. But I'm disinclined to believe this tactic is the right one for Durham.

(And all of which is to set aside Stith's past on-the-record support for the existing City policy, something I doubt he would have ever mentioned in the robo-call message.)

My analysis: The best way out of this for Stith would be to propose a change to the 2003 resolution that notes that City staff should not inquire about the immigration status of individuals, unless same are under arrest on bona fide suspicion of having committed a crime. This seems to be the only way to reconcile his vote on principle in 2003 with the concerns he's raised about the variance in today's policy and practice, and to move his campaign past this as quickly as possible. Which by now probably seems like a pretty darn good idea.

Stith's statement appears below the jump.

Stith's complete statement as released to a listserv on Tuesday:

I feel it is important to correct the misconceptions about my effort to correct our current city policy that states our police in particular should not determine legal status of individuals who they are investigating for specific crimes. I belive [sic] it is important to provide our department with the proper tools to effectively investigate apparent crimes. I am not asking for the police to target Hispanics or any other group within our city. The police currently determine status when they are investigating a criminal act. Our council policy states they should not do this. I am asking that our policy reflect our practice. The police support this position based upon their review of the situation. This would apply to all persons and not single anyone out. I agree that some people have characterized this issue in a negative manner and that is unfortunate. I would hope that we would not let the real issue of providing our department with the proper guidance become lost in the current misinformation that is curculating. [sic]

Thomas Stith

Comments

Barry

Kevin - want to call attention to something that you've written, which i've also posted on my blog here:
http://dependableerection.blogspot.com/2007/09/stith-robo-call-unexplored-angle.html

That is, when you write "There's no logical reason for Stith's campaign to have chosen the robo-call tactic," we need to more closely examine what exactly transpired with the robo-call.

Everyone's assumption, mine included, is that the robo-call was part of Stith's mayoral campaign. But read the transcript or listen to the call again. Nowhere does Stith identify himself as a mayoral candidate, or say that he "wants to be your new mayor." Instead, he specifically states, "In Monday's city Council meeting, I'm going to introduce a resolution that ends the policy that makes Durham a safe haven for illegal immigrants."

He is acting as a Council member, not as a candidate for mayor, in making this call. It may be that he thinks he does not need to disclose his funding source by doing so. For example, had this been a campaign announcement, the tag line "Paid for by Citizens for Stith" or something like that would have had to appear on the call. It does not.

I've asked several Council members for their thoughts on this. so far, no one has reported ever hearing of this tactic being used by a Council member to promote Council business. The more i think about this, the more convinced i am that there is something unethical going on here. If the call was paid for by the campaign, or by a third party, then we're clearly getting into territory that violates either election law or laws regulating the conduct of public officials. If Stith used city funds (i don't know if the city gives Council members a discretionary fund to use to communicate with constituents the way, say, Congress does), a lot of people are going to characterize this as, at best, inappropriate. If he used his personal funds, then he's got to be subject to normal junk call limitations, andit will be interesting to what happens if anyone who is on the federal Do Not Call registry (which contains exemptions for political campaign calls, which this call apparently tries to avoid being) reports this. those fines can be pretty steep.

But, by acting in the call as a public official ("I'm going to introduce a resolution") that should make the records of who paid for the call, and to whom it was placed available to the public.

I'm going to keep hammering this point for a while and see if it gains any traction. I think it needs to.

Kevin

You won't get any traction, Barry. Attribution is not required for robo-calls, so far as I know.

Barry

thanks, Kevin. i;m getting different information from other folks. i wish i could do this full-time.

Kevin Davis

Kevin, Barry -- thanks for the comments. Barry, my gut feeling is Kevin is right on this one in re the rules based on calls I've gotten in the past, but that's a guess. Best bet, as someone suggested over at your place, is the Board of Elections.

barry

kevin's right. at least for now.

see the letter from Mike Ashe at BoE at my place.

anybody up for some robo-calling?

Kevin

Most, but not all, statutes governing election law are found in chapter 163 of the General Statutes of the State of NC:

http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/Statutes/StatutesTOC.pl?Chapter=0163

Robo calls are not mentioned in the Article and Section dealing with disclosure requirements for campaign communications:

http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/HTML/BySection/Chapter_163/GS_163-278.39.html

Kevin

Shoot!--election law gets me all excited, forgot to preview.

barry

Just a guess, but i think there will be some discussion in the lege next year about this oversight. Will there be any laws passed? Who knows.

barry

Just a heads up - Matt Dees is reporting in teh N&O that Council has voted not to change the policy.

Money quote from new Chief Lopez: "We treat everyone equally," Lopez said. When people are witnesses or victims of crime, "it's not our issue their legality here in the country," he said. But "it's a different story" for people who break the law, he said.

"We will not be an arm" of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Lopez said.

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/durham/durham/story/710067.html

Kevin

There's always hope for this one:

http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2007&BillID=SB+1002

Makes robo-calls illegal for anyone on the Do Not Call registry.

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