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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Editorial - Listening to Ms. Gillibrand -

Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s new United States senator, continues her tour of the state this weekend, far beyond the farms, forests and racetracks of her old turf, the 20th Congressional District, which includes the Albany area. As she goes around listening to New York, it is just as critical for New York to listen intently to her.

What we have seen so far adds up to the same riddle she posed when Gov. David Paterson picked her: Can she represent a constituency beyond the narrow politics of her district, where she has been a bullet-headed opponent of gun control, proudly basking in the extremist affections of the National Rifle Association?

It’s not that Ms. Gillibrand is never willing to step out on a limb as a Democrat from a rural, Republican district. She has been a stout defender of women’s rights. And there was the speed, startling to say the least, with which she came around to embrace gay marriage.

Gay marriage is a nonstarter even among liberal Democrats like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, but it is firmly supported by the one person whose vote Ms. Gillibrand needed to win her Senate seat: Governor Paterson.

Hmmm. There’s flexibility, and then there is rootlessness. We doubt New Yorkers want to send someone to Washington carrying a bag of random principles determined mostly by constituents’ angry phone calls and her patron’s personal priorities.

Ms. Gillibrand has pledged herself to studying the issues to better represent all of New York. She should start with immigration. New York is huge; it contains multitudes, including millions of newcomers who perpetually renew it. It is Hempstead and Elmira, Watertown and Montauk. And it is New York City: the glory of the No. 7 subway, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and its 21st-century counterpart, Kennedy International Airport.

Ms. Gillibrand’s House votes on immigration amounted to a repudiation of New York’s special gift to America. She allied herself solidly with expulsionist Republicans, who reject assimilation in favor of locking down the border, deporting 12 million illegal immigrants and enshrining English as America’s one true tongue. She has favored enforcement rigidity over common sense; she was one of the first to denounce former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s well-meaning effort to make sure illegal immigrants drive with licenses and insurance.

Ms. Gillibrand has not shown that she understands the ineffectiveness and moral bankruptcy of enforcement-only schemes. To take one example: The SAVE Act, which she co-sponsored, was all about border fencing and requiring everyone in America to prove legal status before being allowed to work. Nothing in it required or allowed immigrants to come forward and legalize. It was meant to seem tough, but was actually a weak reassertion of the status quo, in which undocumented immigrants are denied hope of legal status while the government tries to make them so miserable that they go home. That is a recipe for creating and exploiting a cheap, docile underclass.

Ms. Gillibrand does understand that the country needs to increase and streamline legal immigration. But defending immigration should be an absolute minimum qualification for a political leader from this state. New Yorkers should expect much more.

Editorial - Listening to Ms. Gillibrand -

Elect A Progressive Senator for New York in 2010

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