When the talk turns to immigration, Eric Hogue is an anomaly -- a conservative radio host who won't feed his audience red meat. Instead, he has put his listeners on a strict diet of honesty, compassion and common sense.
The Sacramento-based talker is no squishy moderate. You'll find him at tea party rallies and he uses the S-word (socialism) to describe President Obama's agenda. Yet, on immigration, Hogue battles listeners because he doesn't dabble in simple solutions, name-calling or nativism.
There's already enough of that kind of static on the airwaves. Many talk radio conservatives scapegoat immigrants to boost ratings.
Hogue understands why.
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"It's easier," he told me. "It produces good entertaining radio.
It's kind of an 'us versus them' ... it's lazy talk radio." Hogue understands that he might be putting his broadcasting career at risk by not jumping on the bandwagon. But as a Republican, he's wondering why more of his right-leaning brethren aren't seeing things the way he does.
"My neck's out because I won't run away from this issue," he said. "I see (illegal immigrants) as human beings, and I respect the fact that they want liberty. So as a Republican, I look at the Democratic Party that plays them like pawns on a chessboard for collectivism. And I see them as individuals who are conservative to the core and they want to be treated as individuals -- and we're the only party that can offer that to them. But we shoot ourselves in the foot trying to get there."
Hogue thinks immigration reform is an opportunity -- for the country and the GOP.
"America is a special place because we celebrate liberty and the individual," he said. "What the Republican Party should be doing is focusing on that and not our differences."
Hogue calls immigration a "wedge issue that becomes candy for the conservative core."
As if to prove his point, at the moment, the two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates in California are like kids in a candy store. With a mix of dishonesty and political posturing, they've constructed a GOP primary race that looks as though it should be broadcast on the Cartoon Network.
You know those election matchups where voters have a clear choice between opposing philosophies? Well, this isn't that kind of race.
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner are both wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who burst onto the political scene as moderates because, until recently, that's what California Republicans looked like -- at least those who were electable statewide.
Both previously expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to earned legal status for illegal immigrants. Poizner did this indirectly by praising President George W. Bush's approach to immigration reform.
And what was that approach? See above. Whitman did it more directly when, as an adviser to Sen. John McCain -- who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform plan in 2005 -- she said in a television interview that illegal immigrants should be able to earn the right to stay in the United States.
Now Poizner and Whitman are firing off radio and TV ads that accuse one another of supporting "amnesty."
So we have two Republicans accusing each other of siding with a former Republican president and a Republican senator in support of an immigration approach that both candidates agree with.
Even by California standards, it's beyond bizarre.
Poizner, who currently trails Whitman by more than 30 points, was the first to reach for the immigration issue as a life preserver. But it could become an anvil. After all, winning the June 8 primary is only one step on the road to the governor's office.
"In a Republican primary," Hogue said, "(the immigration issue) gets you votes. ... It helps you win a primary. The problem is, it helps you lose the general."
Exactly. Whichever Republican emerges victorious from this silk and cashmere gladiator match will, in November, go before an electorate that is 20 percent Latino and try to explain -- with the aid of cultural gimmicks like mariachi bands or chips and salsa -- that they didn't really mean all the nasty things they said just a few months earlier.
There's not enough salsa in the world to help Latinos to swallow that line.
Eric Hogue gets that, and he's trying to warn other California Republicans that they're on a suicide mission. If they care about their survival, they had better listen.
Navarrette's e-mail address is email@example.com.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE