Tuesday, May 25, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Shame on Jim Keet

We were afraid this would happen. We are going to have to reassess Jim Keet, the Republican candidate for governor whose short tenure as a state legislator 20 years ago we admired for its sobriety and sound judgment.

Monday, Keet started campaigning for a constitutional amendment put up by a fringe group called Secure Arkansas. It would require every state, county and city agency to investigate everyone who seeks a “public benefit” — that is each of us at some point — to verify that they are lawful residents of the United States.

Politicians do what they have to do — in this case be sure you have the votes of your party’s base — but there is a limit. You don’t commit yourself to a reckless public policy that is calculated only to stir hysteria about Mexicans and Asians overrunning the country.

The idea behind the “Amendment to Prevent Persons Unlawfully Present in the United States from Receiving Certain Benefits” is that illegal aliens are lining up at Arkansas schools, colleges, welfare offices, hospitals and city and county licensing offices to cart away our taxes, get a city permit to sell enchiladas or obtain some other social service to which only true Americans are entitled.

Keet has a city license to sell Greek food on Highway 10 in Little Rock, but he presumably has the papers to show he’s a legal resident. He would be grandfathered anyway. The amendment would apply only to future applicants.

State laws already prohibit about everything the amendment would prohibit, but this anti-immigrant group from Benton County wants it all enshrined in the Constitution, where it would stay forever. But what the amendment would do that current laws do not do is require every agency of government to set up an apparatus to verify the residency status of everyone who is to get some “public benefit,” whatever that turns out to be. Would you have to execute an affidavit, as the amendment would require, to get your tax refund? And would inspectors have to determine whether you were truthful?

Gov. Beebe said he opposed the amendment. It would duplicate the prohibitions of current law and set up expensive bureaucracies everywhere to check everyone’s truthfulness. Every agency in the state would make a detailed report to the legislature every year forever on its compliance with the law. Talk about a police state.

Keet had been talking about cutting government spending. If there are people illegally getting Medicaid assistance, a retail permit or in-state tuition status at state colleges, it surely pales alongside the cost of policing the amendment. Of course, if the amendment gets on the ballot and it is ratified, it is apt to be widely ignored because it is practically unenforceable. Our long and tedious Constitution is full of such outmoded and impractical law that is simply on the books.

But the object of such campaigns is not to protect the taxpayers but to arouse their suspicion and hatred in an election season. It will be very successful at that. We didn’t think that was Jim Keet’s style.