OPINION

Opinion: Notes from the border on Election Day

The U.S.-Mexico border wasn’t immune to the Republican tidal wave that swept America on Election Day, and the results have political and policy implications for Congress in 2015.

Back and forth in Texas and Arizona

If you’re looking for Election Day drama, my home state of Texas isn’t usually the place to look. The Lone Star state is solidly red, but there is one slice of the congressional map that serves as a barometer for the rest of the electorate.

Former CIA operative and Republican Will Hurd won Texas’ only swing seat, in the sprawling 23rd district. The 23rd stretches from San Antonio west to the edges of El Paso and contains 800 miles of border, including border communities Eagle Pass and Del Rio where I work with border authorities often.

This part of Texas’ congressional map has been tweaked over the years because of redistricting, but these parts of the state have been represented by Republicans before, most recently by one-term Rep. Quico Canseco and former Rep. Henry Bonilla before that.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell need to coral their respective caucuses and advance an agenda that proves it can be trusted with the controls of government. Worrying about whether the president will veto the bills Congress sends to his desk should be a distant second in concerns.

- Nelson Balido

My advice to Rep.-elect Hurd: don’t get comfortable. This seat has seen the incumbent go down to defeat in the last two elections. Surviving here isn’t easy, often going the way of broader national results.

In Arizona’s border district covering Tucson and the southeast region of the state’s border with Mexico, incumbent Democratic Rep. Ron Barber as of this writing is still waiting to learn his fate versus Republican challenger Martha McSally, as they are separated by only a few hundred votes. This is an almost exact replay of what happened in this district two years ago when the two matched up.

In the scheme of things, the outcomes in these two border districts won’t have major ramifications in the House, where the GOP will hold a majority not seen since the Truman administration.

But the winners in these two seats bring to the table the unique perspective of competitive border districts, where one of the most contentious issues facing the new Congress – immigration reform – has an outsized political impact. Their party leaders would be wise to include them in any reform plan that moves forward.

Does immigration reform get moving?

One could easily look at the election results and determine that there would be no upside to a Republican Congress getting to work on an immigration reform package next year. After all, to the extent that immigration played any role in election 2014, it was limited to talk over the unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border, an issue that largely faded from the headlines by the time Election Day rolled around.

There is no argument to be made that this year’s electorate was clamoring for an immigration reform bill.  Yet I still believe that Congress must do something about the thousands of students and young men and women called ‘Dreamers’ that are in the United States by no fault of their own yet lack a piece of paper so they can legally work.

But Republicans shouldn’t assume that 2014 offers up a big lesson about 2016.

The GOP deserves credit for upping its get-out-the-vote game and doing a much better job with candidate recruitment. But the Republicans can’t bank on such poor Democratic voter turnout next cycle, a presidential year where, as President’ Obama’s 2012 operation proved, Democrats have performed much better.

The Republican Party does not want to wake up the day after Election Day in two years and wonder what happened to its majority. Speaker of the House John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell need to coral their respective caucuses and advance an agenda that proves it can be trusted with the controls of government. Worrying about whether the president will veto the bills Congress sends to his desk should be a distant second in concerns.

Even in a controversial issue like immigration, there is room for bipartisan agreement, as an Obama executive order would only fan the flames of frustration. Visa reform for both high-skilled and low-skilled workers, a functional guest worker program and smart border security measures offer areas where both parties can get a win and prove to the American people that they’re serious about the business of governing.

So congratulations, Republicans, on a hard-earned victory. But get down to work in January, even on the tough issues. Otherwise 2016 could be a rude awakening.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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