Madison, Wisconsin – Newly anointed GOP vice presidential contender Rep. Paul Ryan comes from a state where Latinos are barely 4 percent of registered voters.
That may be one reason that Ryan rarely has addressed immigration or Latinos in much of a high profile way in his congressional career.
But when presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's choice for running mate has taken some action, he’s been on polar opposites of issues of importance to Latinos.
That is one reason why despite the fact that many immigration advocacy organizations call him an immigration hardliner, Ryan, 42, is not terribly popular among those who want tough enforcement. He earned an overall grade of C from NumbersUSA, a group that pushes for strict immigration policies – it was one of the lowest grades assigned to those on the rumored short list for GOP running mate.
Ryan noted in an ABC News interview earlier this year that he holds about six bilingual town hall meetings each year to accommodate Latinos in his district.
He told reporters that one of his mentors, former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, for whom he worked as a speech writer, "taught me the importance and the value of outreach and inclusiveness."
Ryan voted to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from border security and immigration enforcement. And to the dismay of immigration hawks, Ryan has supported – even cosponsored – bills calling for more foreign workers to be admitted to the United States.
“Wisconsin. . .has relied on seasonal labor for agriculture and other industries,” Ryan said on his website. “Due to a lack of seasonal H-2B visas, some Wisconsin businesses face annual labor shortfalls.”
Ryan has supported E-Verify, an employee-eligibility verification program, for contractors who do business with the government, he has consistently opposed driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, as well as consulate-issued IDs. He has voted for bills building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and supporting Minutemen civilian border patrol groups.
He voted against the DREAM Act in 2010.
His website said: “While the DREAM Act has been promoted as an alternative to comprehensive reform, and I understand the points that DREAM Act supporters have raised, I believe this legislation attempts to treat a symptom – rather than the root cause – of our current problems.”
Erika Andiola of the DRM Capitol Group, which describes itself as a “lobbying arm of the DREAM movement,” said in a statement that a Ryan-Romney ticket would translate into immigrant-hostile policies.
Romney's selection of Ryan, she said, completes an “anti-immigrant ticket for the Republican party.”
“It is clear Paul Ryan does not stand with the Latino community since he has not only defended Romney on immigration but also deployed degrading terms including ‘anchor babies’ in speaking about immigrants and their families.”
After the announcement about Ryan as Romney’s choice, Roy Beck, founder and CEO of NumbersUSA, wrote: “Paul Ryan's C-Grade puts him in the worst 10 percent of all current Republican Members of Congress when it comes to protecting workers and taxpayers from mass immigration and illegal immigration.”
“Romney has shown a weakness for listening to business leaders who claim they may need more foreign workers,” Beck said. “Ryan's voice in the inner circles will only magnify that weakness. ..If Romney and Ryan are elected, we may have our work cut out for us to stop some immigration initiatives to increase foreign workers and hurt American workers.”
Beck, however, said that Ryan’s apparently lack of commitment to and passion for immigration might – to the advantage of those who want strict enforcement -- leave him open to changing past positions on the issue that have concerned immigration hawks.
An editorial in “La Opinion” called Romney’s selection of Ryan “a strategic move that reaffirms the right-wing, non-inclusive partisan base that we saw in the primary season."
"What bad news for those who believe that Latinos benefit when both parties strive to win their vote," the editorial continued. "The selection of a one of the most extreme, polarizing and obstructionist figures in the Congress does not help to attract the vote of minorities or moderates.”
Ryan has been markedly more decisive on other issues. He opposes abortion, he has a top rating from gun-rights groups and he backed sending troops to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But in conflict with fellow Republicans, he's defended wage laws favored by unions. And he supported the auto industry bailout opposed by Romney and the bank bailout that the party's right flank now opposes.
Ryan's 14 years in Congress leave a long trail of votes for Democrats to pick apart, a process that began with gusto as Romney announced his choice Saturday.
Ryan's intense interest in fiscal issues -- he holds a degree in economics and chairs the House Budget Committee -- helps explain why those matters define him in Washington. But Ryan has always been a reliable vote on proposals dear to social conservatives, enough to earn him a perfect score from a key anti-abortion group back home.
This year, Republicans rallied behind his debt and deficit prescription to curtail federal spending on food stamps, Pell Grants for education and other programs. His debt-reduction proposal calls for cuts in personal and corporate tax rates, but also would pare back deductions and preferences that litter the tax code. So far, it has been little more than a GOP wish list that passed the Republican-led House but hasn't passed the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Ryan wants to fashion Medicare into a plan more like a 401(K), steering future retirees into private insurance plans, with a fixed payment from the government that may or may not cover as much of a retiree's costs as does the current program. It departs from the current "fee for service" framework in which the government pays doctor and hospital bills.
That's a marked shift in the social compact and not the only one he proposes. Ryan also wants to shift Medicaid to the states and sharply limit the growth of federal spending on that program. Medicare and Medicaid together reach some 100 million people.
A majority of Latinos oppose cuts to Medicare, according to polls.
A Latino Decision poll conducted late last year, for example, showed that more than 70 percent of Latinos said they oppose Medicare cuts, 22 percent said they supported cuts and about five percent had no opinion.
As for how they prefer to see the national debt reduced, 45 percent said they favored raising taxes on wealthy people, about eight percent said programs should be cut, and 38 percent wanted a combination of raising taxes and making cuts.
Though known for his ideological purity, Ryan's votes in Congress have gone against the grain at times.
When Republicans have attempted to repeal federal wage protection laws for unions, Ryan has sided with Democrats in opposition.
Even so, Ryan ardently campaigned for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who fended off a recall attempt spurred by state law changes that angered unions.
Ryan, whose district lost a General Motors assembly plant a couple of years ago, supported the multi-billion dollar auto industry bailout started under then-Republican President George W. Bush and continued under President Barack Obama. Romney famously penned an opinion piece in 2008 with the headline, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," arguing automakers could have gone through a managed bankruptcy and re-emerged without such massive help from taxpayers.
But there's no question that his budget and Medicare plan stand among the boldest ideas in Washington and present the fattest target for Democrats.
Mindful of such sensitivities, Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie emphasized Sunday that as president, Romney "would be putting forward his own budget" as much as he admires Ryan's, making clear the presidential hopeful is not wedded to his running mate's proposals.
In taking his place on the ticket, Ryan lamented a Washington culture of timidity on the pressing issues of the time.
"We're running out of time -- and we can't afford four more years of this," Ryan said as Romney looked on. "Politicians from both parties have made empty promises which will soon become broken promises -- with painful consequences -- if we fail to act now."
Obama's campaign said Ryan's ideas were the potentially painful ones.
"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Ryan has taken thousands of recorded votes since coming to Congress in 1999, a minefield for any candidate, let alone one aspiring to the White House.
Ryan also signed his name to 1,064 bills and resolutions over that span. Many deal with eye-glazing tax policy. Others aim to restrict abortion procedures. He's made a recurring push for line-item veto powers to restrain spending.
Despite voting solidly against abortion rights, he's given little indication, especially in recent years, that he wants to go to the ramparts on the issue. His litmus test has been budget matters, and he's been known to endorse candidates who see abortion differently, saying he is willing to agree to disagree "with mutual respect."
In 2009, he voted to prohibit federal money from being used to pay for an abortion or for any part of a health plan that covers abortion -- except when the abortion results from rape or incest or when the pregnancy threatens the woman's life.
Many years earlier, he backed bans on so-called partial birth abortion that made an exception for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest.
A number of his legislative actions qualify as parochial measures. For instance, he's sponsored legislation to modify tax treatment of archery equipment and ease tariffs on motorcycle wheels, clearly a nod to Harley-Davidson Motor Co.'s Wisconsin base.
The local touches don't impress Ryan opponents, who say he's padded his national reputation at the expense of his district.
State Rep. Peter Barca, a Democratic former congressman from southeastern Wisconsin, criticized Ryan's record and proposals as inconsistent with the pulse of the area he represents.
"He's an articulate, good-looking guy," Barca said. "He'd talk like a moderate in Wisconsin but it wasn't until his last budget that people saw how extreme his views are."
Still, Ryan has won seven congressional elections, most handily. He has never run statewide, meaning the campaign to snatch the Wisconsin electoral votes that went to President Barack Obama last time will be a test of his appeal beyond his back yard.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached email@example.com
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