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Meg Whitman and Immigration: A CEO’s Crystal Clear Clarity Gives Way to Confusion

When Michael Bloomberg and other media titans trekked to Capitol Hill this past week, the message was coherent: Immigration at all levels is vital for the economy, reform is essential for the country and non-natives can be credited with creating some of the most innovative companies around, including Google, Yahoo and eBay.

Yes, eBay. This week, that company’s former CEO, Meg Whitman, also was talking about immigration, but the message of confusion. There is the flap over whether she knew she was employing an illegal immigrant as a maid, along with the typical who knew what and when of a scandal. During Saturday’s California gubernatorial debate against Jerry Brown, Whitman is trying to throw the whole controversy back at her opponent, but instead it may merely remind voters of the conundrum that the issue of immigration has posed for her all along the way.

She’s been kind of for and kind of against the Arizona law — right for that state, but not for California. She’s not for a path to legalization but has said it is “simply not practical” to deport all of those who are here illegally. She’s said she was sorry that Proposition 187 passed, but also has said that illegal immigrants “should not expect benefits” from the state. On immigration, she insists she’s been crystal clear. Perhaps — if John Kerry is the benchmark.

No matter who you believe in the flap over Nicky Diaz Santillan, it could not have come at a more inopportune time, just as polls show that Whitman’s ability to make inroads in the Latino community, and her path to Sacramento, have been stunted from the summertime gains. The Brown campaign all along had complained that Whitman has shifting her positions on immigration, but their message got trumped by the Whitman camp’s superior resources.

Obviously, Whitman wouldn’t be having these kinds of troubles on immigration had she never had to run in the GOP primary, forcing her to tack right. It’s one reason Arnold Schwarzenegger seized the moment in the recall in 2003, when he didn’t have to take a hardline position but could instead relate with his own inspiring tale of coming to California.

Voters just now are starting to pay some attention to the governor’s race, and the risk for Whitman is that those just tuning in are not picking up nuance, but the image of a tearful maid, and a sometimes smiling businesswoman defending and explaining what happened when. While her outlay on campaign spots has enabled her to introduce herself to the California voter, those commercials for the rest of the month will be competing against the clutter of all sorts of political advertisements from all sorts of different groups.

There was a story this week filled with inspirational rhetoric and a crystal clear position, but it came not from a politician but a media mogul who joined Bloomberg before the congressional committee, Rupert Murdoch.

He told the lawmakers, “As an immigrant, I chose to live in America because it is one of the freest and most vibrant nations in the world. And as an immigrant, I feel an obligation to speak up for immigration policies that will keep America the most economically robust, creative and freedom-loving nation in the world.”

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