A Plea for Statesmanship
On Sept. 14, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arranged for about 50 legal Venezuelan migrants seeking political asylum to be flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, without notice. He used money that was initially designated for COVID relief, but authorized by the Florida Legislature, to pay for the flights. He rationalized his actions as an answer to liberal hypocrisy, where it is one thing to vote yourself a sanctuary city, but another thing to handle the work of accommodating an influx of immigrants.
A day later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom characterized DeSantis’ actions as “disgraceful” and “repugnant,” and challenged him to a debate. DeSantis replied, “All I can say is, I think his hair gel is interfering with his brain function.” Of course, Newsom countered, “I’ll bring my hair gel, you bring your hair spray. Name the time before Election Day.” It is clear this contretemps between two middle-aged governors did nothing to solve the ongoing controversies regarding the immigration crisis.
To put things in perspective, certain facts are worth reviewing. Our federal government has performed poorly in addressing immigration issues. The immigration crisis is not new, it has gone on for years and both political parties have handled it poorly, if at all.
It is important to note that at the state level the burden has not been distributed fairly. The greatest burden has been disproportionately shared by southern border states. So where do we go from here? Will a debate filled with rancor and comments about hair gel and hair spray accomplish anything? I doubt it. Let’s be serious, both DeSantis and Newsom are politicians and both are apparently considering a presidential run in 2024. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” That is a reality.
However, the two governors have an opportunity to rise above politics and try statesmanship. Abraham Lincoln was an adept politician, one of the best, but he rose above it and became a statesman. Without his statesmanship, the outcome of the Civil War may have been far different. The two governors would do well to remember the words of Lincoln, “A statesman is he who thinks in the future generations and a politician is he who thinks in the upcoming elections.”
I suggest that DeSantis and Newsom, rather than having a debate about hair grooming, initiate a “Governors’ Task Force on Immigration” comprised of six to eight governors from around the country. At a minimum, their agenda could address: better supervision of the border, finances, distribution of migrants, coordination between states regarding housing, education and infrastructure requirements. They could produce a white paper and submit it to the president and the congressional leaders as a start to begin addressing the immigration maelstrom.
It is ironic to note that a 2020 paper published by University of Florida researchers Nicholas Kortessis and Margaret Simon entitled “The Interplay of movement and spatiotemporal variation in transmission degrades pandemic control” provides some insight accrued from the COVID pandemic. They argued that the lack of coordination between different geographic regions exacerbated COVID control and drove disease acceleration. Have we learned nothing from the pandemic that can’t be applied to the immigration issue? States need to work together and not against each other.
So governors, enough of your sophomoric sparring. Your states and your country deserve better than that from you. A “Governors’ Immigration Task Force” is long overdue and could serve as a counterpoint to inaction within the Beltway. Take a cue from Honest Abe and put aside thoughts about the 2024 election to think about future generations.
Kevin R. Loughlin, M.D., M.B.A., is a retired urologic surgeon and professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School. He lives in Edgartown, Massachusetts. You can reach him by email here.
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