Plenty in common: GOP senator reaches out to Hispanics

In an era when voters rightly complain that too many politicians tell audiences what they want to hear -- no matter how that relates to what they really believe or even how they're likely to vote -- U.S. Sen. Dean Heller showed some backbone when he went before a largely unfriendly audience packed with Hispanic and Democratic activists last week, and talked straight.

Sen. Heller said he'd be happy to meet with Hispanic leaders to discuss immigration reform. He does want to make it easier to become a legal citizen, he said, and he also wants to expand a temporary worker program so non-Americans can provide needed U.S. labor.

But the Republican stood firm in his opposition to amnesty for 10 million to 12 million illegals, and to a proposed law that would grant citizenship to illegals, even those in their 30s, if they serve a few years in the military or merely sign up for college classes.

The senator said he voted against the so-called DREAM Act because it could provide benefits to illegal immigrants that should go to U.S. citizens, such as lower in-state tuition.

Sen. Heller's comments came during an hour-long breakfast meeting with Hispanics in Politics, the oldest Hispanic political group in Nevada. The event came more than two months after he angered Hispanic leaders by canceling an appearance before the Latin Chamber of Commerce.

"I don't know what he was afraid of," said Otto Merida, head of the Latin Chamber, who was among those who questioned Heller at Friday's event. "Many of the things he said I agreed with."

Indeed, plenty of Hispanic-Americans work hard to support their families or to build up small businesses. GOP priorities such as property rights, low taxation and less red tape are issues that can resonate with them -- it would be unwise for Republicans to write them off.

Sen. Heller said he hoped Hispanics would focus on "the 80 percent" of issues where he agrees with them, including family values and faith and the need to create more jobs.

A statesman must be willing to "enter the lion's den," to talk straight even to unfriendly audiences in an attempt to establish a civil dialogue on important issues. Sen. Heller has made a good start.