Immigration, clearly, has become one of the most divisive issues in American politics today. And while it’s not an issue the Texas Freedom Network typically monitors, we have begun noting the extremist statements that public officials make in that debate. Speaking on Houston’s KPFT-FM radio station last week, state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, offered this doozy when arguing why minorities might oppose legislation stopping illegal immigration:
“(W)hen you have people that are used to entitlements, then they like the entitlements and they want the entitlements to keep coming.”
Such loopy comments likely won’t do Republicans any good as they try to appeal to Latinos and other minorities in Texas. So it’s not surprising that Riddle’s staff must have realized how incendiary her statement sounded and yesterday argued that she never said it. But she did say it:
This isn’t the first time Riddle’s mouth has gotten her in trouble. Here’s a classic Riddle quote from 2003:
“Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it’s cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It’s not a tender heart. It’s ripping the heart out of this country.”
Yeah, never mind health care, which we all know is a socialist plot. In Riddle’s world, apparently, supporters of public education are also dedicated Marxists at heart.
Riddle has been one of the Texas Legislature’s most strident religious-righters, traveling in the same circles as extremists such as Rick Scarborough and Steve Hotze. In 2007 she thrilled the Christian right by passing a bill adding “under God” to the Texas pledge. The addition “will acknowledge our Judeo-Christian heritage,” she said at the time.
But she’s hardly a model lawmaker, often making Texas Monthly magazine’s list of the state’s Ten Worst Legislators. (The magazine gave her the Joseph McCarthy Award in 2003 for her quote about public education and “the pit of hell.”) She even opposed (in 2009) a measure allowing state employees up to five hours of paid leave time a month to volunteer as advocates for foster children going through the court system. The state already allowed paid leave time for other activities, such as volunteering for Red Cross disaster service. But so much for “suffer the little children” and all that, right? (The bill passed, by the way.)
Riddle now is pushing hard on immigration. It’s a very important issue, of course. But is it too much to ask that our elected officials refrain from promoting blatant stereotypes when debating it?