Lynda Gledhill, San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 2006
Sacramento — Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, assessing the election-year implications of a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, said Thursday that he didn’t want to provide fodder to “crackers” in San Diego.
Previewing the final four weeks of the legislative session, Perata was asked at a news conference if he would send to the governor a bill that would grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Perata said he hadn’t thought about it but would keep in mind that it is a hot-button issue in an election year.
“Immigration is a red meat issue. You’ve got all these crackers down in San Diego taking on the governor. Even the governor was shocked,” he said, referring to Schwarzenegger’s assessment of the heated rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate in that part of the state. “Those aren’t the people I represent. But there is no point in getting into a pitched, vocal battle with these people. . . If you start getting engaged with these people, you get tar all over yourself.”
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary lists “cracker” as a disparaging term for a poor, usually Southern, white person. The New Georgia Encyclopedia, a project of the Georgia Humanities Council, says that “among African Americans ‘cracker’ became a contemptuous term for white southerner; among some southern whites it has become a label of ethnic and regional pride.”
“I don’t want to give undue advantage in an election year to people I believe do not have the best interest of this democracy at heart, some of those people that I intemperately call crackers.”
Republican strategist and conservative commentator Karen Hanretty said Perata must have been having a “drunk in Malibu moment like Mel Gibson.”
“Once again, liberals demonstrate that they are not the party of tolerance like they claim to be,” she said.
Later in the day Thursday, Perata’s office sent out a statement from him clarifying the remarks.
“Next time I come to Sacramento in August, I’ll be sure to run the air conditioner,” the statement said. “While I am concerned about the coarse and divisive tone used by a small minority in the driver’s license debate, I believe that the vast majority on both sides are people of goodwill.”
Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who is carrying the driver’s license bill for the seventh time this year, said Perata’s comments can’t inflame the issue further.
“The debate is inflamed by extremist right wingers to the point of irrationality,” he said. “It is inflamed by shock jocks on AM radio who beat and pound the issue every day to an ever-shrinking audience. They do not reflect the opinion of the people of California.”