Stung by the results of the recent Tennessee Star Poll showing 84 percent of likely Republican primary voters oppose providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students, State Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), sponsor of two bills that would accomplish precisely that objective, complained on Monday that the poll asked about illegal immigrants rather than “children of undocumented immigrants who are brought to this country when they are very young.”
“The question was worded in such a way to get the result they wanted,” Gardenhire complained to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Tennessee Star Poll question asked likely Republican voters the following:
“In 2018, the Tennessee General Assembly is expected to reconsider a bill to provide in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students. Do you support or oppose providing in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students?”
84 percent of Tennessee likely Republican primary voters disapproved of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. A resounding 68.9 percent strongly disapproved, the poll results showed:
68.9% Strongly Disapproved
15.5% Somewhat Disapproved
5.9% Somewhat Approved
5.2% Strongly Approved
4.5% Not Sure/don’t know
“Gardenhire said that’s misleading,” the Times Free Press reported:
He said “we’re not giving them anything” because the students live in Tennessee and would pay the same tuition as other students who live here.
Gardenhire, however, failed to accurately describe to the Times Free Press the citizenship status of these students who live in Tennessee his bill would aid. They are not American citizens. They are, in fact, illegal aliens.
Two bills, both sponsored by Gardenhire in the Senate and State Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) in the House failed in this year’s Tennessee General Assembly. Both men have vowed to bring the bills back for consideration in the 2018 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The Tennessee Star Poll results showing the virtually unanimous opposition to the bills sponsored by Gardenhire and White among likely Tennessee Republican primary voters takes a sledge hammer to those plans.
State legislators who previously were on the fence can now expect to face angry voters in the 2018 Republican primary for whom opposition to in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is the number one priority. The prospect that any legislator who votes in favor of the Gardenhire/White bills if they are introduced again in 2018 as Gardenhire and White currently promise will be inundated with criticism that could lead to their defeat at the polls in November 2018 is very real indeed, as the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted:
In an interview last week, Steve Gill, a former conservative radio talk show host with ties to The Tennessee Star, defended the question’s wording. That’s how it will play out in a Republican primary election, said Gill, who runs an independent political expenditure group.
Gill added he knows that firsthand, having used the issue in a direct mail attack last year against Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who voted for Gardenhire’s bill in 2015. Kelsey was running in Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District Republican primary.
“That issue destroyed him,” said Gill, whose mailer said Kelsey voted for a bill “Requiring Tennessee Taxpayers Pay Some of the Costs of College Tuition for Illegal Aliens.”
Similar mailers aimed at any member of the Tennessee General Assembly who supports the Gardenhire/White bill if it is introduced again in 2018 could have devastating effects on the political future of those legislators.