Meg Whitman’s ‘housekeeper problem’, Hispanics and the GOP

On the left: Nicandra Diaz-Santillan, former housekeeper, and on the right, Meg Whitman, who now has a Nikki Diaz problem.

Apart from the hypocrisy, the possibly lying, and the unprecedented offer by a gubernatorial candidate to take a polygraph, the Meg Whitman housekeeper drama says a lot about the Republican Party’s precarious position with Hispanic Americans.

From Liz Goodwin:

Meg Whitman has set a new campaign spending record in her quest to be California’s next governor — she will likely be spending at least the next several days fending off questions about how she treated a low-wage domestic worker in her own home. Whitman’s former housekeeper, Nicandra Diaz-Santillan, is launching a lawsuit against the billionaire former CEO for EBay, saying that Whitman tossed her out like “garbage” when she asked for help in finding legal status in the United States.

Diaz’s lawyer, celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, said in a press conference today that Whitman learned from the Social Security administration that Diaz’s Social Security number did not match her name, but threw some of the letters in the trash. When Diaz asked for help in becoming legal after nine years of work, Whitman said, according to Diaz: “From now on you don’t know me and I don’t know you. You never have seen me and I have never seen you. Do you understand me?”

Whitman’s camp released a statement saying Allred was manipulating Diaz, whom Whitman considered to be a family friend. Whitman said Diaz provided documentation to prove she was legal when she applied for the job, and that Whitman and her family fired the maid when she informed them she did not have legal status and had used her sister’s documents. Whitman also pointed out that Allred donated to her political opponent Democratic Jerry Brown’s campaigns in the past.

Tearfully addressing the press, Diaz said she explained her situation to Whitman in June 2009 and expected her employer to help because of Diaz’s loyal years of service:

I explained that I was married and our economic situation in Mexico is very bad. We have no jobs, no food, no place to live and for that reason we made a decision to come here. I told her what she knew–that I don’t have papers to work here and I need her help. I want her to help me get an immigration attorney. Ms. Whitman just laughed and turn her face to one side. At that moment Dr. Harsh entered. Dr. Harsh was very angry and said, “I told you, I told you she was going to bring us problems!”

Allred says Whitman also implied she might fire Diaz when she became pregnant, and did not pay her for some hours of her work every week. Allred also said her client did not receive reimbursement for gas when she ran errands for Whitman. “It felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage,” Diaz said.

In crafting her general-election appeals for a California electorate that includes a large contingent of Latino voters, Whitman has been trying to walk a fine line with her stance on immigration: She supports aggressive raids on employers who hire, and frequently mistreat, undocumented workers, while opposing a path to citizenship for people in the United States illegally. Her response to her former housekeeper’s allegations will thus pose a test for her with two key groups: California Latinos and conservative anti-illegal immigration voters.

Whitman is currently losing the Latino vote by 19 points, according to the most recent polling. Meanwhile, her camp is blaming Jerry Brown for the outing, and she’s offering to take a polygraph to prove she didn’t know Diaz was in the country illegally. She might want to rethink that of course, now that Alred has produced a federal letter, circa 2003, alerting the Whitman’s to problems with their housekeeper’s status, and which appears to contain Whitman’s husband Griffith Harsh’s handwritten notes on it …

Oops. Watch Keith Olbermann’s summation:

In response to the controversy, SEIU, which represents domestic workers among others, has gone up with Spanish-language ads attacking Whitman:

The campaign ad seeks to damage Whitman’s standing among Latino voters, a typically Democratic constituency in California that the billionaire and former eBay CEO has courted in her tight race against Democratic rival Jerry Brown.

“Whitman attacks undocumented workers to win votes, but an undocumented woman worked in her house for nine years,” a narrator says in Spanish in the ad, launched by a campaign committee funded by the Service Employees International Union.

“Whitman says one thing in Spanish and something different when she speaks English. The true Whitman has no shame. She is a woman of two faces.”

Ms. Whitman, the former EBay CEO, already has the dubious distinction of having her campaign chaired by Pete Wilson, the former California governor infamous for signing the draconian anti-immigration Proposition 187 in 1994, which denied many public services to illegal migrants. The Whitman campaign has been hiding Wilson under a bushel since the primary ended, but the Diaz case drags his ghost back out of the crypt.

And so, as Fernando Espuelas explains at the Huffpo

Fighting for the Republican nomination in California is a tough game. The GOP was reduced to its right-wing core after former Governor Pete Wilson’s disastrous anti-Latino Proposition 187 – which sought to deny basic services from the undocumented, including public school for kids.

Millions of formerly passive, non-voting Americans of Latino descent registered en masse, and have since become a reliable Democratic voting block. Making up some 36% of California’s population (and about 50% of Los Angeles County), Latinos are now the state’s king makers.

Winning the Republican nomination, therefore, requires an appeal to the Wilson Republican core – an appeal that Poizner strategically focused to paint Whitman as some kind of closet liberal. Poizner’s first state-wide television spot actually accused the undocumented community of causing California’s massive fiscal mess (a risible claim not supported by any data whatsoever).

Poizner made it clear that he would focus on rooting out “illegals” while Whitman would not. Poizner sought to paint Whitman as soft on immigration – even claiming that she supported President Barack Obama’s comprehensive immigration reform push.

And here the story gets tricky. Poizner’s anti-Latino attacks resonated with the Republican base. The polls, which at one point had Whitman some 40 points ahead of Poizner, began to tighten. The Whitman campaign responded with a massive buy of ads that assured the base that she would be “tough as nails” with undocumented immigrants.

She promised an end to “sanctuary cities” and to block admission to state universities to the kids of the undocumented. Crowning this anti-immigrant stance, Whitman had former Governor Pete Wilson (an icon to both the GOP base and Latino voters alike, although for different and opposing reasons) voice the radio spots.

Deploying her considerable financial advantage (Whitman is estimated to have spent about $110 million of her own money by the end of the primary season), she overwhelmed Poizner. Whitman was successful in positioning herself as the natural heir of Pete Wilson, whose endorsement in the radio spots gave her anti-immigrant bona fides for the Republican core.

Whitman crushed Poizner in the primary.

But then the 21st century intruded. Back in olden times, say the early 1990′s, a time of linear media and a small clutch of manageable news outlets, candidates routinely pivoted right (in GOP primaries) and left (in Democratic primaries) knowing that for the general election they could slide towards the center to build the winning coalition of their own party faithful, plus independents and a sprinkling of disaffected voters from the other party.

But in our era of ubiquitous media – and permanent media accessible 24/7 though a simple Google search – the positions taken during the primary can be resurrected instantaneously by your opponents to shine a light on the pivot and slide maneuver and show the hypocrisy of politicians willing to say anything, to any group, in order to get their vote.

After Poizner was vanquished, Whitman immediately went live with a set of Spanish-language commercials meant to reassure Latinos that she loved everything, really everything about Hispanics. She even likes our food, she said in her commercials.

But what about her “tough as nails” mantra? Guess what, Latinos heard her message and it indeed sounded like Whitman was Pete Wilson’s heir.

So how does this nanny moment play into the election? The legal issues raised by Nicky Diaz are not Whitman’s real problem. Whatever the merits of the case now being litigated in the media by suffering victim specialist attorney Gloria Allred, the optics of this issue are horrible, and possibly fatal for Whitman’s candidacy.

With her base, the GOP faithful that rabidly believes in Pete Wilson’s vision of punishing the undocumented, Whitman’s commiseration with Diaz over 9 years betrays, again, a certain hypocrisy. For a crowd that is fond of claiming that there are American citizens willing and able to replace the immigrants nannies, grape pickers and meat packers, Whitman has shown how dependent our country is on immigrant labor.

Those Republican voters will never vote for Jerry Brown, of course. But they may not vote at all. This is a rabid crowd – as Poizner proved when he threw red immigrant meat at them – and ideological purity counts.

Whitman’s major, major problem, however, is with Latino voters. The nanny-gate story broke like a wild-fire through the Latino community. Already suspicious of Whitman for her Pete Wilson connection and red hot anti-immigrant rhetoric during the primary, the case of the undocumented nanny hidden in the shadows as the billionaire spends her way to the Governor’s office has provoked widespread derision among Latinos. …

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4 Responses to Meg Whitman’s ‘housekeeper problem’, Hispanics and the GOP

  1. Thomas Smith says:

    I am a Tea Party person who is tired of this type of politics. Making a statement just before an election and trying it in the media before the truth can be known does not benefit anybody.

    I was not sure who to vote for in this election, but I smell a rat when I see one. From what has been presented so far, I believe that Meg Whitman did everything correctly. If Whitman knew that Diaz was illegal, than why did she inform her in June, 2009. Whitman paid her wages, her social security and all taxes. She was paid a very high wage for her position, and how anyone can state that Diaz was exploited is beyond my comprenshion.

    Allred is out of line with this one and I believe a case could be made for disbarment. Diaz should be sent back to her country for her waay of obtaining her job, and I am going to vote for Whitman no matter how hard it will be. I think Brown has everything to do with this situation being made public and I am tired of dirty politics.

  2. Richard says:

    Well now Whitman is throwing her husband under the bus; you really want to vote for her, Thomas. Sounds like there is some truth to it, rather than dirty politics. But then I would hardly expect someone who admits to being a teabagger to actually be likely to vote for Jerry Brown. Of course I’m not from California where things might be different.

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