A Soft Right for Talk Radio on Kilgore and Immigration

Linda Chavez, who does her radio show out of her Loudoun County home, says the problem lies in federal immigration policies.
Linda Chavez, who does her radio show out of her Loudoun County home, says the problem lies in federal immigration policies. (By Tetona Dunlap -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Laris
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Linda Chavez, backed by 50,000 watts, was beaming forth the day's headlines to Washington's drive-time listeners: hurricanes, Cindy Sheehan, the vice president's knees.

From her elegant pine-log retreat in a part of Loudoun County first cleared by Native Americans for their buffalo, she whetted the conservative commuter's appetite with a promise of an Ann Coulter appearance later in the WMET-AM radio show.

She sipped Diet Coke with Lime and grabbed a few seconds to voice an autumn product endorsement for a gutter guard.

Then the columnist and former Reagan administration official who presides over a constellation of right-leaning political groups went local, hitting on a theme fellow Republican Jerry W. Kilgore has grabbed as part of his campaign to be the commonwealth's next governor: illegal immigration.

The guest was Tom Fitton, president of a group called Judicial Watch, and the topic was the Washington area's most gabbed-about would-be gathering spot for the day laborers who keep the region's construction zones and other workplaces humming.

Such destinations dot the region, supplying companies hungry for cheap labor to handle tough jobs, but the proposed site, in Herndon, has provoked an unusually fierce fight. The Fairfax County town of 22,000 has become a symbol beyond its size.

Fitton told Chavez and her listeners -- who, if her e-mail is a good indication, tend to be male, in their forties and slightly right of center, she says -- that efforts such as a proposal to pay for a new laborer site with government money were "encouraging illegals to reside here." That's bad public policy, and bad for American workers, he said. "Legal immigrants are hurt by this sort of competition as well," Fitton said.

But Chavez, whose Mexican American heritage has played a significant role in her public life, bristled some at her guest's assertions.

She did it politely because, after a career feeding the public debate with razor-sharp jibes, she says she's trying to offer a conservative forum with a tone that's more NPR and less Rush Limbaugh. She's doesn't want "screaming, ego-based" commentary, she says. Once, filling in as a host on "Crossfire" in the 1980s, "I can remember having one of the producers yelling in my ear: 'Go for the jugular! Go for the jugular!' " she said.

And she did it gingerly, perhaps because of her own historical experience with the issue. She housed an illegal Guatemalan immigrant, Marta Mercado, in her home in the early 1990s. Once that arrangement was made pubic, it sank her nomination to be President George W. Bush's secretary of labor.

"We have a need for labor. We have very low unemployment in Northern Virginia," she told Fitton and her listeners. "It's not as if we had huge numbers of unemployed people that would be taking these jobs."

The real problem, she said, is a broken federal immigration policy.

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