By Andrew Soboeiro
The most important elections are often the ones that fly under the radar. After widespread Republican victories in last year’s hotly-contested presidential race, it might appear that this country’s political landscape has been settled, at least until the 2018 Midterms. But on November 7, states and districts throughout the country will be holding elections. And although immigration law is federal, the reality on the ground can vary significantly from place to place depending on how a given locality treats immigrants. Moreover, local developments inevitably influence the conversation about immigration on the national level. The following are several upcoming state and local races that will have a powerful impact on immigration policy:
The New Jersey Gubernatorial Election
New Jersey is one of just two states to elect its governor the year after each presidential election. In this race, Republican Kim Guadagno, the sitting Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, is facing off against Democrat Phil Murphy, who formerly served as US Ambassador to Germany. Murphy has posted double-digit leads in every poll of this race, and is widely expected to win.
Murphy and Guadagno have wildly different views on immigration. Murphy has indicated that he supports making New Jersey a sanctuary state. Guadagno strongly opposes this move, and recently released a provocative ad suggesting that sanctuary policies would make the state vulnerable to violent criminals.
Sanctuary policies are particularly salient in New Jersey given a recent proposal in the state’s legislature. Democrats in the state senate have released a bill that would finance sanctuary cities that have their Federal funding cut. While Democratic legislators likely have the votes to pass this bill, Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto it. Given his and Guadagno’s stated policies, the bill is far more likely to become law if Murphy wins.
The Virginia Gubernatorial Election
Like New Jerseyites, Virginians vote for governor the year after they vote for president. This year, they will choose between Democrat Ralph Northam, who currently serves as the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and Republican Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee. Most polls have shown either a tied race or a slight lead for Northam, meaning both candidates have realistic chances of winning.
As in New Jersey, sanctuary policies weigh heavily on this race. In March, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law banning cities from adopting sanctuary policies, which was promptly vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. Northam would almost certainly follow McAuliffe in vetoing similar legislation. Gillespie supports the ban, and recently released a provocative ad erroneously claiming that Northam and McAuliffe’s support for sanctuary policies was making Virginia more vulnerable to the gang MS-13. While the state does not officially have sanctuary cities, Gillespie would make it more difficult for Virginia cities to adopt sanctuary policies, while Northam has pledged to “make sure immigrants are comfortable living here.”
The Washington State Senate District 45 Election
Though less well-known than the Virginia and New Jersey races, this Washington special election is no less important. Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra are competing to replace the late Republican state senator Andy Hill. While polling of this race has been scarce, Dhingra led Englund by 10 points in a poll taken on September 21st.
Democrats control the Washington House of Representatives, but Republicans currently have a majority of one seat in the senate. A Dhingra victory would give the Democratic Party full control of the state government. This would bolster Governor Jay Inslee’s efforts to adopt sanctuary policies throughout the state. Inslee recently signed an executive order preventing state agencies from inquiring about residents’ immigration status or discriminating based on national origin. But he has been unable to codify this order into law due to a lack of support from Republican senate leaders. A Dhingra victory will increase the odds of Washington becoming a sanctuary state, while if Englund is elected, the status quo will continue.