Voters deliver a message on driver's licenses to Spitzer
First published: Sunday, November 11, 2007

Gov. Spitzer's ill-timed and wrong-headed executive order to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens wasn't on the ballot Tuesday, but it may as well have been.
In several key races, notably in Erie and Monroe counties and down on Long Island, the issue was cited by both sides as contributing to a better-than-expected showing by Republicans and a stumble for Democrats.

Only the governor himself rejected the idea that licensegate had anything to do with the election results.

"We could not be happier at the outcome that I believe was a public rejection of a Republican effort to inflame and incite, and a public statement that we want people to govern on issues that matter to us day to day," he said.

He can say that, and in fact is expected to, but he's too smart to believe it. Eliot Spitzer got stung on Election Day over this, and that is a forerunner to more stings to come if he doesn't change his strategy.

Unlike the overblown issue of troopergate, which doesn't resonate with voters or have long-range consequences, giving illegal aliens New York licenses is an issue that certainly does. And as an issue it's got long, strong legs to kick him with.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, a Republican who was re-elected Tuesday, has gotten national media attention for his early and adamant rejection of Spitzer's illegal alien proposal. His is among three Article 78 suits filed against the governor to stop it. Merola says he has a court date: Nov. 30 before Albany County Supreme Court Judge Joe Teresi, who was also just re-elected.

"We're excited about it, because we'll be the first in court, and I don't see how we can lose," says Merola. He points to the clear language in the current law that states a Social Security number is required for a motor-vehicle registration. Only the Legislature can change the law, not the governor.

Merola says there's already been collateral damage from the governor's plan, from his perspective. And from ours too, for that matter.

Statewide, around 23,000 New York driver's licenses were recently renewed, but with "temporary visitor" removed from the face of the license. That was an aspect of the Spitzer package of license changes by executive order that was implemented right away.

"So now we have these people who have perhaps as little as a couple of weeks or months of a valid visa left to be in the country, being issued a new New York license that doesn't alert anyone to their status. And it's good for eight years," says the county clerk. That, he says, could open the door to mischief, and he's right.

But maybe, suggests Merola, the governor has gotten the message, even if he won't admit it. The governor's put back until the end of next year implementing the rest of his illegal alien license plan, Merola points out. The first phase was supposed to start at the end of this year.

Delaying implementation for a very, very long time is exactly what the governor should do -- until after we have a broad-form new immigration policy in place. That could be years.

The upcoming court tests, whether they go against him or not, can be a good excuse to just drop it. Because it will be political suicide to keep trying to impose a change that nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers -- from every political persuasion -- don't like. And if anything, that number is growing, not shrinking.

Meanwhile, as the governor's popularity drops and he shows unexpected vulnerabilities, there are those waiting to take advantage. Fellow Democrat state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is certainly a long-toothed wolf knocking on the door and puffing as hard as he can to knock the governor's house down. You'll notice Cuomo isn't jumping up and down in defense of the governor's plan.

At the same time, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is sounding more and more like a Republican candidate for governor in the near future.

A week ago on CNN's "The Situation Room," the mayor of probably the largest contingent of illegal aliens in the country, was asked by Wolf Blitzer, "should illegal immigrants -- maybe a million of them in New York state, have driver's licenses, New York state driver's licenses?"

"I do not believe they should ... The governor's first proposal, I thought, was inappropriate. And should not have been enacted ... His second proposal of three different kinds of licenses ... is a step in the right direction. But I still don't think that it is where we should be. The bottom line is we should be giving driver's licenses to people knowing who they are and making sure they have a right to have them."

Common sense. A refreshing change from what the governor's given us. Why in the world did Eliot Spitzer open this idiotic can of worms in the first place? ... yID=638059