On Monday Julia Preston, one of the New York Times's most reliably pro-amnesty reporters, slid into Denver bureau chief Kirk Johnson's usual slot of using a news story to promote a different kind of Western Republican (i.e. not one of those harsh conservatives), in this case Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who is "A Die-Hard Conservative, but Not on Immigrants."
He is a Republican and a Mormon. He opposes abortion. Mark L. Shurtleff, the attorney general of Utah, also rejects President Obama’s health care law as an assault on states’ rights and he went to Washington last week to urge the Supreme Court to throw it out.
On point after point, Mr. Shurtleff, now in his third term, meets the checklist to qualify as a conservative. But on immigration, he sees things differently from Republicans who have spoken most loudly on the issue in the states and from the party’s candidates for the presidential nomination -- including another Mormon, Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney has echoed lawmakers from Arizona and Alabama, calling for more and tougher enforcement measures to corner illegal immigrants and force them to “self deport.”
Mr. Shurtleff has been conducting a campaign of his own, spreading the word about a more inclusive compromise that Utah adopted last year. A package of laws included an enforcement bill, like one in Arizona, that expanded police authority to identify illegal immigrants, coupled with a measure that recognized a role for some of those immigrants by giving them state permits as guest workers.
Mr. Shurtleff, 54, is probably the most prominent politician among an emerging generation of Republicans trying to stake out an alternative to restrictionist immigration laws modeled on Arizona’s.
“It’s only the loud, shrill voices we’ve been hearing,” Mr. Shurtleff said in his office in the marbled State Capitol on a hill above this city. “But I believe the majority of Republicans aren’t this shrill, anti-immigration, punish-’em-at-all-costs kind of mentality.”
He is well placed to bring his contrarian views to angry Republican voters. A big man -- at 6 feet 5 inches -- with a big presence in Utah, he easily glided twice to re-election. Hard on crime, he is also affable, plain-spoken and surprisingly unguarded about discussing his evolving ideas and personal life.
Mr. Shurtleff’s truths are nurtured by like-minded groups in Utah. After Arizona’s law passed in 2010, an e-mail chain started among an odd coalition that included Mr. Shurtleff and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, local police chiefs, farm bureaus, Latino leaders, Democratic lawmakers and the Roman Catholic Church.
Preston indulged Shurtleff's appeal to sentiment over law enforcement:
Mr. Shurtleff becomes emotional when he speaks of the children of illegal immigrants and the efforts of some Republicans to repeal the 14th Amendment and deny them American citizenship. After the Civil War, the amendment was adopted to overcome the Dred Scott ruling by guaranteeing citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
“I have a chance,” he said, “to speak to these kids in Spanish and see how much they love America.” Republicans, he said, “need to realize they’re not the enemy."
He is waiting in frustration to speak with Mr. Romney, whom he supports, to tell the candidate that he is wrong to think he has to satisfy immigration hard-liners to win the nomination.
“What we want to prove here in Utah is that it’s not true,” Mr. Shurtleff said. “You don’t have to pander to that shrill, really negative voice that is harmful to our country.”