Although marriage equality suffered a setback in North Carolina this week, not all of the news out of Tuesday’s elections in the Tar Heel State was bad. A few major players in the state’s anti-immigrant movement suffered serious setbacks.
Ilario Pantano, the darling of nativist organizations in the state, lost to state Senator David Rouzer (R-Johnston) for the Republican nomination to run in North Carolina’s Seventh District. Pantano made immigration a central plank of his campaign, regularly attending the immigration select committee meetings in the state legislature and bringing on William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC), to work for his campaign. Pantano hit Rouzer hard on charges of supporting “amnesty,” referring to his previous work as a lobbyist for the AgJOBS Act of 2007—Pantano even launched a website, RouzerForAmnesty.com, to malign him over his past. Pantano was the Republican candidate in 2010, riding the name recognition and fame afforded to him after he killed two unarmed Iraqis by shooting them with roughly 60 rounds of ammunition and leaving a placard with a Marine Corps motto over their desecrated bodies.
After campaigning with anti-immigrant and “birther” Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Jim Pendergraph lost the endorsement of the state’s largest paper, the Charlotte Observer to run for the Republican nomination in the state’s Ninth District. Pendergraph was a major booster of programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities in the state—as a former sheriff of Mecklenburg County (where Charlotte is located), Pendergraph took a job with the federal government to help facilitate cooperation between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After initially being the heir apparent to Congresswoman Sue Myrick’s seat (he also received her endorsement), Pendergraph is now in second place heading into a runoff election. His opponent, Robert Pittenger, doesn’t vary too much from Pendergraph on the issue, but pro-immigrant advocates in the Ninth District may be making other politicians around the country reconsider their endorsements from Sheriff Joe, and might be making space for their own cause in the future.
For state-wide office, state Representative Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) lost in his bid for the nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Folwell is a member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an arm of the Tanton Network used to introduce anti-immigrant bills in state legislatures. Folwell was motivated to run for this office in no small part to carry out his anti-immigrant agenda. The Lt. Governor sits on the state Board of Education and the NC Board of Community Colleges. Last year, Folwell introduced a bill that would have intimidated undocumented students from attending public school, prompting a strong rebuke from immigrant advocates.
The nativists lost some of their biggest champions on Tuesday, even in races in which they put in all their chips. Could it mean that the tide is turning?