Last week, Senator Kay Hagan’s support for gay marriage drew applause from progressives and LGBT activists across North Carolina. She even received praise from Jeb Bush who called her decision “courageous.” Now, Hagan faces two other political hot potatoes moving through Congress–gun control and immigration.
Senator Hagan should view these issues as opportunities instead of threats. She already has positions on both issues that prevent her from being portrayed as “soft” on either. She has a lifelong record of support of gun rights and is co-chair of the bi-partisan Sportsmen Caucus. And on immigration, Hagan voted against the Dream Act, saying that it should be part of broader immigration reform.
Polls show that even in North Carolina, a majority of people support tougher gun laws. Hagan should get in front of the issue. While she might not support a ban on assault rifles, she could certainly support background checks and even restricting large capacity magazines, measures that have broad support in the state. After Newtown, voters want some sort of action and failure to pass legislation will be seen as just another failure of Congress.
After a decade of fighting, people want immigration reform, if for no other reason than to make the issue go away. In North Carolina, immigrant labor is crucial to our agricultural sector. Hagan has already shown her willingness to buck Democratic orthodoxy on this issue. Now, she should urge her colleagues to reach a compromise that provides the labor pool we need and lets the country move forward.
The overriding issue of the 2014 election is not likely to be in the details of immigration reform or gun control or support of gay marriage. The overriding issue is much more likely to be the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Congress. Hagan needs to publicly call on her colleagues to address these issues and publicly rebuke them if they don’t.
Hagan has a solid record as one of the Senate’s moderates. That’s smart politics in North Carolina, but you don’t win elections by defining yourself as a moderate. You win elections by defining yourself as a leader or a problem solver, or a unifier or even a maverick. Immigration and gun control offer Hagan the opportunity to define herself on her own terms, instead of being defined by issues. In trite political terms, she should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.