Jeff Britt, the former Republican operative who is running the reelection campaign of House Speaker Nick Mattiello, said he doesn’t think “illegal alien” is a racist or inappropriate phrase. But he also said “maybe there was a better term.”
The phrase became an issue in Mattiello’s campaign when the speaker sent a mailer that highlighted his position on immigration. It said, “Nick Mattiello stopped drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens.” In response, 12 local social justice organizations penned an open letter to the speaker asking him to renounce the racism and bias inherent in the terminology.
“Speaker Mattiello, your recent mailing hurt us by appealing to the ugliest fears and emotions simmering all too close to the surface,” said the letter. “Using demeaning language for people who live in our communities does nothing to advance informed policy debate, and everything to fan the embers of xenophobia and racism into flame.”
Britt does not see the phrase this way.
“If someone is in the country illegally, they are illegal,” he said. “It’s a common sense term to me.”
The open letter says, “We simply cannot tolerate referring to our families as alien, or illegal. Recognizing our shared humanity is a fundamental obligation for all of us, and especially for those in public life and leadership. This mutual recognition forms the very basis of our ability to build and sustain community.”
And Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel once famously said, “no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
Britt said, “I wouldn’t use it in a racist way. If I thought it was a racist term, and I was part of the discussion, I wouldn’t have been a part of it.”
He said he does not recall who conceived of the idea, but said, “I’m sure I had input on the ad.” He was not sure if the mailer was sent to only Cranston Republicans, but said he would provide an answer to this question tomorrow morning (this post will be updated if he does). He did say it was possible some mailers were only sent to Republican households. “I’m not sure if any went only to Republicans,” he said.
Britt added, “maybe there’s a teachable moment here.” He said the politics of the phrase “may be a blind spot for me.” He offered that so-called political correctness was an important value because it is about respecting other people.
Britt, known as a shrewd and sharp-elbowed operative, is a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-independent. He once worked for former GOP Governor Don Carcieri and said he’s voting for Hillary Clinton this year.
Mattiello is a conservative Democrat, whom some progressives say has more in common with the GOP because he has an A+ rating with the NRA, is pro-life and is a strong proponent of cutting taxes to induce economic growth.