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August 2, 2015

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Secretary of state dives into immigration debate

Miller’s proposal to use citizenship-checking system may foretell run

Ross Miller

Ross Miller

John Ensign

John Ensign

It’s almost impossible to separate politics from policy. So it was inevitable that Secretary of State Ross Miller’s venture into immigration policy/politics Tuesday would be seen as a possible prelude to a 2012 U.S. Senate run.

Miller, a Democrat, broached the explosive issue with the Board of Examiners, proposing that all state contractors be required to check the citizenship status of their employees using the federal E-Verify system.

The move seemingly came from nowhere, prompting speculation about his political intentions. But Miller denied any motive other than that it was an important thing to do because of the state’s high unemployment rate.

Regardless, Miller seeking out the issue will stoke the perception that the 34-year-old, who just won his second term in statewide office, has higher political ambitions.

By raising the issue, Miller risks alienating some of the liberal base. But Democratic political operatives say polls consistently show broad support for get-tough immigration stances, such as Arizona’s new law.

Miller said he’s not running for anything — right now.

“I haven’t even been sworn into this office yet for my second term,” he said. “Right now, I’m committed to serve my full four-year term.”

Miller traveled to Washington, D.C., recently where he met with E-Verify officials to learn more about the system.

“The criticism of the program is that it was too cumbersome for employers, the process was not workable,” he said. “I was encouraged by the meetings.”

The U.S. Senate seat up for election in 2012 is now held by Republican Sen. John Ensign, who has endured a scandal surrounding his affair with a staffer and assistance he gave to her husband, who also worked for Ensign, to secure lobbying work. He has been cleared of a Federal Election Commission complaint, and the Justice Department has told his attorneys that Ensign is no longer being investigated. A Senate Ethics Committee probe is pending.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., has said she is considering a run and will make her decision by mid-February.

Billy Vassiliadis, the influential Democratic political consultant and lobbyist, said he thinks Berkley has the right of first refusal. But, he added, Miller, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Treasurer Kate Marshall are “potentially great statewide candidates.”

“I don’t think they’re going to risk their political careers and have a divisive Democratic primary,” Vassiliadis said, “particularly after witnessing what happened on the Republican side this year.”

In this year’s U.S. Senate race, Republicans couldn’t settle on a top-tier candidate to face Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Sharron Angle won the crowded contest, but emerged unprepared for the initial Reid onslaught, and the GOP remained divided by some of her conservative stances.

So what’s Miller’s motive — policy or politics?

“I think this is one of the times where good politics and reasonable policy can coexist,” said Dan Hart, a Democratic political consultant. “I think it’s a testament to his skill to see that intersection.”

Miller said about 1,400 Nevada companies voluntarily use E-Verify. The federal government requires its contractors to use E-Verify, an executive order issued by former President George W. Bush.

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