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Richardson's stats misleading in defense of immigrant driver's licenses

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By Ralph Damiani

There is a political truism where one never lets the whole truth get in the way of a good story. That is a model Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson seems to be following.Recently the governor pointed to a substantial drop in uninsured motorists in New Mexico and said that his decision four years ago to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license is a primary reason.Well, not exactly – and the governor’s use of his statistics is very misleading.The Associated Press reports that the statewide decline in uninsured motorists has happened mainly because of a 2001 law that established an up-to-date computer database of insurance coverage that allowed the state to better police its requirement for liability insurance on cars and trucks.It has nothing to do with illegal aliens. But in today’s political climate, the governor’s claim made national headlines. While it got him some attention, it is simply not true. But we guess that fact doesn’t matter.See, according to Ken Ortiz, director of the state Motor Vehicle Division, which licenses drivers and enforces the insurance mandate, he says it is the new enforcement tools, not giving illegals licenses, that has made the difference.Granting licenses to undocumented immigrants has helped reduce the number of uninsured motorists, Ortiz said.However, he says the improved database of automobile insurance coverage is the “bigger factor” in why the statewide rate of uninsured vehicles has dropped to 10 percent from 33 percent several years ago.During a presidential debate recently, Richardson said he supported granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and explained why he signed legislation that allowed that in New Mexico.“My law enforcement people said it’s a matter of public safety,” Richardson said in the debate in Las Vegas.He continued, “What we need is public safety, a reduction in traffic fatalities. We wanted more people to be insured. When we started with this program, 33 percent of all New Mexicans were uninsured. Today, it’s 11 percent.“Traffic fatalities have gone down. It’s a matter of public safety.”Sounds good – and the good sound-bite is what it appears to be all about – but it is just not so.In citing the figures on uninsured motorists Richardson didn’t mention the change in law that required insurance companies to electronically report coverage information directly to the state which allows for quick and accurate updates on whether a car or truck has required liability insurance coverage.And that is the main reason for the insurance improvement and the governor should have added that to his comments.Not to have done so is dishonest.