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Catcalls for Cardenas at Tea Party luncheon

The lineup of conservative speakers at a Heritage Foundation luncheon in Tampa Monday was well-received by a crowd of about 200 Tea Party activists -- until one of them said something the audience didn't agree with.

The topic was illegal immigration. The speaker: Al Cardenas, a long-time member of Florida's Republican elite, former state GOP chairman, lawyer, lobbyist and current chairman of the American Conservative Union. After making obligatory comments about securing the nation's borders, Cardenas began to talk about the economic pragmatism of immigration.

He said it makes no sense for foreigners to get educated at America's best universities such as M.I.T. and then return to their homes to compete with America. "We'd rather figure out a way for you to work for Microsoft, here," Cardenas said, as the cavernous room turned silent.

Then Cardenas spoke of menial, low-paying jobs "working in chicken coops or washing dishes," and he questioned "whether enough Americans are willing to do those jobs," and the crowd turned on Cardenas, booing him and shouting "No! No!"

Speaking to reporters afterward, Cardenas said the crowd misunderstood him. "What I was saying was actually true," he said. "If you talk to people in the hospitality industry or the ag industry, they talk about all the efforts they undertake to go to our most needy communities to get workers, and they can't."

-- Steve Bousquet