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GOP leader says party needs to learn from election

Part of it is perception, David Kramer says, and part of it is substance.

As the Republican Party reviews the 2012 election and its underachiever performance in the presidential race, he said, it should consider change without sacrificing conviction.

Its devotion to conservative fiscal policy should be resolute, he said, but the party needs to more effectively combat Democratic claims that the GOP is the party of the wealthy.

Republicans ought to help shape immigration reform, Kramer said during a telephone interview from Omaha. And the party needs to reframe its argument for voter identification requirements, he said.

"You take stock of where you are. We need to learn from this election.

"We must not allow ourselves to be defined by the other party."

Kramer, an Omaha attorney, has succeeded Pete Ricketts as the party's national committeeman after a stint as state chairman and a 2006 bid for the Republican Senate nomination, which Ricketts won.

During his Senate race, Kramer was far ahead of his party in proposing an immigration reform plan that would have opened the door to legal status for illegal residents who have been in the United States five years or more.

Six years later, with demographics and election results staring them in the face, Republicans nationally are growing more receptive to immigration reform. A growing Hispanic population in the United States has been wooed and won largely by Democrats.

"We have to be prepared to engage in a discussion on the issue of immigration," Kramer said. "The way to fix illegal immigration is to fix legal immigration.

"Protecting the border is fundamental," he said. "But if you expand the ability of people to come in legally, you may go a long way toward resolving the problem."

While some immigrants cross the border illegally in search of jobs because they don't want to wait in line, Kramer said, "a whole bunch of people are sitting and waiting because they respect our laws."

"Our current immigration policy has it backwards," he said. "And we encourage the brightest people in the world to come to us and get educated here. And then, when they graduate, we tell them to hit the road.

"These are people we want to stay, assimilate, perhaps become citizens, make great money, pay taxes."

As for the estimated 11 million to 15 million people who are in the country illegally, Kramer said, a compromise solution should be devised without offering or providing amnesty.

Perhaps, he said, it might look something like this: If a person has been here more than five years, never been arrested or convicted of a felony, paid taxes and is a good, hard-working, contributing member of society, that person might be offered a pathway to legal status if he or she pays a fine and "gets in line behind others who are following the rules for citizenship."

"I am frustrated by the fact that Democrats seem to successfully define the Republican Party as the party of the rich," Kramer said. "It isn't true, but we allow ourselves to be defined."

The GOP should stand firm on fiscally conservative ground, he said.

"The country does not have a revenue problem; it's a spending problem," Kramer said. "And we as Republicans have contributed to that, and we need to help fix it. 

"I fundamentally believe it is not good to have half of the people not paying anything in income taxes. We all need to be invested."

The GOP's challenge not only is issues, but performance, Kramer said.

"My perception is that Mitt Romney was a far better candidate than John McCain (in 2008) and probably as qualified a candidate from an economic perspective as you could have," he said.

"But there were fewer votes for Romney than McCain. What happened? What was that due to? The challenge is to learn and grow."