by Kathleen Haughney
The News Service of Florida
Republican gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Bill McCollum ratcheted up the rhetoric on immigration Wednesday, trumpeting a proposal for state agencies to use a free background check on immigration status and noting his support for an Arizona-style immigration proposal.
The immigration debate has become a major tenet in the campaign of Rick Scott, McCollum’s opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nod. Scott has taken a hard line on immigration since announcing his bid for governor and been a fervent supporter of the new law in Arizona.
McCollum has been less aggressive, generally, and earlier this year said that Florida didn’t really need a law exactly like the one in Arizona that allows police to ask suspected illegal immigrants for proof of legal status.
But this week, McCollum wrote a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist asking him to direct state agencies to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system to determine an employee’s immigration status. He said he would eventually like to see state contractors use the system.
“I’d like to have seen the federal government mandate E-Verify,” McCollum said. “They’ve had those proposals up there for a year or two. And having been involved in the immigration issue for a long time, it seems to me that the key to this, to making it work, is to enforce the sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens.”
He also told voters at a speech at the Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee that he was working with Rep. William Snyder (R-Stuart) on a measure that is similar to the Arizona law.
The Scott campaign accused McCollum of simply “me too-ing,” rather than developing solid immigration proposals. Scott said last week that if he were governor, he’d push for all Florida employers, not just state agencies as McCollum is suggesting, to use the E-Verify system to check for immigration status.
“It’s typical career politics the way he’s contorted himself,” said Jennifer Baker, a Scott spokeswoman. “I don’t know if he’s become more aggressive on it or if he’s trying to ‘me too’ Rick a lot.”
Scott has hammered McCollum in ads on the immigration issue, and since blanketing major markets with the tough spots has passed the one-time front runner McCollum in the polls.
The two candidates have continued to trade barbs over the past few weeks over the immigration issue, though both criticized President Barack Obama’s congressional address on tougher border security.
There is no set date for a Republican gubernatorial debate, but McCollum said he looked forward to debating Scott “many times” before the Aug. 24 primary.