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Monday, October 30, 2006

Chalk one up for Buckley: Lt. gov. candidate offers the season's lone non-demagogic remarks on undocumented workers

The most compelling statement about illegal immigration to come out of the statewide weekend debates belonged to Allen Buckley, libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor. A no-hoper, running at 7 percent in the latest Strategic Vision poll to Sen. Casey Cagle's 47 and Jim Martin's 39, Buckley doesn't have to worry about offending voters.

When the Atlanta Press Club moderator told Buckley he could ask a question of either of his opponents, the Libertarian turned to Republican Cagle, the frontrunner in the race.

"Illegal immigration is a real problem," said Buckley, a tax attorney from Smyrna whose regular-guy delivery is reminiscent of the fellow at work who solves the world's problems in between turns at the belt-sander.

"We all know the solution is to go after the employers, let's face it," Buckley said. "But Georgia can't go after just its employers because then Georgia employers will be disadvantaged relative to South Carolina, Alabama and Florida employers. It really takes a federal press to go after all of the employers simultaneously or virtually simultaneously."

He then asked Cagle directly, "If elected, will you commit to do everything reasonable within your power to press the federal government to aggressively pursue and penalize employers that hire illegal immigrants?"

Cagle said he is the only candidate in the race who had actually worked to do something about illegal immigration. "I co-sponsored Senate Bill 529," he said, referring to a state measure that gives police broader enforcement powers in combating illegal immigrants.

Buckley waited.

Intrinsic to his argument was the point that an individual, state-led effort to combat illegal immigration would ultimately weaken Georgia. In boasting about the aggressive legislation he had helped create in the Gold Dome, Cagle failed to accept Buckley's premise. As part of his answer, he eventually did say he favors federal action. Buckley demanded a yes or no answer from Cagle on whether the Republican would confront the federal government on illegal immigration. Cagle said, yes, he wants Congress to act.

The candidates did not return to the issue, but Buckley had made his point. Statewide political candidates want to talk tough about illegal immigration and propose hard-line "solutions," while playing down Washington's capacity to play a role. Gov. Sonny Perdue has treated Washington's failure to address the crisis as his opportunity to flex Georgia's muscles.

But Buckley's point is well taken. Until there is a comprehensive federal strategy to address the influx of undocumented workers from Mexico and points south, muscle-flexing is about the size of it, and that's bad policy when peoples' jobs and their human rights are at stake.

-- Max Pizarro

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