By Rudolph Bell
Republican Nikki Haley criticized her opponent in the governor's race for not backing an Arizona-style immigration law, but Democrat Vincent Sheheen said she was just raising a national issue to pander like her political ally, Gov. Mark Sanford.
On a separate issue, Haley and Sheheen said their campaigns aren't yet talking less than eight weeks before the election about when the two might debate formally.
The candidates traded barbs while in downtown Spartanburg for separate events.
Haley called reporters to the Spartanburg County Courthouse to criticize Sheheen for not advocating that South Carolina adopt the same law against illegal immigration that has spurred national controversy in Arizona.
Appearing with Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright, Haley said taxpayers spent $87 million to provide illegal immigrants with public services in 2004, a fact she said shows the tie between the economy and illegal immigration.
"Sen. Sheheen says we should be focusing on jobs and the economy. Focusing on illegal immigration is focusing on jobs and the economy," Haley said.
She promised to sign an Arizona-style law if it came across her desk as governor.
"I am the daughter of immigrant parents. We are a country of immigrants, but more importantly we are a country of laws," Haley said.
Sheheen blasted back about an hour later and a few blocks away, where he was raising money at The Showroom gallery and performance hall.
Sheheen said he voted for South Carolina's new law to combat illegal immigration, which he said holds employers accountable for hiring illegal aliens and is one of the toughest in the nation. He said Haley was trying to distract voters and avoid a discussion of job creation, which he called the most important issue.
"I'm running for governor of South Carolina, not governor of the United States," Sheheen told The Greenville News . "In this state, what we need is a leader who will talk about job creation. She's dodging it every chance she gets because Mark Sanford, who is her mentor, has a terrible record on job creation."
Sheheen said South Carolina needs to enforce its own law before adopting Arizona's, though he is open to additional reforms if needed down the road. Sheheen said he has discussed immigration and other national issues over and over for the past year.
"But it's really all a distraction, and we saw the same thing with Mark Sanford for eight years," he said.
"A distraction. National press conferences. National pandering and ignoring of South Carolina's needs, and the result has been incredibly high unemployment. The result has been teacher layoffs, and the result has been scandal in state government."
Haley said Sheheen is wrong to claim South Carolina's law is as strong as Arizona's, and she named some of the differences.
Police in Arizona, she said, are authorized to take illegal immigrants to a federal facility themselves, while police in South Carolina must call the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, Haley said, Arizona police are allowed to immediately enforce federal immigration laws, while South Carolina must first spend time and money training its officers.
On a different topic, Sheheen said Haley's campaign hasn't responded to his recent call for five debates on different topics in different parts of the state, including one in Greenville on jobs and the economy.
"I think the voters need to be informed in depth and not just in 30-second sound bites," Sheheen said.
Haley said she's happy to debate, but she won't let Sheheen choose the terms by himself.
"We will absolutely discuss making sure we have debates so that every citizen in South Carolina can see it, and we will do it on a time where we both are available," Haley told The News .
"But he is not going to dictate the days and times and how we are going to go about having the debates."