SPARTANBURG - Lazy state residents are contributing to the number of illegal immigrants in South Carolina, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said during a Republican gubernatorial debate Friday, living off public aid rather than working.
Bauer's comments came during one of the few instances where the four Republican candidates for governor steered away from familiar ground during an otherwise low-key, one-hour debate.
The candidates - Bauer, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lexington state Rep. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Henry McMaster -drew about 200 spectators at the Chapman Cultural Center. About 40 percent raised their hand when asked before the debate if they had decided on a candidate yet.
And for much of the debate, the candidates largely agreed on the familiar topics: the economy and economic development; state budget cuts; and the federal health care law.
But it was when the candidates were asked about a recently approved Arizona law to crack down on illegal immigration that they plowed new ground.
There was agreement that greater enforcement of state and federal laws would help solve the problem, but Bauer also blamed welfare. Workers, he suggested, are content to sit at home rather than fill jobs taken by illegal immigrants, typically in agriculture, construction or service.
"The real problem is the work force," Bauer said, speaking of a state with 12.2 percent unemployment, the sixth-highest jobless rate in the country. "The problem is we have a give-away system that is so strong that people would rather sit home and do nothing than do these jobs. Laziness is not a disability. There are a lot of people that are flat-out lazy and they are using up the goods and services in this state."
Haley, on the other hand, noted the state did not fund enforcement efforts for its program that checks whether employees are legally here. Barrett said federal enforcement efforts had similarly failed. McMaster said President Barack Obama had canceled funding for local police training.
The candidates largely agreed on how to address declining state revenues, arguing the state should overhaul its tax system and try to reduce spending.
The candidates assailed a new federal health care law, but also offered state-level solutions.
McMaster said he would allow health savings accounts and require state health care plans cover more routine tests.
"I would sign an order to encourage primary-care physicians and home care in order to develop a preventative strategy and not always put out the fire," McMaster said.
Bauer advocated allowing residents to buy insurance policies in other states.
Haley said she would work with other governors to give Congress alternatives to federal mandates.
"Give them solutions and represent multiple states and we will get D.C. out of our way," Haley said.
A question posted by a viewer asked why the voting public should trust any of the candidates?
Haley said her push for on-the-record voting and more income disclosure for the General Assembly meant voters could know better whom to trust. Both Bauer and McMaster said their time in office demonstrates their accomplishments. Barrett said he developed character growing up in a small town and during his education at The Citadel.
"We need leaders who don't give their word very often, but when they do they back it up," Barrett said.
Candidates took on a handful of yes or no questions. Barrett and McMaster said they did not favor changing state law to allow state lottery funds be spent on core K-12 education, rather than the college scholarships, high-tech research and K-12 supplements the lottery currently pays for. Haley and Bauer favored adding the $250 million in lottery funds to the roughly $2.5 billion state share of K-12 education.
When asked if they favored consolidating school districts, Bauer, Haley and McMaster said yes. Barrett said those decisions should be made locally.
Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.