The questions were about improving Arizona's economy.
But the answers provided during a televised debate Monday night by several Republican gubernatorial hopefuls were about securing the border, insisting the issues are linked. And some want to spend state tax dollars to do it.
“The Center for Immigration Studies came out a couple of weeks ago with an analysis that showed that all new jobs created since 2000 — that's three presidential administrations — all of them have been taken by immigrants, legal and illegal,” said former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. He said if the state is to do something about high unemployment, “start with the obvious.”
Thomas rejected the suggestion by Ted Simons, who hosted the debate for KAET-TV, that the jobs immigrants are taking are those that legal residents will not.
“If you pay them properly, they will work,” he said.
Former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones wants to spend money to send the National Guard to the border and construct additional miles of fence. She insists, though, that Arizona can simply send the bill for all that to Congress.
State Treasurer Doug Ducey said everything would be on the table. He said that includes “reprioritizing” the $300 million budget of the state Department of Public Safety and working with local sheriffs to focus on illegal immigration.
“A governor has to do everything that they can do,” he said.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett chided Jones, pointing out that Arizona has sent invoices to Washington before for things like paying the costs of incarcerating those not in the country legally who have violated state laws.
“You're not going to pay for it a magic wand,” he said. “And you're not going to pay for it by sending the bill to Congress because they've already not paid several bills,” such as invoices for housing migrants in state prisons who have violated state laws.
Bennett said there may be a role for the state, citing legislation passed when he was state Senate president to spend $50 million on high-tech detection devices along the border, legislation vetoed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, however, said all that ignores there is a cost.
“I would love to say as governor I'm going to wave the magic wand and say here's what we're going to do,” he said.
“But then reality sets in,” Smith continued. “And the fact here is that nobody's talking reality.”
And former California Congressman Frank Riggs said the governor does have some responsibility in helping secure the border.
“But that has to be a combined federal, state and local response,” he said. “And to constantly blame illegal immigrants for every challenge that we have as a state is absolutely irresponsible.”
Smith sought to keep the focus on the economy and job creation, citing the study Thomas cited.
“That kind of begs the question: If every single one has been taken by an illegal immigrant ... we are in worse trouble from an economic standpoint than an immigration standpoint because we're not creating any high-quality jobs,” he said. “I don't think the people who are crossing the border and walked across the desert are walking into that high-paying engineering job.”
That brought a sharp retort from Thomas.
“Excuse me, Scott: I said LEGAL immigrants,” he said. “I said legal and illegal in case you weren't listening.”
Ducey chided Smith and other foes of more spending to secure the border for their attitudes.
“Many of us, or some of us here, are very good at telling people what can't be done,” he said. “I think a governor has to show what needs to be done and has to be the spokesperson for it.”
But Smith reiterated his contention that claims the state can stop illegal immigration — and can afford to do that — are false.
“Which budget are you going to cut to transfer that?” he said. Smith said voters need to focus on the economy and not get sidetracked on various promises of what a new governor might be able to do about immigration.
“We've only recovered half of the jobs we lost during the recession,” he said, pointing to a recent news report which said that California, also hard-hit during the downturn, now has as many people working as it did before the economy went south. “And that might be called the worst business tax and regulatory environment in the country.”
But Smith said the problem in Arizona goes deeper.
“We're not only recovering jobs at a slower rate,” he said.
“But the quality of jobs we are recovering are basically minimum wage jobs,” Smith continued. “They're not the high quality jobs that we lost.”
Ducey promised to sign a moratorium on new state regulations the first day he takes office. In fact, though, there already is one in place, put there by incumbent Jan Brewer.
And Ducey also promised “Texas-style tort reform that will lower liability on the small businessman and the taxpayer.”
But Ducey's ability to deliver that, even with legislative approval is limited. Arizona has a constitutional provision precluding caps on jury awards, and voters have repeatedly rejected efforts to repeal or alter that.
Riggs promised new incentives for business, including the ability to take an immediate tax write-off on the cost of new equipment in the year it was purchased. Now, larger purchases must be amortized as deductions over multiple years.
And Riggs was undeterred by questions of lower state tax revenues.
“It absolutely will pay for itself, in stimulation and job creation,” he said.
Smith, however, said that's nice for manufacturers, but he said it leaves out service-oriented businesses who do not make large capital purchases.
Jones was a bit less specific, promising to “streamline” the state tax code.
And Thomas reiterated his contention that border security “dwarfs all other issues.”
The question of how to get any of this done had each of the contenders claiming some unique experience.
Smith noted his time as both mayor of Mesa and head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Ducey and Jones both cited their experience in the private sector, him in forming the Cold Stone Creamery ice cream chain and her as an executive of the web site hosting firm of GoDaddy.
Bennett said he was state Senate President the last time Arizona had a balanced budget.
Thomas said he took on the powerful as a county attorney — at least before he was disbarred.
Riggs said his three terms in the U.S. House, albeit from California, gives him instant credibility in working with Congress.
“I know where the men's room is,” he said.
All of the candidates said the emergence of the Tea Party is good for the Republican Party, each insisting that they believe in many of the same things, but Thomas, who was disbarred for abusing his prosecutorial discretion, went farther.
“The liberal media attack the tea party for the same reason they attack any real conservative: They don't like the principles they stand for and they see that they're effective,” he said.