Republican candidate for Governor Sarah Steelman outlined her plan to combat illegal immigration in Ozark Tuesday, while taking a veiled shot at her main G.O.P. rival for Washington's failure to address the hot-button issue.
Steelman is proposing that any tax payments received by the state that do not match other social security and employment documents should be audited, investigated and referred to the I.R.S. and federal immigration officials.
"I think they (Department of Revenue) should be auditing those returns at a minimum and then turning them over to Immigration, ICE unit to find out who they are working for, so again, to focus the attention on the employer," Steelman said in a one-on-one interview.
The State Treasurer also said a KY3 News debate in July with rival Kenny Hulshof would help crystallize differences between the two on the issue. "I think it's good to hear from both of us to find out what my ideas are about solving Missouri's problems like illegal immigration, and to find out what my opponent's are, which of course Washington hasn't done anything about that particular issue," she said.
Hulshof campaign spokesperson Scott Baker said Steelman's suggestion that the Columbia Congressman is responsible for the breakdown on the issue is far-fetched. "You can't hang the inaction of Nancy Pelosi on Kenny Hulshof anymore than you can hang it on Roy Blunt or Kit Bond," Baker said. "Her argument is Washington has failed, is she saying Roy Blunt is to blame? The Democrats control Congress," Baker added.
Steelman participated in a roundtable with business leaders Tuesday and said most in attendance agreed that the major problem is "employers hiring illegal workers."
"I think you put the burden of knowingly, if they knowingly hire an illegal worker than they should be held responsible and there should be a strong, stiff penalty opposed upon them for doing that," she said.
When asked how Hulshof would approach the issue, Baker said the Congressman agreed that a crackdown on employers is needed -- but that it has to be done in a way that "makes it easy so small business owners can comply."
"Kenny was talking to one employer in Springfield with 30,000 employees. To go through that verification process for each one, would be quite an undertaking. We need a streamlined process that's not too cumbersome for employers to comply," Baker said.
Steelman also defended recent testimony she gave before Jefferson City lawmakers about the economic impact of illegal immigration. Some critics said she overstated the impact of illegal immigrants that weren't paying taxes.
"What I was trying to do was show that there is a cost to the taxpayers of this state, whether its $1 million dollars or 20 million dollars, every dollar is important to this state. I was trying to focus the issue on the fact that we don't know how many illegals are out there. We don't know the answers to a lot of these questions, but that fact is we know that it is costing taxpayers money," Steelman explained.
Missouri Democratic Party spokesperson Jack Cardetti said Steelman's history on illegal immigration needs to be examined. He said Steelman's staff helped direct state tax credits to a company that was caught using illegal workers for a state housing project. Cardetti also points to $9,000 in contributions that Steelman received from the Gundaker Commercial Group during 2006 and 2007.
In her primary race with Hulshof, Steelman said a big difference would be fiscal responsibility. She suggested that she has had more experience in helping to balance the state budget. "Sometimes you have to say no to things and I've had experience doing that here in the state, versus Congressman Hulshof's experience in Washington, which is just continuous spending, support earmark spending, and throw money at the problem instead of making those hard decisions about balancing the budget," Steelman said.
"I think there's going to be a big difference in how we approach the fiscal situation of this state," Steelman said. "You'll have to ask him if he thinks he's been fiscally responsible."
Hulshof spokesperson Baker laughed at the implication. "We encourage her to name specifics," Baker responded. "Look at Kenny Hulshof's time on the House Budget Committee and his record of scaling back. It's almost surreal to be responding to this. We've taken so many hits on the other side for scaling back things like S-CHIP," Baker said. "He was against expanding that program beyond its means. It's a bit comical."
On the issue of earmarks, Baker said that Hulshof goes through an intricate vetting process in determining what to earmark. "He can defend every single one of them. They are for things like improving highways . . . They are infinitely defensible, but he's also behind the push to make them more transparent and for people to put their name on them," Baker explained.
HULSHOF LINKS STEELMAN TO NIXON
When I asked Baker why the Hulshof campaign recently sent out a release linking Steelman to Nixon, he said there "are some similarities." He said from some of her "trial attorney votes," to her opposition to remove elected officials from the Missouri Housing Commission to her criticism of MOHELA, there's a clear pattern. "She agrees with Jay Nixon on this stuff. She was one of the first critics of the Governor's MOHELA plan. Jay Nixon has been a loud opponent," Baker said.
Baker acknowledged that Steelman's "Washington insider" label of Hulshof could hurt his candidate. "It certainly doesn't help. But Kenny has said, Congress has earned its 8% approval rating," Baker said. He suggested that in the coming weeks the campaign would frame Hulshof as "the true outsider" to pols like Steelman and Attorney General Jay Nixon. "Kenny would not come to the job with grudges, with scores to settle," Baker said.
Still, for a Washington outsider, Hulshof is doing pretty well with the Jefferson City establishments. So far, he's won the establishment primary and the endorsement primary.
Steelman seemed to brush off the long list of endorsements Hulshof has been able to rack up. "What I'm fighting for are the taxpayers of this state, those are the votes that matter to me. I don't get elected to represent other elected officials," she said.