Georgia now has a GOP governor so this is significant

It was a debate to see who might represent Georgia as the state’s next governor. But there sure was a lot of talk about Arizona Saturday night as the top four GOP candidates for governor squared off in Gwinnett County in a tea party-tinged debate.

At the top of the agenda was immigration and Arizona’s recent legislation that cracks down on illegal immigrants. Each candidate — Nathan Deal, Eric Johnson, Karen Handel and John Oxendine — supported what Arizona did and said that if elected, they would follow suit.

“It is the duty for all law enforcement and elected officials to enforce the law,” said Insurance Commissioner Oxendine. “That is what Arizona has done and that is what Georgia needs to do. This state is for American citizens and good, honest immigrants who want to come here and sign the guest book.”

Deal said that when he was a congressman, he was a leader in immigration reform and will continue as governor. “I will do what I have done on the federal level and we will take our stand and do what Arizona has done,” Deal said. “We will take a stand to correct that problem at the state level.”

With Arizona’s law becoming the nation’s hot-button issue, coupled with a White House visit this week by the president of Mexico, immigration has become a major campaign issue nationwide. But even locally, the case of the Kennesaw State University student — who faces deportation because she is an illegal immigrant — has become political fodder.

The candidates agreed that she beat a broken system. “I have demanded that the Board of Regents change their policy,” Johnson said, about the lack of requiring citizenship papers for students. “She is using a tax-subsidized spot that could go to a Georgian.”

Handel called the whole situation “absolutely unacceptable.” “We need new legislation,” Handel said. “Under no circumstances will illegal immigrants be able to benefit from, or use, state services.”

Saturday’s debate, sponsored by FreedomWorks, was a crucial forum for the candidates looking to break out and establish momentum. Two other candidates, Jeff Chapman and Ray McBerry, who are trailing in the polls, were not invited to participate in the debate.