Opinion: Campaign 2012: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney debate lawn care

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Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate was feisty in a lot of good ways, including meaningful exchanges about Herman Cain’s ‘9-9-9' tax plan and over healthcare reform. But one of the tussles getting the most attention was more of a personal attack than a policy dispute. That was Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s accusation that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had knowingly employed illegal immigrants to tend his lawn.

Romney denied it at first, then explained that his lawncare contractor in the mid-2000s had employed undocumented immigrants without his knowledge. Perry said Romney didn’t do anything about the illegals for a year after being alerted about them by a Boston newspaper. To the contrary, Romney said, he’d immediately told the contractor to stop employing illegals, but found out a year later that the contractor hadn’t done so. That’s when he fired the company.

Romney’s explanation may have sounded credible, especially to Californians, but Politico reports that the attack has generated a lot of buzz in the media and online. Perhaps it’s because of what Romney said he told the contractor when he learned about the illegal workers: ‘I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake; I can’t have illegals.’ (This was back in 2006, when Romney was governor; he unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.) That’s right, Mitt -- once you make the move from voter to candidate, you’ve got to give up the illegal help.

To me, Romney’s only fault is muffing the explanation. I think it’s reasonable for household employers to rely on the people they hire directly -- the contractors and service providers -- to comply with immigration law. When the phone company sends a technician to Romney’s house, should he ask to see the worker’s papers?


But that’s just me. What do you think? Take our shamefully unscientific poll, leave a comment, or do both!


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-- Jon Healey