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Democrats clash over arresting immigrants
By GLEN JOHNSON , Associated Press writer

BOSTON — The Democratic gubernatorial candidates split yesterday over a proposal to allow State Police troopers to arrest illegal immigrants, but Deval Patrick was most emphatic when he declared the idea by Gov. Mitt Romney a "gimmick."

"The governor's plan isn't a plan," said Patrick, who is trying to become the first black governor of Massachusetts. "It's government by gimmick and slogan and photo op, that we've come to be used to and expect from this governor. What we need is comprehensive immigration reform."

Afterward, Patrick added: "I think the State Police has a lot to do already right now."

Attorney General Tom Reilly, who has been criticized for saying it is the federal government's responsibility to police illegal immigrants, nonetheless said he could support Romney's plan if states were given an immigration enforcement power as part of a comprehensive illegal immigration solution.

"If there is a meaningful role carved out for states, including state police, that's something we should look at," Reilly said.

Businessman Chris Gabrieli, who took a hard line against illegal immigrants during the debate, was noncommittal afterward when asked about the Romney proposal. "I'd have to look at it," he said. "It's something I haven't focused on."

The half-hour debate, which was scheduled to be aired last night on WGBH-TV's "Greater Boston" public affairs program, covered a myriad of topics but focused repeatedly on personal issues involving the candidates.
Reilly was asked why he emphasized his middle-class lifestyle when Gabrieli and Patrick — both millionaires — started from humble beginnings themselves. Gabrieli and Patrick were asked to defend sending their children to private schools while talking so much during the campaign about their commitment to public schools. And Patrick was asked about allegations he "clear-cut" a Berkshire mountain top to build a family vacation home.

"We did not 'clear-cut,'" he said. "We took down maybe eight trees."
Another discussion topic was state pensions, both a proposal by Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey — the lone Republican gubernatorial candidate — to institute a 401(k)-style program for state workers, as well as a House vote last week to provide a special pension to a former state representative who did not pay into the system.

All three candidates said they favored reforming the state's existing "defined benefit" pension system to cut down on abuses, but not instituting the Healey proposal.

They split again, though, when speaking about the plan to provide a special $44,000-per-year pension to former state Rep. Michael Ruane, D-Salem, who friends say is near death and who has said he did not pay into the state system because of a ruling by a former attorney general.
Reilly, who lost the support of two state representatives because he opposed the bill, said, "Sometimes you have to stand up to the Legislature when they're wrong."

Patrick said, "I don't think it's an appropriate use of public funds."
Gabrieli, who picked up the support of the two former Reilly backers, said he would have to study the specific bill before deciding whether, as governor, he would veto it. Nonetheless, he decried what he labeled "death bed politics" and said he was focused on the broader issue of pension reform.

On illegal immigration, meanwhile, Reilly again cast it as a leadership issue, saying he had made a calculated decision five years ago to go after employers violating wage and hour laws — often to the detriment of immigrants — while leaving it up to federal officials to enforce immigration laws.

Gabrieli, like Reilly the son of European immigrants, said illegal aliens are taking high-paying jobs such as those in the construction industry. "This is not back-of-the-kitchen type work," he said.

Patrick called the focus on illegal immigration "a crisis just in time for the election season." He accused Reilly of not doing enough to enforce wage and hour laws, and later took aim at Romney for his proposal to have troopers arrest illegal immigrants.

Date of Publication: June 22, 2006 on Page A08