ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue led the fight against illegal immigration in Georgia this year, according to a campaign ad the state Republican Party began airing Thursday.
But Democrats quickly responded that Perdue avoided the issue as it made its way through the General Assembly, the same charge the ad levels at his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Rather than waiting for Congress to act, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed an immigration reform bill last March requiring adults seeking many taxpayer-funded services to prove they are U.S. citizens or in this country legally and cracking down on employers who hire illegal workers.
Perdue signed the legislation the following month.
In doing so, Perdue and lawmakers were following the wishes of Georgians who were demanding action on illegal immigration, Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, the bill's leading sponsor, said Thursday during a news conference.
"The governor had a choice: He could show leadership or stick his head in the sand,'' Rogers said. "The governor took the right path, the path of leadership.''
On the other hand, Taylor, who presides over the Senate, avoided taking a stand on illegal immigration by calling it a federal issue, according to the new ad.
The Taylor camp shot back that the lieutenant governor fully supported the Senate bill.
"(He) believes that illegal immigration is just that - illegal,'' Taylor campaign spokeswoman Chrissy Noonan said in a prepared statement. "Mark will work with our congressional delegation to make sure that existing federal immigration laws are enforced and our borders are protected.''
The Georgia Democratic Party went further by citing newspaper editorials published as the debate on Rogers' bill was raging last winter criticizing Perdue for distancing himself from the issue and urging him to take a position.
"Gov. Perdue's record on illegal immigration is like his record on so many other issues,'' state Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn said. "He uses TV ads and press releases to try to create the illusion of action, but he certainly hasn't shown any real leadership.''
Thursday's flap over illegal immigration capped a week of sharp exchanges between the warring camps, the first since the end of the primary and runoff seasons.
On Wednesday, the Georgia Republican Party filed an ethics complaint charging Taylor with accepting $35,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
Democrats called for an investigation following news reports that Perdue bought about 20 acres of land near Florida's Walt Disney World in 2004 from a Georgia developer about a year after appointing him to the state Board of Economic Development.