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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman May 27, 2010

Bill McCollum sends mixed signals on Arizona's immigration law

Arizona's controversial immigration law has proven problematic for Florida Republicans, who in large part appear wary of fully endorsing a proposal that's supported by a majority of Floridians but one that also could cost votes among Florida's Hispanic population.

The tightrope-walking act is perhaps no more apparent than when it comes to Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running for governor.

McCollum's primary opponent , Rick Scott, unabashedly supports the law, which will require local law enforcement officials, once police stop a person, to verify the immigration status of those they reasonably suspect of being in the country illegally. The law is also supported by a 58 percent of Floridians, according to a May 2010 St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9/Central Florida News 13 poll.

We decided to rate McCollum's statements on the Arizona law using our Flip-O-Meter, which measures how consistent someone has been when taking a position on an issue.

Before we get to that, though, we need to give you a quick history of how the Arizona law came to pass.

The bill in question originally was signed into law on April 23, 2010, by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. An amended version of the bill -- one to lessen the prospects that racial profiling could occur -- passed and was signed into law on April 30. 

The new version of the law says: "A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution."

The prior version had said that an official "may not solely consider race" in such circumstances.

The change in the bill -- though its impact can be debated -- is important to note when discussing McCollum's position, since his first comments refer to the first version of the bill, while later comments refer to the second version.

McCollum's first published comments about the Arizona law came on April 27, after the original bill had passed.

He was asked whether he would like a Florida version of Arizona's law.

"I think Arizona has its own unique problems," McCollum said. "I don't think Florida should enact laws like this -- quite that far out."

Then in stories on May 13 and May 14 -- after the amended version of Arizona's law passed -- McCollum about-faced and said he would support a Florida version.

"As state and local law enforcement officials in Arizona begin to implement the state's aggressive new border security law to crackdown on illegal immigration, I applaud Gov. Brewer and the Arizona Legislature for stepping up their enforcement efforts at a time when President Obama's administration has let states down," McCollum said. "I support Arizona's law as amended, and if the federal government fails to secure our borders and solve the problem of illegal immigration, I would support a similar law for Florida."

And he also said: "Arizona leaders recently made needed changes that address concerns I had that the law could be abused and misused to perform racially profiled stops and arrests. I do not support any measure that would result in racial profiling or other unintended consequences for law-abiding American citizens.''

Then, on May 16, came another comment to a television reporter in Port St. Lucie. This time, McCollum said he didn't think an Arizona-style immigration law was needed in Florida.

"I didn't change my position, but Arizona changed its law after they passed a law that was very bad (and) that had that the potential for racial profiling," McCollum said.

He was then asked if it was realistic that a similar law might be passed in Florida. "We don't need that law in Florida," he said. "That's not what's going to happen here."

McCollum's most recent comments were picked up on by the Scott campaign, which highlighted the quote in a television ad.

McCollum called the original version of the Arizona immigration law far out, but then said he would support the amended law being adopted in Florida. Since there's a debate over how much difference the amendment ultimately will have in how the law is enforced, it's hard for us to properly measure whether McCollum's position shift in this instance is a complete flip-flop.

But what does strike us are McCollum's comments on May 13 and May 16 -- both in reference to the amended version. On May 13, McCollum said he would support implementing the Arizona law in Florida. Then on May 16 he said Florida doesn't need that law.

Which is it?

Featured Fact-check

McCollum spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said McCollum's position since the final version of the law passed has been consistent. She says McCollum supports the law Arizona passed, in large part because of failures at the federal level. However, McCollum thinks an Arizona-style law is not currently needed in Florida because of the state's unique issues dealing with immigration.

But McCollum's statements to the media on May 13 and May 16 are just too different to us, and warrant a rating of Full-Flop.

Our Sources

Bill McCollum campaign, interview with Kristy Campbell, May 25, 2010 

New York Times, "Arizona Law Reveals Tension Within GOP," May 22, 2010
Arizona Legislature, roll call votes on HB 2612 (original immigration bill)

Arizona Legislature, roll call votes on SB 1070 (revised immigration bill)

CBS News, "Mexico issues travel alert over new Arizona immigration law," April 28, 2010

CBS News, "Tuscon, Flagstaff Sue Arizona over Immigration Law," May 5, 2010

Politico, "Republicans hit Arizona immigration law," April 28, 2010

Revised text of Arizona immigration law (HB 2162), accessed May 11, 2010

Original text of Arizona immigration law (SB 1070), accessed May 11, 2010

PolitiFact, "Arizona immigration law allows police to question 'anyone' who's 'reasonably suspicious' of being illegal," April 28, 2010

PolitiFact, "Arizona immigration law requires police to see a crime before checking legal status, GOP state senator says," April 28, 2010

PolitiFact, "Arizona immigration law rewrite 'lays to rest' worries about racial profiling, Brewer says," May 4, 2010

PolitiFact, "Under Arizona immigration law, overgrown lawns, barking dogs could trigger questioning, lawmaker says," May 4, 2010

Arizona House of Representatives, House Majority Research memorandum on HB 2162, April 29, 2010

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Bill McCollum sends mixed signals on Arizona's immigration law

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