State House Hopefuls Meet in Q&A Session

Candidates for the District 41 seat in the S.C. House of Representatives came together Oct. 11 for a question-and-answer session at the Christ Central Community Center on Congress Street in Winnsboro. The forum, sponsored by the Fairfield County Republican Party and moderated by The Voice, gave the floor to candidates MaryGail Douglas (D) and William Gray (R), and covered education, ethics and campaign finance reform, economic development and other topics.

While the candidates’ views differed slightly on many topics, their views on recent efforts at the State House to redistribute V.C. Summer tax dollars were virtually identical.

The question:

Several bills have been floating around in committees at the State House recently, all of them aimed, in one way or another, at funneling V.C. Summer tax dollars out of Fairfield County and redistributing those dollars to counties across the state. What are your views on these bills, and how would you either support them, oppose them, or try to soften them in some way?

In his answer, Gray addressed the proposal by the S.C. School Boards Association to redistribute industrial property taxes in an effort to provide equitable education funding. That idea, he said, has no chance of gaining any traction.

Addressing the broader concept – a pair of bills that have been co-sponsored by legislators out of Aiken County, but which did not make it out of committee in the last legislative session (bills designed to redistribute property tax dollars from utilities for general use by other counties) – Douglas said she would work to ensure those bills never made it to the House floor.

The candidates also expressed similar views on economic development.

The question:

What is the role of our State House representative in bringing jobs to Fairfield County, and how do you plan to be active in that role?

Douglas said she planned to spend so much time at the State Chamber of Commerce, they may get the idea she was a volunteer for the organization. Gray said there existed barriers to economic development at the state level, particularly between the executive and legislative branch.

“I have been told that the governor is very interested in rural economic development,” Gray said. “She said to me that she can’t get any cooperation from our current legislative delegation.”

While the candidates again agreed largely on making a bipartisan effort to address the state’s issues in Columbia, their view on ethics reforms differed somewhat.

Douglas said the best approach to enacting real ethics reforms in South Carolina may be to totally re-write our state’s political ethics laws, starting from scratch with real reforms. Gray, meanwhile, said ethics could not be legislated, any more than morality could be legislated. If a politician can be bought for a few thousand dollars, he said, the problem is not the money – it is the caliber of the candidate.

Gray had similar views on the topic of campaign finance reforms.

The question: Some believe that the political process has been co-opted by corporate interests and big money, and that if private money could be taken out of the election process, the electorate might be more fairly represented. What are your views on legislating private money out of political campaigns in South Carolina and providing for the public financing of all elections in the state?

While Douglas said she had not given the concept consideration, it was worth thinking about. Such an issue, she said, might best be left up to the voters in a referendum.

“If the general public is interested enough and they cry out enough that the private money is too big of a hook out there,” she said, “then this is something that could be put to a referendum.”

Gray, meanwhile, said telling individuals they could not contribute to campaigns was un-American and unconstitutional.

“We live in the United States of America, which is a free country,” Gray said. “I think it is every citizens’ right to participate in whatever form or fashion. To curtail any citizen’s right to participate, that is wrong. We have a capitalistic system that is based on an individual’s ability to rise as high as they can. The money is not the problem. It is the people who get the money and feel they are beholden to whoever.”

In their closing statements, both candidates stressed the need for economic development in the district, and the growth Fairfield County is destined to feel as a part of the newly drawn District 41.

“I’m concerned about education and I’m concerned about job development,” Gray said. “But something happened during redistricting when they re-drew Fairfield County and added Lake Carolina and Kelly Mill.”

School choice, Gray said, should it become a reality, could mean growth for Fairfield County, as parents living in Fairfield would be able to send their children to schools in the Lake Carolina and Kelly Mill areas.

“Whoever fills this seat will have a lot of work to do, and not just for Fairfield County,” Douglas said. “When I see these other areas that have prospered, it saddens me to see what we have settled for here in Fairfield County. We want more of what Lake Carolina has. We have been asleep at the wheel.”

The general election is Nov. 6. The Voice will present a profile of candidates in our Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 issues.

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