Templeton Wades Into Controversial Topics During First Town Hall

S.C. gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton talks with people before a town hall event on Aug. 1, 2017.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton fielded questions during a 90-minute Pickens County GOP town hall event Tuesday.

During the 90-minute event, Templeton waded into issues dealing with southern heritage, transgender issues, her brief tenure at the S.C. Ports Authority, utility regulations, abortion, and Islam, among other issues asked by the roughly 30 people in attendance

Templeton, 46, was appointed director of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation in 2010 by then Gov. Nikki Haley. She was later appointed to lead S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control in 2012. She resigned from the post in 2015.

Templeton, along with Gov. Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill are the only declared Republican candidates for the 2018 race. No Democrats have announced yet.

She is the first candidate to participate in a town hall meeting among the three other declared Republicans in the 2018 governor's race.

Below are some of the questions Templeton faced and her responses—some have been edited for length. 

Q: Why does S.C. have the highest electricity rates in the country and what is going to happen with the nuclear reactors that are no longer being built?

A: The biggest concern is there’s nobody protecting us. The law allows these utilities to raise our rates. I don’t think they’re going to rebate our money. We got some people in Columbia who are bought and paid for by the utilities. Go look at the contributions for this campaign—I’m not one of them. If government is going to allow them to be the only providers, then to take our money before they give us anything back, and not protect us, we’ve got a problem. It is a billions of dollars problem.

Q: How do you keep it civil and still shake up the establishment?

A: It’s actually not necessarily the Legislature who are the problems; it is the contracts and the legislators that self-deal. And it’s not illegal in South Carolina. We have legislators making $40 million off state money. If you’re going to serve in the legislature, either commit to not making money off the state while you’re in charge of the contracts and the money, or don’t be a legislator. It’s that simple.  So, it doesn’t have to be acrimonious; it’s some very specific practices and problems.

Q: Southern heritage is a very important issue to me. I feel anti-southernism is not a conservative value, what is your opinion on southern heritage?

A: Not on my watch. I don’t think there is anything else to say about it. You cannot rewrite history; I don’t care whose feelings it hurts. You cannot rewrite history; it is doomed to repeat itself. I’m born here, raised here. When I was confirmed in eighth grade, I grew up Methodist, my grandmother handed me my papers first and then handed me my Bible. She was a daughter of the Confederacy, a daughter of the Revolution. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants in South Carolina. It’s why we are who we are and where we are. I very much respect the men who gave their homes, their fortunes, and their lives to put us in this position. Fortunately, we have a law, too, that protects us.

Q: If you had been a senator or representative at that time would you have voted at that time to take the Confederate battle flag down from the State House grounds?

A: I think what we did was reacted, and I think that’s what happens in government a lot. We have an emergency and we create a response because it’s the only thing we have control over. I’ve already said, and mean it from the bottom of my heart, that I am proud to be from South Carolina, I’m proud of the Confederacy, but I’m not going to second guess what the people in the State House did when I wasn’t there.

A bad person took something that’s dear to us, took our heritage and turned it into hate, and I think we reacted as a result.

Q: Would you have passed the gas tax legislation the way it was passed and if not, what would your solution be?

A: I’d love to see more money go to the roads, however throwing more money at it is not going to fix it. The Department of Transportation is not accountable to anyone. It is run by political appointees; it is funded by people who do favors for each other. I think this new law that has been passed has stopped the commissioners’ ability to do contracts on behalf of the state, so that’s very helpful. I think now that the governor can appoint commissioners, that’s very helpful, so there’s more accountability.

Q: Who did you support in the presidential primary race and would you support President Donald Trump’s reelection?

A: Because I’m South Carolina forever, I’m a big fan of the Bush family and they asked me to support Jeb. Of course I support President Trump. He has a business mind. I think President Trump is trying to do what he said he would do, but the media and entrenched bureaucrats that are held over have teamed up to do everything they can to make this messy and difficult. He’s done what he said he will do and I think he will continue to do that.

Q: Can you comment on the recent Trump administration transgender military ban?

A: I defer to the generals and the admirals as to what they believe is best for combat readiness and unit cohesion. No bureaucrat or politician knows more than they do. I’ll tell you this though, personally, we should not be paying a dime for gender reassignment surgery. That’s outrageous. If you sign up and join as a man, you serve as a man. If you join as a woman, you serve as a woman. I think it’s not any more complicated than that.

Q: What can we do to clean up waste in government?

A: Gov. Haley asked me to go over to the largest, most complex agency in the state [DHEC]. I didn’t go there to make friends; I went there to make sure we were doing things smart. And I also realized that the people who work there are very good at their jobs. We started looking at all the waste and all the problems, and in the first 18 months we saved $68 million, and we approved every single solitary program. What we did was let the engineers be engineers and the doctors be doctors, and our permits got out 40 percent faster. We didn’t cut any corners; our appeals rate didn’t go up.

I know what a proviso is, how many CEOs know what that is? I know what a pass-through is, I know how they pass through, I know what subcontractors do, I know how they procure contracts, I know who pays who, I know who doesn’t like who—these are all important things when you’re trying to navigate in that world.

Q: Do you believe that any advancement of Islam by anyone in the United States is an act of war against our freedom, our lives, and all we hold dear?

A: I believe any act of terrorism or any jihad is absolutely an act of terrorism. Course this nation was founded on freedom of religion and I think that our religion is under attack. I think every day, as Christians, we’re having to fight in our schools, we’re having to fight about what our churches taught us, and what we believe, and what we pass on and hold dear to our children. You will not find anybody who will fight harder for religious freedom. You will also not find anybody more law enforcement-centric.

I am acutely aware of the attacks on this country. It’s why I’m such a supporter of the Second Amendment.

Q: Do you see a best way to stopping the advancement of Islam in the United States?

A: I think one of the first places we start is we turn the spigot off. Right now, the fact that we have refugees coming in, all types of people coming in from all over the United States, and we don’t know where they’re coming from or what they mean to do, and they don’t have a government to help us figure that out. I agree, we have to vet people before they come in first.

Q: You were fired (from the S.C. Ports Authority) and only now you’re talking about it. Why weren’t you talking about corruption back when it happened?

A: I did. When you raise more than the last three governors in your first quarter, and do it again in your second quarter, it makes people very nervous in that entrenched swamp that we’re starting to clean up.

I went to the port after I left government, and I was there for three weeks. On a Wednesday, there was a request for contracts from the media. And I was in charge of responding to that under the Freedom of Information Act and I didn’t blink. I responded to it on Thursday, on Friday I wasn’t there because it was fall break for the kids, and on Monday I was fired.

I later learned, a couple weeks later, when I got a phone call from a mutual friend, that the Quinns were the contracts. One of them is indicted now and the Quinns are under investigation—they were mad at me and they wanted to talk to me. I said, ‘We’ll, I’m coming to Columbia anyway because the Boeing executives are coming in. What are you upset about?’

[Quoting the Quinns] ‘Why are you trying to hurt us?’

[Responding] ‘I’m not trying to hurt you. My money goes into the port; my taxpayer money goes into the port. The port employs 1 out of 11 people in the state…and I don’t think it’s right that you fleece the port, and that you take my money, and that we’re spending millions of dollars.’

I was asked to comply with the law and I did, and I gave the contracts over.

The reason it’s being talked about now is because one of the other campaigns dispatched some reporters to come ask me about my time at DHEC, my time at Department of Revenue, my time at, my time at, and they were very disappointed to find out it was all good.

Q: Would you care to explain the consulting fee for the transition period when you left DHEC?

A: [DHEC’s] John Cameron called me at 10 p.m. when Ebola was going on and said, ‘We have a ship coming in from the red zone the CDC won't help me, Customs won’t help me, the Coast Guard won’t help me, nobody can tell me what to do, can you fix it? What do we do?’ And an hour later, I got off the phone with him.

I got a call one night, on a Sunday night, ‘Ma’am we need your permission to do a reverse 911 in Aiken County because there’s a dam about to break. The governor needs your permission.’ Bad things happen at DHEC that DHEC handles. When the director of DHEC, who has secret security clearance with the CDC—you know, we are all over nuclear radiation; nuclear things are passing through the state, and I knew about it because if something bad happened, we had to be ready. When the director of DHEC leaves, every time, you have to stay available, legally, until the next director comes in.

We thought the next director was going to be confirmed within the next couple weeks and, in fact, she withdrew, so we didn’t have another director for months.

It’s called continuity of government, it’s for safety. And my successor is not now taking the contract that she was offered because the media is making it so hot, making it such a bad issue.

If I were in charge of Columbia, she’d be on contract. Cause if I were in charge of Columbia I wouldn’t worry about what the paper was saying, I’d make sure you were safe.

I got paid for work I did.

Q: Where do you stand on abortion?

A: I’m the only girl running. It’s a personal question. I have three children. When I was pregnant with the twins, the doctor came in and said they needed to do more tests because it was very early and they needed to figure out, basically, what the best course of action was; should we abort one of the children and if that would hurt the other because one had a problem. My husband and I didn’t call our pastor and we didn’t go out of the room. We looked at each other and looked at the doctor and said, ‘We don’t need to run any more tests. These kids are our kids, for as long as God lets us have them, we protect them.’ And that was that.

I do think there are exceptions for incest and for life of the mother.

Q: If South Carolina were in a situation like North Carolina got into, and you were the governor and we had a bill and everybody was supposed to use the correct bathroom (based on the gender listed on their birth certificate, not what the person associates with), and you had all this pressure from companies and organizations, would you buckle or stand up for it?

A: I’m really not trying to be flip when I answer this: If you’re a boy you go to the boy’s room, if you’re a girl, you go to the little girl’s room, and if you’re a pervert, we throw you in jail and throw away the keys. I’m just not sure there’s anything else to say.

Would you stand up against all that pressure? Sure, absolutely. I think the thing we’re afraid of is we’re afraid of someone who’s confused, who comes into anyone’s restroom and being inappropriate. And that’s illegal now and it would be enforced.

Q: What is your stance on offshore drilling?

A: I agree with President Trump’s belief that that’s a local issue. Up and down the East Coast cities and towns have said they don’t want offshore drilling. Barack Obama opened up the Atlantic Ocean or tried to under his presidency and what concerns me is that South Carolina has 80,000 jobs related to tourism and oceanic recreation and that’s $4.4 billion for the state.

I’ve also looked at the way that the lines are drawn and actually argued against them. The way the lines are drawn, for what we would get credit for or any income from, if you look at the way North Carolina is it kind of cuts us off. We sort of have a sliver. That means if, as we know now, we got all the oil and gas reserves off our coast it would last for six days. So, I do not want to jeopardize six days of oil and gas supply for 80,000 South Carolinians and a $4.4 billion revenue stream. Plus, our natural resources are phenomenal. I don’t want to change the way our state looks.