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SC Democratic Gubernatorial Debate I Transcript, Video

May 30, 2018 - Posted in This Week in South Carolina by Jenna Schiferl

Below is a transcript of the first Democratic gubernatorial debate with Phil Noble, Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia) and Marguerite Willis at Clemson University's Brooks Center for the Performing Arts on May 24, 2018. Charles Bierbauer moderated the debate and questioned the candidates along with South Carolina ETV's Gavin Jackson and The Post and Courier's Seanna Adcox. 

Opening Statements

James Smith: Thank you, Charles. I wanna first begin by thanking the organizers of tonight's debate. My fellow South Carolinians, elections are about our future, and my name is James Smith and I'm running for governor because I believe in a South Carolina where all our children have access to a high quality education, where they're prepared for the jobs that are here today and those that are coming tomorrow, where all South Carolinians have affordable and high quality health care, and we allow our people to access the power of the Sun, opening to more renewable energy and lowering our utility costs. As a soldier I was taught never to leave anyone behind, and I know to do this, I need everyone in South Carolina. My wife Kirkland and I need your prayers and I ask you for your support. And I know as governor our best days can be ahead of us.

Phil Noble: My name is Phil Noble. I was born here in the Upstate. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and we moved to Alabama, and he became involved in civil rights and it earned him the number one spot on the Klu Klux Klan's hit list in George Wallace's Alabama. That taught me you always stand for principle, and we are our brother's keeper. You're gonna hear tonight two very different visions of South Carolina in the future, one from a big time corporate lawyer, another from a career politician in the Statehouse. They've spent their life, careers working the system for themselves and those who have paid them. I've spent my career working in South Carolina communities to improve health care, race relations, all sorts of projects that have been about big and bold and audacious ideas about how to make South Carolina better. And that's what we're gonna talk about tonight.

Marguerite Willis: Hi, I'm Marguerite Willis. I'm not a politician. I've never ran for public office before, but I have lived my life as a woman cracking, shattering the glass ceiling for other women. Look, I'm tired of corruption. I'm tired of politicians who do not keep their promises, and I'm way past tired of the good ol' boys who think it's okay for a sexist and a racist to be President of the United States. That's not okay with me. We need a change. So I'm stepping forward to run for governor. I'm stepping forward to deal with the problems that the guys don't wanna deal with, the tough issues like children who are hungry, seniors who need healthcare, and most importantly, rural poverty. You know, they say that women, as they get older, they don't get wiser, they just get braver. Well, I'm brave and I'm strong and I'm smart, and I'm going to be a warrior for all South Carolinians, not just the rich and the poor, but those who've been left out for far too long.

 

Q: I wanna ask you all about the VC Summer, I'm calling it a fiasco, a lot of people are. If the legislators, the state legislators, leave unsettled this complex of questions regarding the abandoned nuclear plant, SCE&G, and Santee Cooper, and it appears they will leave that unsettled, and you take office in January, what's your main goal and what's your first step?

Phil Noble: We've gotta be clear on what happened here. This is a robbery, a $9 billion robbery of the people of South Carolina, aided and abetted by a state legislature that is a little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the utilities, and that's what it is. And I have said, on my first day, I will fire the whole board of Santee Cooper. I'll find a way to force out the management and the board of SCANA. Our principles of how we're gonna deal with these guys is really simple. First, we want our money back, all of it. And secondly, people oughta go to jail, and if anybody stands up before you today and says they're for utility reform, ask him two questions, did you take their money, their PAC money, their consulting fees, did you take their money and did you give it back?

Marguerite Willis: Well, on day one, here's what I would do. I would make sure that the ratepayers are made whole. They are the victims in this robbery, and I think Phil's right about this, it's a robbery. The legislature has let this state down. Ratemaking is a legislative function, and they adopted something called the Base Load Review Act years ago, and they didn't follow up. They didn't watch what the Public Service Commission was doing and they didn't watch what these utilities were doing. I'm a competition lawyer, and we're talking about monopolies here, and when you have, when you have utilities who are monopolies, you've got to keep your eye on them. The legislature dropped the ball here. The second thing I'll do is get into the books and records and I will make certain that we get the maximum value for the companies that are being sold. That's what I'll do.

James Smith: Thank you. Thank you, Charles. One of the reasons why I was unanimously endorsed by the South Carolina Sierra Club and Conservation Voters and Our Revolution SC is they know I'm ready and prepared to deal with this issue on day one and I have the plan. It's gonna be to elevate the Energy Office so it reports directly to me as governor, and we're gonna carve our own future, so the energy plan is one that serves the people of South Carolina, not a utility company. I'm gonna make sure that we also have a consumer advocate, an independent person that is fighting on behalf of the people of our state, someone that we know to hold accountable when things don't go right. I will make sure that we have an energy plan that works for South Carolina and South Carolinians, so we bring rates back to where we're competitive again and make sure the hard working people of our state can pay those rates. We're gonna work to make sure we have weatherization programs in rural parts of our state, which I know are gonna make the hard working people more able to pay their power bills.

Marguerite Willis: Yeah, I'd like to say to Mr. Smith, in 2004, you voted against having a consumer advocate in this very job. So I'm wondering what changed over the years? The fact is the horse was way out of the barn by the time that you came forward this time to advocate for a consumer advocate.

Charles Bierbauer: Mr. Smith, you may respond.

James Smith: Yes, absolutely. Well Miss Willis, if you were paying close enough attention, you would know that the 2004 law was not in place when the Base Load Review Act passed. It actually got changed subsequently to that. At that time, of course, I was serving in Afghanistan fighting our nation's enemies and doing the work to keep our nation free.

 

Q: If you win, you'll obviously be working with the Republican-controlled legislature. Do you see your role primarily in the governor's office as stopping GOP efforts you oppose, persuading Republicans to go along with your plans, or something else entirely, and how do you accomplish that?

Marguerite Willis: Thank you. As governor I'm the chief executive, and so I'm going to try to work with everyone to advance all of the interests of the state of South Carolina. As you know, I've selected a running mate, Senator John Scott of Richland County, who has been in the legislature for over 20 years. He knows how the system works and he has very good relationships over there. So we're gonna work cooperatively to try to advance our legislative agenda. But make no mistake, if the legislature doesn't do its job, if it doesn't help the schools, if it doesn't take care of this utility problem, if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, including as I said, fund our schools up to the maximum they're required to do by law, I will veto those laws. I will veto those bills. I will veto things that come across my desk, because I'm not going to tolerate a legislature that doesn't take care of the citizens of this state.

James Smith: We've seen what the lack of experience does in Washington with number 45 in the White House. Experience in the General Assembly means you've been there fighting for the people of our state, understanding how to get things done. I've got a proven record. It's not what I say that matters. It's 22 years of getting things done for the people of our state and fighting to keep bad things from happening, and I've done that. When it came to time to pass First Steps to School Readiness, our first ever early childhood education initiative, we came together and Republicans and Democrats, and got it done. Same with energy reform, been there to make sure we open our doors to renewable energy and built a strong bipartisan coalition that it got Act 236 passed, and now we're moving on to the next phase to open our doors even more to renewable energy in our state. The experience matters. I'm humble and grateful to have had that for 22 years, and I know how to serve the people of our state to make sure government works for everyone.

Phil Noble: Our government in Columbia is broken, is corrupt, and it's dysfunctional, and I'm not going there to get along. I'm not going there to make deals. I'm not there to make compromises. I'm there to stand up for the people of South Carolina. Our school children don't have lobbyists. Our elderly don't have high paid corporate lawyers. We need somebody who's gonna stand up and fight for the people of South Carolina against a broken, corrupt, and dysfunctional system. If you don't do that, then none of this other stuff really matters, because the system is gonna remain, and it's that system that's run by lobbyists, corporate interests, career politicians, people who are running this state for themselves and not for us. That's the fundamental problem. That's what we've gotta do, and that's what I see is the fundamental job of a governor.

 

Q: All the Republicans on this stage last night said South Carolina has enough money, despite the fact that teachers are underpaid, the base student cost is underfunded, and prisons are also underfunded, just to name a few. Do we have enough money, and if not, how would you improve funding for South Carolina?

James Smith: Gavin, it's all a question of priorities and setting those priorities as governor in my executive budget. You know, we were doing this once before when we had an education governor in Jim Hodges and before that in Dick Riley. We were raising teacher salaries above the southeastern average. We were lowering class sizes and making the kind of investments that help grow our state responsibly. If we were doing the right thing in terms of funding our roads and infrastructure, our state and our economy would be growing faster and the revenues, we could reinvest in the future of our citizens and people. That's what we need and that's what we haven't had for so long. It's not about making decisions for the interest of an individual politician, like for example, the governor did when he vetoed the infrastructure bill. I, as governor, will always be there to serve the people of our state first and always. I've had a record of doing that for 22 years in the General Assembly and I'll do that as governor, and I'll do that by setting the priorities on the values and the things that are important to the people of our state.

Phil Noble: We're looking at this entirely backwards. Instead of saying how much money we got and then let's see what we can spend around and let's cut taxes and so on. No, we need to figure out what we have to do in this state and then fund that. And that means we've got to have a world class education system, not this poor broken down 50th school system we've got. We need great roads, great roads, but we can't have it if we start with, well we don't have but 50 cents to spread on roads. We need to close corporate tax loopholes, sales tax loopholes, we need to reform our whole tax system. We need to take the broken system we've got now and turn it upside down and begin with what we have to do to make South Carolina work for the people of this state, not figure out what the politicians want and how much money they think we've got. It's about fixing our problems, not keeping politicians happy.

Marguerite Willis: Money is always a problem, but I'm your gal for finding money. I'm good with a budget, I'm good with a financial statement, and that's what I've done my entire career is find out where the money is. I think what we need to do is look at additional sources of revenue for this state. I think we need to make sure that we don't have some argument about we don't have but a nickel for something, and then we have enough money. So here's what I'm gonna suggest. We need to fund our schools, and the legislature has got to comply with the EFA and fund our schools to the maximum of the law. Since 2010, they've underfunded our schools by $4.4 billion. They say they don't have the money. I don't know, but I'm gonna go out and raise some money, and here's where I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna focus like a laser on the underperforming school districts and I'm going to bring the Department of Commerce, which I run as governor, into those areas, and I'm gonna say find additional jobs, find new jobs. Let's raise the revenue in these areas so that we have more money for the schools, and nobody's gonna argue with us about it.

 

Q: Republicans last night again said that the way to fix our education system is through school choice. Do you support expanding the use of tax credits to help parents pay for private tuition or any other form of school choice, public or private?

Phil Noble:  No, absolutely not. And like so many other things they've been doing for the last 20 years, they're just plain wrong. We need to say first and foremost, only public money is spent for public education, not private education. Second thing we need to do, we need to double the salary of teachers. Double it, we can do that in five years. The third thing we need to do is we need to equalize what we provide to school districts across the state. Every child, no matter where he is, oughta have a laptop or an iPad, gotta have high speed access. They need the health and nutrition services they need. And then we need to flip the model on education. Instead of the Department of Education telling teachers what to teach, it's Friday so you should be on page 15, we need to give them the authority to teach, to set their own agenda and standards, and in return, have a system of accountability that works for everybody, but most importantly, that works for the kids, not the teachers or administrators or the adults.

Marguerite Willis: I do not approve of using public money for a school choice and here's why. A public education is the foundation of every child's future, particularly in rural South Carolina where folks are struggling. If they don't have a good education, they are left behind forever. I will never agree to taking public money and putting it into private schools ever. Let me just say this. We've got to move the Department of Education into the governor's cabinet so the governor can have control of that function, because you can never raise people out of poverty unless you both work with the Department of Commerce for jobs and with the Department of Education to bring education. We need to pay our teachers more, and Mr. Noble has said a couple of times that we need to double the salary. The way he's gonna do it, he's gonna fire a third of the teachers. Just ask him about that later. I don't agree with that. Our teachers are our heroes, and we need to take care of them, because they are taking care of our kids.

Phil Noble: You're wrong, I've never said that. What I have said is it will double the pay of teachers, and as we do that, we'll bring in more people. We'll bring in better qualified people. We'll bring in people from other professions. We'll retain our teachers. And when we do that and set standards of accountability, we'll say three years, if you don't hit your standards, we'll bring in a SWAT team. If you don't hit your standards in five years, I'm sorry you're gone, because education is not about the teachers. It's about the kids, and I'll do anything to provide a better education for our kids.

James Smith: Fundamentally, public education is so essential to our democracy and to the future of all of our kids in South Carolina, and I've been there. I've fought the fight against vouchers time and time again, and we've won. I could recall even as I was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, my colleagues and the house Democratic caucus were facing a vote on vouchers, and we were six votes down and I got a call said, Smith, if we get you a plane, can you get here in the morning? And all of a sudden, my colonel gave me a release, said he wasn't gonna stand in the way of democracy. Flew overnight, made national news, walked onto the floor of the House and again stopped the effort to take public dollars and put them in private schools. I've been there, I've won the fight. As governor, I'll make sure we'll not just stop those efforts, but we'll invest in our kids. We'll make sure that whether you're in Greenville, or Greeleyville, or Charleston, or Chester, the tools and resources are there, because I know our kids can learn. Thank you.

 

Q: Let me ask the three of you where you are on this question of the referendum for moving the Superintendent of Education into the cabinet. Now, that's going to be a referendum on the ballot in the fall. Just yes or no, do you favor that?

James Smith: Only if it requires that that person have public school experience. The bill that passed, you can hire somebody, a Betsy DeVos, so, I think that's wrong.

Phil Noble: Yes

Marguerite Willis: I do, and I wanna ask Mr. Smith why he doesn't send his children to public school.

Charles Bierbauer: That's really outside the parameters of a rebuttal challenge in this circumstance. The next question is Gavin Jackson's, and it goes to Ms. Willis.

 

Q: How can you work to improve health care in South Carolina without Medicaid expansion?

Marguerite Willis: Well that's gonna be tough. We need those extra Medicaid dollars to deal with our folks who are struggling for health care, particularly in the poverty stricken areas of this state. Otherwise, what we have to do is we have to be more efficient. We have to use telemedicine, we have to go and make sure that we have appropriate facilities, increase nurse practitioners, make sure that we emphasize preventive medicine and have people take responsibility for their own health care. Education will be key. If we don't have additional money, we're going to have to empower folks to help themselves. In addition, we're going to just have to call on everyone to pitch in. I've said before, I do not intend to leave anyone sick, broken, and battered beside the of road of life in this state. And what we're going to do is take money from other places if we have to, to take care of our poorest and our sickest folks.

James Smith: Gavin, one of the things I, first I'll do as governor with a stroke of my pen, I will expand Medicaid, but it'll be a South Carolina plan that's gonna serve South Carolinians. We're gonna invest in preventive care and make for a healthier state and that's gonna generate revenue, because we're gonna save money. I'm gonna make sure that we provide increased rates for ADA services for kids and families facing autism, expand the availability for hearing resources for those that are born hearing, with hearing concerns. I know this, I've seen going all across our state, too many of our people who are, get sick, but don't have access to a physician. Over 200,000s of our citizens don't have access. $2 billion every year are going to, not to serve our people. It's our money, it's the fiscally responsible thing, it's the morally right thing, it's the correct policy, and as governor I'll make it happen.

Phil Noble: I reject the premise. I would take Medicaid expansion and the problem is that politicians show up and say well, here's our limits. No, we don't have to accept that limit. We don't have to say, well what am I gonna do without Medicaid expansion? I'm gonna take Medicaid expansion. I'll do it the first day, and not only does that expand healthcare money, it expands economic growth, because it's billions of dollars that's gonna be pumped through our local economies. That will take care of the rural hospitals that are closing one right after another, and I've worked to see this happen. I started a project that became Welvista that provides free pharmaceuticals for people who couldn't afford health care and other sort of healthcare relief. And over the years, we provided literally hundreds of thousands of people in this state with health and wellness, simply by using bold, creative, innovative approaches that had a real impact on people's lives. And we can do that as governor times 10, times 10, times 10.

 

Q: South Carolina has prospered through the presence of BMW, Boeing, a fleet of tire manufacturers, and other industries that have been brought here at least in part through the advocacy of past governors. So, if you were to become governor, could you tell us what might be your economic target that you would work on to bring to South Carolina?

James Smith: Charles, things I've already been working on, and particularly in the knowledge based economy. We have so much opportunity in South Carolina with the quality of our workforce. And I just finished delivering on a commitment to deliver, to bring a company called Capgemini to the Midlands, 500 jobs, average starting salary $85,000, brought here, not because of you know offers of incentives, but because of the quality of life we offer, the nature of the resources that they can get from the universities and the quality of the training that we have for our workforce, and the loyalty and the commitment that we have for South Carolinians and those jobs. We have a real opportunity. Those are jobs that can be grown in rural and urban parts of our state, so I'm gonna do that. Then, I'm gonna invest in infrastructure and make sure we deliver the resources that are needed to have economic development in rural and urban parts of South Carolina. Thank you.

Phil Noble: Yeah, if you look at where we are in terms of economic development, in one sense, we're doing okay, but our model is wrong. What we're doing is we're paying, paying to bring international businesses to South Carolina. It's great, it's wonderful, happy to have it, but the problem is our people can't do the jobs. Down in Charleston, one of the areas with the better education system, Volvo had 1,500 applicants they needed to fill, 1,500 jobs. It took them 45,000 applicants to fill 1,500 positions, because our people simply didn't have the skills to do the job. We've got 60,000 jobs right now that we can't fill, and what we need to do is focus first and foremost on education, provide a free technical education to anybody in this state, and then focus on entrepreneurship, small businesses, minority businesses, women business. We need to grow the businesses that are here before we go and attract a lot more businesses and pay a lot of money for them when we oughta invest money locally.

Marguerite Willis: Yes, we're doing well, attracting big businesses. We fish for the whales. We've got to start fishing for the brim, because in rural South Carolina, Boeing isn't coming. There's not a harbor and there's not a good interstate, so we've got to bring businesses that will lift our folks out of poverty in rural South Carolina. Here's what I'll do. I'll take the Department of Commerce, and I'll say you folks are real smart, but I need you to look at this issue. We're gonna look for corporations who have a philanthropic heart. We're gonna go to someone like TOMS Shoes and we're gonna say, maybe you wanna come here, you give away a pair of shoes every time you make one. Maybe you wanna come to Marion County where we have 30 percent poverty. Maybe we'd look at alternatives. We look at innovative ways. I'm all in on gaming, on casinos if they're regulated and if they're taxed, because these are innovative ways, different ways to bring jobs and money to our most fragile parts of our state, rural South Carolina.

 

Q: Earlier today, President Donald Trump praised NFL team owners for following the organization's decision to require NFL players to stand for the national anthem, and even said that those who don't stand, quote, maybe you shouldn't be in this country, quote. Is kneeling a respectful way to protest? Should they continue their protest?

Phil Noble: Protest is an American tradition that goes back to the second American who showed up and was protesting against what the first American was doing. [audience laughing] That is in our blood, and we are people who respectfully protest, and I support respectful protests. Last I checked, the NFL wasn't under the purview of the governor of South Carolina. You know, we could sit here and argue about all sorts of things all day, but I wanna talk about how we're gonna fix the corrupt and broken and dysfunctional system in South Carolina, what we're gonna do with big and bold and radically different ideas that are gonna have a real impact on people's lives in South Carolina, because that's what matters. That's what people care about, and that ultimately is the job of the governor, not deciding who stays in the in the locker room and when they come out, that ain't my job.

Marguerite Willis: I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in respectful protest, and I believe that kneeling is a respectful way to protest, but here's the deal. We got to get rid of Donald Trump. He's the problem here. He's a sexist, he's a racist, and he is way off the reservation here. He knows nothing about the Constitution, and he cares less about it. Look, here is the bottom line, we have got a bunch Republicans, they were on this stage last night who are pandering to that man every day. Our governor is the worst. He went up and he begged and he said please, please, don't drill off our shore. Donald Trump said forget it. He said please, please take the tariffs off Samsung. Donald Trump did nothing. He said please, please, please build our MOX facility at Savannah River, finish that up. Donald Trump didn't do that. Listen, our governor is no friend of Donald Trump's and he's no friend of ours, and the fact that our governor voluntarily sent our National Guard to the border when there was no need for them is outrageous.

James Smith: Charles, the respectful protest is the foundation of our democracy. Our First Amendment is essential to what we have in America, and what I went to fight for overseas to make sure that those rights were protected. The action that the NFL took I think was wrong. They should allow for respectful protests in this process, and we should support that when we see it, but we should also get back and remind ourselves what it was all about. It was about police brutality, and we saw just, it continues with Sterling Brown just recently. And we ought to be understanding that that is what is at issue, and that's what we oughta be focused on, not get wrapped around this. It's important that we respect the protests, we fight and do everything we can to make sure that that right is preserved, but let's remember what it's all about, and make this nation better. Thank you.

 

Q: I wanna stay on the economic topic here for a moment, and I wanna come back, because the first question is gonna come to you, Ms. Willis, to something you said in response to an earlier question. You said, I believe these were your words, we don't have a harbor. So, could you address the status of the Charleston Harbor? I've been reading a lot lately about the Savannah Harbor being very good and profitable. So, what is our need in Charleston? What's the status of that? What can and should you do about it? I'll ask you all the same questions.

Marguerite Willis: Sure, and when I said we didn't have a harbor, I meant we didn't have a harbor in Marion County, if I wasn't clear, and that made them--

Charles Bierbauer: You didn't. You did not mention the county.

Marguerite Willis: Okay, well, thank you. Let me be clear about that. I was talking metaphorically here about Marion County being geographically disadvantaged. We have a harbor in Charleston, and it needs to be, it needs to be expanded. We have an inland port now in Dillon. We're hopeful that that's going to bring economic activity and stimulation up to that part of the the Pee Dee as well. But the Charleston port is very important to our economy and we need to do everything we can to make sure that port is expanded and supported by the by the state.

James Smith: The port is fundamental to our economy in South Carolina. It affects the entire state, but we've not been able to take full advantage of what a resource that it is, because we've had leaders and a governor who refused to invest in infrastructure. Just look at our roads. You don't need a sign at the border anymore to tell when you're crossing the border or not. You can just feel it. [audience chuckles] The South Carolinians are proud of who we are as a people and our state and our roads don't reflect that. I know if we made the investments, if we invested in our resources in urban and rural areas, we could do far more with the port and employ more people. Thank You.

Phil Noble: The ports are part of the larger issue of our infrastructure. Right now, right now in Charleston, we've got issues about the Wando Bridge, and whether it's even sustainable and whether or not it's gonna fall down. Part of the problem is we got in this state is we got our priorities wrong. We got steel companies in South Carolina that are producing steel, and it's my understanding that most of the steel in the Wando Bridge was Chinese steel. Now, that's ridiculous. We need to invest in South Carolina businesses, minority businesses, women businesses, to funnel money into the interstate, into the infrastructure, and not funnel it into the corporate largesse of people who can hire a lobbyist to get the deals done. South Carolina's Department of Transportation is governed by politics. It's not governed by need, it's not governed by priority. It's governed by the corrupt political system that is the State House in Columbia today.

 

Q: Last school year, nearly 5,000 of our teachers left the classroom for good, yet our colleges graduated just 1,700 education majors. That's a growing gap. How should the legislature address that growing teacher shortage, and how do you fund it?

James Smith: Well, we have to. It's the, one of the most important things we need to do to improve education in South Carolina. We have a governor who wants to, his solution is to arm our teachers with weapons. I'm gonna arm them with better pay, 'cause they deserve it. I'm gonna deliver on smaller class sizes, so our kids have better experiences and have a relationship with the teacher. I'm also gonna look at things they call looping, which is where teachers work, a group of teachers with children over a series of grades. We're gonna support their professionalism like we once did when Jim Hodges was governor, I was minority leader and we passed, and we're advocating for national board certification. So, we recognized their pursuit of excellence and we made sure that they had the resources that reflected that. And we're gonna show them respect, get rid of some of the bureaucracy that is keeping them from doing the work that they love, and that is teaching our kids. Thank you.

Phil Noble: Yeah, I'm sort of amused by Representative Smith's anecdote, story about how he dashed back, took the plane, arrived and quote, won on education. We're 50th in education. If that's a win, I don't know what the hell losing looks like. [audience chuckles] We've got to realize and accept that our schools are fundamentally broken and we need to reinvent public education from pre-K to post grad, and that is a big and bold and radical idea. We need to junk the system we've got now, because we can have radically better and we can do that by first doubling the pay of teachers, which brings new people in, keeps good teachers here, and changes the dynamic where teachers leave just like you're talking about. That's the problem. We've got stale old thinking that has kept us in the same box over and over again, and that box is 51st in education, and it's our kids who suffer, the kids.

Marguerite Willis: My question is where has Mr. Smith been for the last 22 years? Under our state constitution is the legislator's job to provide an education in this state. He is talking big now, but he hadn't done much in the past, and that matters, because what someone does in a job is what you look a when you're hiring them to do a similar job, and he flunks that test. Now, let's talk about teachers for a minute. We must increase our teacher's pay. We are woefully underfunded with regard to our teachers and no wonder they're leaving. They're not just leaving for pay, but we're asking them to reach into their pockets and pay for their own school supplies. I was having my nails done before this event and I sat next to a lady who was a schoolteacher and she told me that she had to bring food for her children in her schoolroom, because they were hungry. Look, teachers can't teach and children can't learn when kids are hungry. We have a bigger problem than just teacher pay. We have got to make the legislature do its job and fund these schools adequately. It is their constitutional duty.

James Smith: Ms. Willis, the past 22 years, I have been in the legislature and you've been in your law office, making money and taking care of yourself. I've been out serving the people of our state, fighting for the issues that matter, like women's health, improving schools, but you know what? It's either naive or dishonest to not understand that the legislature is run by the other party. Yes, we fought and made sure to prevent a lot of bad things from happening, and we've been successful. And you know what? I have been successful in some important areas, like early childhood education, making sure the hard working families in rural South Carolina have access to high quality early care and education. So, I have done the work for the people of our state.

Marguerite Willis: Yes, well, you know what I've been doing? I've been founding women in philanthropy. I've been founding a community foundation in the PD. I've been serving on the board of trustees of a women's college, and I have been adamant in my efforts to get equal pay for equal work in this state for women. We're one of only four states that don't have it. And you know, when Mr. Smith finally introduced that bill, on the day I stood on my front porch and announced I was running for governor, so don't tell me I haven't been working for the folks this day, 'cause I have.

James Smith: Again, Ms. Willis. You're not paying attention, because we have been working on early pay and equal pay for many years. I was supporting Gilda Cobb Hunter in her efforts years before you ever thought about running for governor. I supported Leon Staffers and activists efforts for equal pay for equal work before you even thought about filing. So, I've been there on these fights. I understand, I appreciate what you're doing. It's important that we all talk about what's important for the future of our state. Let's attack the problems, not each other.

Phil Noble: What you just saw is a classic example of what's wrong with South Carolina politics. We got a guy in the State House saying all your corporate lawyers are bad. We got a corporate lawyer saying all you guys in the State House are jerks. Well, they're both right [audience chuckling] and they're both wrong. What we need more than anything is to take the system that these two folks are fighting over and totally utterly reinvent it from prenatal to post grad. We are failing our children.

 

Q: After the latest school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, President Trump said that he was with the people of Santa Fe, would be with them forever. And critics have said, many of them, that we get a lot of empty words from presidents, from Congress, and governors who don't do a whole lot about it because of their political fears. So, within the power of the governor's office, if you would start there, beyond thoughts and prayers, what are you committed to doing to alleviate the, it could happen here next, fears that many families have?

Phil Noble: The single most important job of a governor is to keep our families and our communities safe, and that means first and foremost standing up and fighting the NRA. And that's why I was stunned to learn that Representative Smith four times had an A rating from the NRA. Three times, he was endorsed by the NRA. Now recently, he's beginning to change this tune and say, well, I'm for this and I'm for that, and this group is forming and so and so forth. But the reality is, year after year, he stood with the NRA, supporting legislation that has endangered the lives of our children. One example, James, explain to me why you think it's okay to take bars, take guns into bars and restaurants. You voted for that, you supported that. Would you explain why that's okay?

Marguerite Willis: I believe the question is what I would do as governor to keep schools safe and here's what I'd do. first I would make sure that we have the ingress and egress of schools limited, in other words, one door in, one door out. I'd make sure we had metal detectors. If we can't afford them, I'm gonna go to the federal government. I'm gonna say, you've got some that are used from the airport that you're getting rid of. Let us have them. I'm going to make sure as well that we have law enforcement in the schools. I'm going to encourage the folks at the local level to let their policemen, the sheriffs, come in and have breakfast, have lunch, be a presence in the schools. I will never arm a teacher, ever arm a teacher. I have also argued for and put forth a comprehensive gun safety policy. I want to outlaw automatic weapons. I want to outlaw bump stocks. I believe in universal background checks, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure those kids are safe, and I'm going to work as well on the terrible anxiety that all of our school children feel today.

James Smith: Thank you, Charles. Mr. Noble, you sound like a broken record, and you know, no one believes you, because the fact is Moms Demand Action, the leading advocacy group for gun safety, has approved me as a gun sense candidate, 'cause they know, they've seen me fighting for common sense gun safety reform. I've been there. They also, Our Revolution SC would never endorse me as the best candidate in this race if there was any question about my rating with the NRA. The fact is they have never offered me a dime, and I've never accepted one. I don't know how they figure their ratings. I'm not really concerned about that. My record is clear as one is fighting for common sense gun safety reform, which is why I've been benefited by the support that I have. And the reality is, I'll join in Ms. Willis on about everything that she said, 'cause I've, given the time that I have left, I think those are all the kinda things that we oughta be doing. The fact is we mostly agree on issues, then disagree. The fact is who can win this race, and I am the candidate that can win in November. Thank you.

Phil Noble: Yeah, yeah. What he didn't tell you is that Moms endorsed me long before they endorsed him. What you did not hear is him say I did not get four A ratings from the NRA, 'cause he did. He did not say they didn't endorse me three times, 'cause they did. That's not what I said about him. That's what the NRA said about him, and if you change your position when you're running for governor, then that's called political hypocrisy. And when it's about the lives of our children and our families, that's a worse kind of political hypocrisy.

James Smith: I've never changed my position. Proud of my record, happy for it to be examined, and the only one up here that actually has a record. The fact is, is when you look at those scores, some of them related to preventing nuisance lawsuits over ranges in rural areas that have nothing to do with gun safety reform, and that was the only bill that was rated that year. The reality is when you talk about, it's not guns in bars. It was guns in restaurants, and the Democratic leader, my decimate Todd Rutherford, led and made that bill better than it ever could have been, and we did it together, because we were concerned about our state.

 

Q: You touched on this already, but I wanna go back to it. Do you support legalizing marijuana and sports gambling, and if you, if any of y'all wanna, don't support it a wide open, how would you limit it, and what would you do with the additional revenue?

Marguerite Willis: Okay, that's a lot of questions. Let me make sure I get all of them right. Yes I do support medical marijuana. It's palliative care and it could bring in as much as $400 to $500 million in additional revenue to this state, money we need to pay more for our teachers and to work on our rural poverty. The second question I believe was with regard to sports gaming with regard to the recent Supreme Court decision. There's a recent decision called the Murphy Decision out of the US Supreme Court that would allow states to have what's called sports gaming. I do favor that if it's regulated and taxed, because after all, we need the additional revenue. I'm not making moral judgments about how people spend their money. I don't believe in being a paternalistic governor. I say if it's good for us, if we can tax it, if we can regulate it, I'm alright with that.

James Smith: Thank you. Seanna, I do support medical cannabis. A matter of fact, I'm a co-sponsor of The Compassionate Care Act, and what Ms. Willis said was actually wrong. The bill won't generate $400 million. The revenue, the impact of the bill is very clear, 'cause you know why? We don't tax sick people in South Carolina. When people are sick, we don't tax their prescription drugs. There's some fees and revenues that gets generated, but it's not $400 million, and we're not gonna balance the budget with it. But to pass it is the right thing, because I've got friends of mine who came back from Afghanistan with PTSD, and they need the benefit of that resource for their lives so that they can get back to work and move on. I've seen people with, you know, severe seizure disorders that need the benefit of that. As far as gaming and sports gaming, it's something we certainly oughta look at. I'm gonna appoint a commission that's gonna survey the public and involve the people of our state. Some areas of our state might welcome it, others might not, but it's gonna be the people of our state that's gonna help drive that decision, not the money and not the lobbyists.

Phil Noble: I support medical marijuana. I think there are lots of folks who need it and will benefit from it and we oughta do it. Decriminalization of marijuana? I'm for that, for small one ounces or less of personal use. Legalized marijuana? I'm not for that at this point. A couple of other states have tried it. There are a whole lot of problems that they found that they didn't anticipate. The governor of Colorado, who was initially one of the biggest supporters of it, he said, it was the biggest mistake of my political life, supporting that. I don't support it. Gaming, no, I don't support gambling. I don't support state sponsored gambling. The lotteries here, I didn't vote for it. I've never bought a lottery ticket and the lottery system is, in essence, a fraud on poor people in this state that funds education for middle class and upper income white folks. That's a gambling that doesn't work. We need to change it, because ultimately, we've got to fix education or nothing else matters.

Marguerite Willis: Could I respond as to what Mr. Smith said that was wrong about?

Charles Bierbauer: You may respond.

Marguerite Willis: Thank you. I wasn't talking about sales of drugs. I was talking about the revenue that would derive from growing the marijuana and turning it into the product. That's what I'm talking about, Mr. Smith.

 

Q: South Carolina's population continues to grow tremendously, but even with the first gas tax increase in 30 years, officials say that's still not enough money to keep up with infrastructure needs. What else needs to be done to raise revenues? Would you even support tolling roads, for example?

James Smith: Now, I would not support toll roads. And, I think what we miss about what's happened in the past 20 years. It's not, it's where we prioritize our funding, because when we invest in the right areas, we actually grow the state in the more responsible way, and we raise revenues, and such is the case with infrastructure. When we failed to make those investments, I say we, the Republicans who have been in charge who failed to make the right decisions over the past 20 years, they kicked the can down the road so far that those costs multiplied and multiplied. Same with health care, another area where once we expand Medicaid $2 billion a year, that's gonna raise, not just revenue in terms of the what's gonna be delivered, so individuals can have a relationship with a physician, but it's an entire medical economy that's gonna come here. We have so many opportunities by making the right priority for investments, getting back to our people and our places. I'm confident we can ramp up and in the right direction that's gonna deliver the prosperity that we all deserve.

Phil Noble: Our infrastructure and our roads is the textbook example of plantation politics in South Carolina, and plantation politics is when a bunch of guys, it's almost always guys, get together in the big house, and first they cut deals to take care of themselves, and their cronies, and all their buddies, and then they tell us this is the way it's gonna be. If you don't like it, tough. And that's the plantation politics system that has guided our state for generations, and we need to fundamentally take that plantation politics system and rip it up by its roots. The manifestation is we've got roads to nowhere, four lane roads where nobody travels on, and we've got traffic in Charleston where people sit an hour and a half to get from Summerville to Charleston. That is the proof of plantation politics that is hurting us, and it's the same in education, and economic development, and health care. It's that rotten corrupt system of plantation politics that's holding us back.

Marguerite Willis: Well, infrastructure is a huge problem for this state. It is really what is holding back the further business expansion, which would bring us additional jobs an additional revenue. We've got to fund it. And if we needed an additional tax on gasoline I'm all in on that, because it's a use tax, and the people who use it, the roads more, ought to pay more. That's just roads. We're talking about other infrastructure. There's additional federal money for infrastructure that we need to make sure we get every penny of, and I didn't have a chance before to say that I will expand Medicaid, because that's our money. We paid those tax dollars and we want it back, if the federal government is giving it to us. And as I've said before, if the federal government has money, I'm not going to say I'm not gonna take it, because we need it. A third of our budget comes from the federal government. We are dependent on that money, and it will help us with regard to infrastructure. And, let me add one more thing. I live over in the PD and I can tell you we need to fix the roads over there. It's a matter of public safety. It's not just expanding business. It's keeping people from being killed on the highways.

 

Q: South Carolina has the highest tuition for public colleges in the southeast, and fifth highest in the nation. What should lawmakers do to help parents afford college?

Phil Noble: Yeah, you're right. We in South Carolina, the hard working folk in this state, pay a higher percentage of their family income for college tuition than any state in the Union, any state, and they graduate our kids with the eighth high student debt of any state in the Union, and I guarantee you our kids are not graduating with the eighth best college education. The reason our higher education system is as dysfunctional as every other part of our state, is because education policy about higher education is based on the guys in the legislature, and the principal determinants mean how many alumni you got from USC, how many alumni you got from Clemson, how many football tickets you got to hand around to folks, and who is it, who is it that is controlling the budget, not the need, not what's right for kids, but it's the corrupt system that is crippling higher education.

Marguerite Willis: Well, they should do their job, period. And they aren't doing it. And, we know this is the legislative-centric state, and the governor has relatively minor problems compared to Mr. Smith and his colleagues in the legislature, but here's what I would suggest, and here's what I have already suggested. We need to re-examine the distribution of our lottery dollars. We need to make sure that those dollars go to the kids who need that help the most, the ones whose families really cannot afford to help them go to college, the ones who've come out of our underperforming schools, particularly in rural South Carolina, but the ones who really need a good education to get out of poverty. I'll say it again. Education is the only real road out of poverty. We must help our children. They are our future and this is our obligation. We have to do everything we can The legislature has got to do its job, and it hasn't been doing it, and as governor I'll veto every bill that comes along, every budget that comes along until they take care of our children.

James Smith: Thank you, Charles. First I wanna say I'm so thankful that Mr. Noble said plantation politics at least 19 times. I think all those playing debate bingo at home were real thrilled to check that one off their block. As for a higher ed, I can tell you this is so important. The number one thing we need to do to get, is to fund our higher education institutions like they were needed to in the past. What I'm gonna do as governor is lead a plan to revamp the lottery and put more priority on needs based scholarships. I'm gonna support a bipartisan tuition freeze to keep tuition down. I'm also gonna make sure we reinvest in our institutions of higher education. As my colleague said earlier, the way out of the poorhouse, the road goes right by the schoolhouse. And when we have more individuals in our state that can access our higher education, they're gonna have better incomes and better opportunities for their children.

Phil Noble: Can I just say, I'll continue to talk about plantation politics until these guys get out of the plantation house and quit cutting deals that hurt us and take care of themselves.

 

Q: The last time there was a bond bill in the state of South Carolina was 2001. South Carolina has more than $2 billion worth of maintenance and renovation needs, everything from air conditioning units, roofs falling apart, state armories, college buildings. What would your priorities be for a bond bill and how much would we need to spend?

Marguerite Willis: I don't know how much we'd need to spend. I'd have to study that, but I do think a bond bill is a viable option to fund some of these projects. We just can't let it go on forever. We can't continue deferring maintenance on all of our, all of our buildings, because they're gonna fall down. They're gonna hurt people. And we can't really move forward, until we have adequate revenue to do that. Look, again I think to a certain extent that the folks over here to my to my left or right, we have deferred things so long that we're just in major trouble, and once again it's the legislature's fault. They haven't done their job. They've kicked the can down the road, and now it falls to the folks who are running for governor, but really for the legislature to fix their own mess. They brought us VC Summer. They brought us the terrible problem with the state pension fund. They simply do not do their job. As governor, some of all I can do actually is just use a bully pulpit and say to the folks over there, if you don't do it, I'm gonna campaign against you so you'll not be elected.

James Smith: Thank you, Charles. I support a bond bill. Actually, remember not well, a little while ago, we actually passed a bond bill by one vote. It was the last one. It was a billion dollars for school infrastructure, and help attack the needs in some of our most needy schools around the state, and I was grateful to be a part of that effort, and getting it done. As governor, I'll support a bond bill and some of the priorities gonna be backing school infrastructure. We're also gonna make sure we work on rural infrastructure and water and sewer needs so that economic development can happen in those areas. I also know this our armories are in desperate need. Our men and women in the South Carolina National Guard who I've been so privileged to serve with and honored to be with them over the past 22 years, they deserve better. They're there, they leave their families when storms come and they travel overseas at a moment's notice when foreign entities threaten our safety, and we, they deserve better, and as governor, I'll deliver on the infrastructure that they need to have better armies to serve us.

Phil Noble: Yeah, again respectfully, you're asking the wrong question. Do we need a bond bill and how much? That's the wrong question. The question is what does this state need to do? What do we need to fund? What services do we need to provide for the people of this state to build an economic future and educate our children so that we can be competitive in the workplace in the 21st century? That's the question. We figure that out, and then we figure out how do we pay for it. We pay for it first and foremost by tax reform to get rid of the lobbyists and special interests who give away more every year in sales tax exemptions than we collect in sales tax revenues. And the only reason they're there is because the lobbyists, many of whom work with her firm, get paid to go down, hand out legalized bribery, which is campaign contributions to get those tax deductions passed. We need to first figure out what we ought to do to fix this state. And then, we gotta figure out how to fund it, not the other way around.

 

Q: I'm gonna ask a very quick question, as even when I suspect I know the answers, but I'd like to get each of your position on. It's about gerrymandering. Do you support an independent rather than a legislative body to draw voting lines for congressional and legislative districts, and would you publicly oppose legislators continuing to draw their own district lines.

James Smith: Yes, I've co-sponsored the bill, and my veto pen will veto any plan that gerrymanders our state.

Phil Noble: Yes, and I've been writing about this scourge for years and actually brought together a couple of Democrats and couple of Republicans who have been working with the League of Women Voters to begin to make some concrete progress.

Marguerite Willis: Yes, yes, a simple yes.

 

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