The next session of the S.C. General Assembly doesn’t convene until January, but Republicans in the State Senate are already working to try and pass a bill that essentially...
SC Democratic Gubernatorial Debate II Transcript, Video
Below is a transcript of the second Democratic gubernatorial debate with candidates Marguerite Willis, Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia) and Phil Noble at the University of South Carolina’s Drayton Hall on June 4, 2018. Charles Bierbauer moderated the debate and questioned the candidates along with Victoria Hansen of South Carolina Public Radio and Andy Shain of The Post and Courier.
Marguerite Willis: Thank you, Charles. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we're gonna put it where the goats can find it. I'm not a politician, but I've said before I can smell political bologna without opening the refrigerator door. So tonight, good ol' boys, time's up. We're tired of corruption, we're tired of broken promises, and we're way past tired of waiting for equal pay for equal work. So here's the deal. We're moving from the back room to the front office, and we're gonna take care of the business of the government. And while we do it, we're going to love our neighbors because where I live children are hungry, old folks need healthcare, and people, good people are losing hope. I'm Marguerite Willis, I'm running for governor, and come June 12th I'll just be getting started.
James Smith: Thanks, Charles. First I wanna thank the organizers of tonight's debate. Elections are about our future, my fellow South Carolinians, and my name is James Smith, and I'm running for governor because I believe in a South Carolina where all our children can receive 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, high-quality healthcare, and where we can all harness the power of the sun and expand renewable energy and lower our utility bills. As a soldier we were all trained to leave no one behind, and I know to do this I need everyone in South Carolina. Tonight many friends and families all across South Carolina are gathering at smith campaign watch parties, over 40 going on right now. I wanna thank all of them for their passion, for their inspiration and for their hard work. I know to do this I need everyone's support in South Carolina. My wife Kirkland and I ask for your prayers, and I ask for your vote, and may god bless the great state of South Carolina.
Phil Noble: My name is Phil Noble. I was born in Greenville. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and when I was young we moved to Alabama, and my father became involved in the civil rights movement. He was number on the Ku Klux Klan's hit list in George Wallace's Alabama. And I learned from him two things. Number one, you always stand up for principle, no matter what, no matter how hard, no matter difficulty, you always stand up for principle. And number two, we are our brother's keeper. We have a responsibility, and I've spent the last 20 years working in South Carolina communities to improve healthcare, education, race relations, and I know how great this state can be. And that's what we're here to talk about tonight. Thank you.
Charles Bierbauer: We'd like to start this evening with some fact checking. A question to each of you about something you've said or proposed that gives us pause. These are specific to each individual candidate, and not a round robin question. So I'm going to start with you, Mr. Smith. You said at the last debate that you wanted to expand Medicaid with the stroke of a pen. You know it's not that simple. You know that the legislature has as much control, and maybe more. In 2013 it was the legislature that finally pretty much killed Medicaid after Governor Haley said she was against it. So the question is what more precisely is your plan to get legislative cooperation on Medicaid?
James Smith: Well, I have gotten legislative cooperation on a whole host of issues, but Charles, you're actually not correct. The governor can simply ask the director of the Medicaid agency to file a supplemental new plan. It does not require legislative approval. Now we certainly have a circumstance where we saw what happened in Virginia. They're now the 33rd state. As governor I will make South Carolina the 34th state. Now the general assembly could try to step in and prevent that from happening and control some of the spending, but I'm confident in talking to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the house and the senate that the election of myself as governor will deliver an expansion to Medicaid's that gonna serve the people of our state, and it will simply take moving with my director of the Medicaid agency to get permission to do that.
Q: Mr. Noble, you have said that you want to fire the whole board of Santee Cooper and find a way to force out the management and the board of SCANA. But it's not quite that simple. Governor McMaster tried to force out the Santee board chair. So what would be a more realistic approach for a Governor Noble?
Phil Noble: He did, and he was successful, and the chair is no longer there. The governor can appoint the board. The board has to perform a variety of functions. I think by definition if you blow five billion dollars, you ain't done a very good job, and that's grounds for removal for cause in my book. If a lawyer says otherwise, we'll fight them. In terms of Santee Cooper, ultimately whatever final deal gets done is in some way, shape or form related to what the state government is gonna do with regulators, with the legislature, with the governor approving those deals. It all comes down to whether you care, whether you're willing to take war if necessary to stand on the, for the people of South Carolina. And we need to do that with Santee Cooper. We need to do it with South Carolina electric and gas, and the niceties of how we get it done is what a governor needs to demand, and that's what I’ll do.
Q: Ms. Willis, you said in the last debate at Clemson that we could generate about $400 million dollars if we allowed medical marijuana in the state of South Carolina. Really how can we make that kind of money?
Marguerite Willis: Well as I said, it's from growing the crop and then turning it into a pharmaceutical, and that's how that number is derived. And I'd like to say though both of them are wrong. He's not right about Medicaid. It does take a budget change. He can sign a paper, he can request a change, but he's wrong. And Phil's really wrong because the governor didn't successfully fire the chairman of Santee Cooper. He got an injunction against the governor's order, and then he quit.
Phil Noble: It's not about this checking that box or checking that box. The guy's no longer there. He's your law partner. You should know that. He is not in that job anymore, and that's a very good thing. You oughta be embarrassed that he's your law partner given what happened to Santee Cooper. The governor has enormous amount of power. He has bully pulpit power. He can make somebody's life hell, and that's what I'll do as governor. It's not about anything except producing results for the people of South Carolina. We've forgotten what this is about, folks.
Marguerite Willis: That's how I know what happened, Phil, because I read about it because Leighton Lord is my law partner. And I'll say this. He was in the job for two and a half years. When he authorized the Bechtel report, which is what caused Santee Cooper under his leadership to pull the plug on that project. So what happened at Santee Cooper and SCANA happened long before he arrived.
Q: A Democrat has not been governor for 20 years, so what sets you apart as the best candidate to take on a Republican?
James Smith: You're right, it has been 20 years, and it's time again. And you can look at what's happened in the past two years under one party total control. It has not been good for South Carolina. And I can just say in my 22 years of public service I’ve worked really hard to build coalitions of Democrats, Republicans and Independents to focus on the issues that matter, that make a difference in the hard-working lives of everyday South Carolinians. And what I've been so encouraged in this entire campaign, my wife Kirkland and I, we get up every morning and encouraged by the response we're getting all across the state. And I know it's based upon the experience that I've had, the ability to bring people together, which is what we need. This divisive politics, I think the South Carolinians have had enough of it, and we need leadership that can unify the state and can bring us together. And it's been my life's work that can do that, and it's my life's work that's prepared me for this race.
Phil Noble: Well, I think the key here is what kind of government are we gonna have? Are we gonna have more of the same, or are we gonna try to do something fundamentally different? If you wanna do more of the same, then we oughta elect folks who gave us what we got. Career politicians, corporate lawyers with their lobbyists, people who spend their time, their energy and their careers making money, working the system for themselves and who's paid for. That's one option, and we can keep doing that. Or we can try to do something different. We can have bold ideas. We can have new reformed leadership. People who are committed to doing some things fundamentally different. People who are willing to take the chance on doing something better. That's what this election is all about. Are we gonna have more of the same with the more of the same people? Doesn't matter which one. Not a dime's worth of difference between them. But are we gonna have something fundamentally different? Are we gonna try to do better? And I think the people in this state want better.
Marguerite Willis: Donald Trump, the racist, sexist president of this United States is what caused me to step forward and run for office because as a woman I felt devalued by his election. And women all over this country and all over this state are ready now to take charge and to bring about the change that we do need. We're tired of being in last place with regard to our schoolchildren, with regard to our economy and with regard to our economic rights as women. So as a woman I say this tonight. Girl power is here to stay. And as far as I'm concerned, Marguerite Willis, I'm an innovative, smart lawyer who's made a lot of money doing smart things for big business. I know how to get big deals done. I know how to take care of complicated issues and solve complicated problems, and I am the person for this job.
Q: Flight line employees at Boeing's North Charleston plan voted to join a union last week. What does this mean for the state? And you know, is it good for employers? Is it good for employees?
Phil Noble: I think anytime you have a situation where wages go up, that's good for South Carolina. And the reality is where unions are, wages go up. And I think we in this state need to look at our economic policy where too often we have just basically bribed big companies to come to South Carolina. We don't have the people who can do the jobs that they need, and we end up being embarrassed by that. What we need to do is support high wages, good working conditions, respect for workers. Whether or not you're union or not doesn't really matter. It's are we creating better jobs for people in South Carolina to take home more money for their families? Not are we cutting the biggest deals. Not are we getting the biggest fish to come in here when our people simply can't do the job because our education system is failing us. We've gotta have a new, innovative industrial development policy, or else we're gonna be stuck in the same place we are now.
Marguerite Willis: Yes, Boeing is a client of my law firm, as I think Mr. Shain knows, and I can't comment on the current situation, but I'll say this. Everyone in South Carolina was glad to see Boeing come, and it came for a lot of different reasons. But as far as unions are concerned, I support a worker's right to choose. That is what the federal law says. There's some exceptions to that in South Carolina that have been legislated by our Supreme Court, but those could be changed in a strike of a pen, as Mr. Smith likes to say by the legislature. But as far as the worker's right to choose, I support that. And let me also say that to this extent I agree with Mr. Noble. We do need better jobs, particularly where I live in the Pee Dee because as I said in my opening, there are kids who are hungry and folks who need jobs. And we have to be innovative about the jobs we bring here. The same ol' same ol' isn't gonna work over in the Pee Dee because Boeing isn't coming there. There's no harbor, there's no interstate, and we have to look for different and better jobs for those folks who need the help.
James Smith: I've said this many times. I support the right of workers to organize, and the successful effort that they had, I think it was about 178 workers at Boeing to do this. It was a vote, it was a fair vote, and they should benefit by that. Bottom line is we all want to make sure that we have better wages and better working conditions for our workers. And I share the belief that South Carolina can and should do better, and preparing our kids for the jobs that are here today and those that are coming tomorrow. What Mr. Noble said is correct. There are so many unfilled jobs right now today and it's principally because the educational system is not doing the job it should to give our kids the tools that they need to do the jobs that are here today and that'll be there tomorrow. And as governor, I'll deliver on that.
Q: What specifically has the trump administration done that has had an effect on South Carolina? And do you view this race as a referendum on President Trump?
Marguerite Willis: Let me answer the second part of that first, Charles. Yes, I do, I do regard it to a certain extent as a referendum on president trump because I have many friends who voted for him and now who are horribly disappointed in those votes. And I think we're going to see a benefit to the Democrats because of that. And with regard to what he's specifically done to South Carolina, well he's threatened a lot of things. He's threatened to drill off our shore. He's imposed tariffs, this is not a threat, on Samsung, which he has not reversed. He has as well threatened to close the MOX facility at Savannah River, and he just has not answered any of the pleas that our pandering governor, Henry McMaster has made to him. In other words, the relationship that our governor and others claim to have with President Trump isn't helping us. And I said at one of the other debates, maybe if we gave him a golf course and named it the Trump International and put it at Myrtle Beach, he wouldn't drill off our shore.
James Smith: This is where the leadership of a governor matters. And you could look at the failings of our current governor, Governor McMaster, in failing to stand up to his friend when it matters most for South Carolinians. He's threatened our coast with drilling in our coast, and we've heard not nearly enough from the governor who seems to wink at the idea of testing, but saying no to drilling, which you can't have it both ways. He's said nothing about the threats that really put a tax on hard working families in South Carolina by this trade war and the assessments that he is threatening on our industry in South Carolina. As a governor you gotta fight for that. You gotta say not under my watch, and when I'm governor, it will not happen under my watch. Just as we fought back then to prevent any drilling off our coast, we were successful in preventing to do that, and I'll do that as governor. Thank you.
Charles Bierbauer: So are you treating it as a referendum about president trump?
James Smith: Well, I think certainly the census of Trump's success or failures in office are gonna impact this election. There's no question about that, and it'll impact it clearly to the favor of Democrats in this race, and it's gonna help make sure we have a victory in November.
Phil Noble: Unless I missed something, Donald Trump ain't on the ballot. This is not a referendum about Donald Trump. Sure, I don't like Donald Trump anymore than anybody else, but opposition to Donald Trump is not a viable plan to improve the lives of the people of South Carolina. This is a referendum on the failed and broken corrupt system we have in Columbia that has held us back. It is a referendum on politics as usual, of people who take pack money, special interest money, enrich themselves and their clients and leave our people behind. This is a referendum on whether or not we're gonna continue a system of plantation politics where folks get together in the big house, Democrats and Republicans, and take care of themselves and their cronies and their friends, and tell us this is the way it's gonna be. If you don't like it, lump it. This is a referendum on South Carolina's future and the corrupt and broken system that is holding us back from achieving the kind of future that we all want and we all deserve.
Q: You are three white candidates vying to be the nominee of a party that is obviously there dominant party for African Americans and other minorities in South Carolina. Without talking about your running mates, how do you personally identify with the struggles and the obstacles that minorities face here in South Carolina? And what would you do to help better their lives, especially considering that minorities make up a higher percentage of those in poverty?
James Smith: Thank you, Andy. It comes from a life work of building a relationship of trust, of respect and understanding, and fighting for issues and working with my colleagues, some great leaders all across South Carolina, some of whom happen to be African American. And we've worked together to make a difference in areas, making sure we had a representative judiciary, which was very important to me and to my colleagues in the house. But this campaign, and when we transition and when we govern is about building a team that reflects the diversity of South Carolina because that is where our strength lies. And so we worked to build a campaign that reflects our state. I've got a divine nine advisory group that's gonna be important to our campaign process and what we focus on, as well as our transition, and they'll be there by my side as we govern. Years of working to make a difference, and it's why we've been so fortunate to reap so much support from leaders, from business leaders, political leaders and faith leaders within the African American community, and they've made a difference in this campaign, and they'll make a difference in governing.
Phil Noble: I think you have to look at what people do and not what they say. I grew up in a household where equal justice was something worth fighting for, worth maybe dying for, and I believe that. And in my career I have worked across this state to deal with the issues of people in South Carolina in the greatest need, and that's been black folks. We've started education programs that provided laptops for kids in some of the worst performing schools. Healthcare projects that provided prescription drugs for those who didn't have it. We've started innovative race relations programs that made a difference in communities. My campaign manager is an African American. The only campaign manager of a governor's race in the country that's African American. Most of my staff is African American because that's who I am, and that's what I believe in making South Carolina just like my campaign, look like a different place that we need to be in the future, not the past.
Marguerite Willis: Most of the voters in this primary are African American women, and while I'm not a black person, I'm a woman, and I understand the struggles that women face. It's why for years I've educated women on financial independence. Women make 80 cents on the dollar to every man, and if you're African American or a woman of color, it's less, and everybody gets that. And I have been advocating for equal pay for years. And also I'm the only candidate who has as their lead program the eradication of poverty, and poverty affects African Americans more than it affects other folks in this state. And people know that I mean this because I live in the Pee Dee, and I know what it means to have poor neighbors. People understand that my number one mantra is that we are going to love our neighbors, and we're going to leave no one behind.
Q: There was a reference in one of the earlier answers to the possibilities of offshore drilling. Last week we talked about nuclear power. I'd like to talk about some other things. The traditional energy sources, coal, oil, nuclear — Trump administration seems to favor those, and he's proposed drilling off the Atlantic coastline. So what is your position on offshore drilling? What about offshore wind farms? And what's the difference?
Phil Noble: Well, it's the difference between night and day. My position on offshore drilling couldn't be clearer. No, never, nowhere, no time, nobody, no how. Wind, yes, as often as possible, everywhere we can, widely and aggressively. I worked with the largest wind power company in Europe, and I know what it takes. And the single most important thing is an aggressive leadership that goes after the people who make the decisions and say come, come. We have made good progress. In North Myrtle Beach, of all places, has done great things in terms of bringing new people and attracting new capital into that. We need to escalate that by 10. But one is no, never. The other is always, as much as possible.
Marguerite Willis: I'm opposed of offshore drilling, and I'm in favor of offshore wind farms, and the difference is night and day. One could cause a disaster on our coast and affect our $20 billion tourist industry, and the other is a movable, largely movable resource that you can reposition. But let me say this. Whatever we do here, wherever we go, we have got to have absolute control over rates because we all know what happened at SCANA. The public service commission didn't keep their eye on the ball, and the legislature is responsible for that because under our regulatory scheme, under our constitution our legislature is responsible ultimately for rate making. So we've gotta shore up our protection for our consumers or otherwise, no matter what we do or what we don't do, the consumers, the rate payers are gonna get screwed again.
James Smith: Charles, I share Mr. Noble and Mr. Willis' position. We all oppose offshore drilling. We're all for offshore wind generation, but the key is leadership and the ability to win in November and get it done. And having proven when it came to solar power in South Carolina, we wouldn't have the first kilowatt of solar power without the passage of Act 236. And that took a lot of effort, years of effort bringing Republicans and Democrats together to have a shared vision about how important this was gonna be for our economy, how we could use this resource to drive rates down and make our state more competitive. And we just took a baby step. I worked very hard with many of my colleagues to get the next step passed. It is currently pending as a part of the budget, but it's about the ability to change and bring about the change that we need. This is critical to have the future that we need and have the competitive rates that we're gonna have, and I know as governor I can do that.
Q: While we're talking about our beaches and tourism and a little history too, you know coastal communities like Charleston and Beaufort have begun to prepare for rising sea levels, hiring resiliency officers, building the lower battery wall. Funding is a huge issue. In fact, the city of Charleston mayor has reached out to the state legislature and said, “Hey, can we perhaps use part of this hospitality tax to help fund this?” How big an issue is rising sea levels, and what would you do to address it?
Marguerite Willis: Well, I know for a fact that rising sea levels are a big deal because I have a house on the beach, and I have watched the sea level rise. And I'd just like to say for the record, I believe in science, and I believe in climate change, and I'm not going backward on that. What we need to do, we have lots of information problems, and this is just one of them, but it's a pressing one because if we don't take care of it now, it will cause greater problems later, so I am open to any innovative solution with regard to funding. Now as these folks know, I always say this. The number one job of the governor is economic development. I run the department of commerce, and what I'll do if we need additional revenue is I will find that revenue. If the city of Charleston doesn't have it, if the county of Beaufort doesn't have it, we'll find the revenue because this is critical to our state. We had the penny sales tax, excuse me, the penny gas tax or the recent gas tax, and Governor McMaster vetoed that. I won't veto any legislation that helps us with infrastructure, particularly on the coast.
James Smith: As governor I'll work with our mayors and our cities because they are our engines of economic development. They're engines of innovation for our state. And I have worked closely with the mayor on this issue and know exactly what he needs. It's about a billion dollars, and he has asked for a change to the accommodations tax so that he can use some of that resource to begin planning now and taking care of the tremendous flooding concerns that they have. And it impacts commerce. It impacts the movement of our citizens in the city of Charleston, and it slows and hurts their economy. And I support that effort and believe it was the right step to do and do get that done. But it's all about understanding the challenges that are facing all of the communities in our state, working with them very closely to understand what their goals are and to leverage the resources that we have at the state level, and also be an advocate at the federal level to make those things happen that are needed in our cities and our counties.
Phil Noble: I don't have a beach house. I wish I could afford it, but I don't. But I live in downtown Charleston, and I'm worried about it downtown because we do have a huge problem. And it's coming at us, and it's coming at us literally at the rising tides. What we've gotta do is three things. Number one, we have got to look at where change is happening effectively, not only in this country, but around the world. I did a lot of work in Amsterdam. Amsterdam's water is in canals. Their water is where it's supposed to be because their decisions is driven by policy and not by politics and not by money. Miami, it's working well in Miami, and we need to cut through the politics of money in the past to figure out new and innovative that are working around the country, around the world, and bring them to South Carolina. And we can do that with new visionary leadership, but not with the old politics.
Q: Today we had a state senator plead guilty to misconduct in office. Today I also got a twitter message that says this. All candidates, Democrats and Republicans, talk about how corrupt Columbia is. He says I'd like more specifics, specifically what corruption? Specifically what they will do, that means you.
James Smith: Absolutely, they should be, and I've always been about specifics, actual policies that are gonna change things because that's what the people of our state have a right to expect. They have a right to expect a government that works for them always. And they only best news you can find out about today is that our institutions of our democracy are stronger than the failings of any one individual. We've been here before, we've seen it on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats failing to meet their obligations and do the right thing. In the past I authored, in 2012 the most sweeping reforms to improve ethics in our state, and it was a important step in the right direction before these matters were at issue. But also helped with my running mate, Representative Mandy Powers Norrell to pass sweeping reform to have an independent investigation of these issues, and to make sure that we had income disclosure requirements that were there. Going forward what we need to do is to make sure that there is a clear line between lobbying and PR. What is clear that has happened now is that there are some failings in the laws that we have, and we need to strengthen them and make them better, but ethics ought to be on the agenda every year.
Charles Bierbauer: And what’s the first step?
James Smith: Well the first step will be introducing legislation and working with members of both ethics committees to strengthen the laws that we have, and I've got specific proposals to do that of those I mentioned. And I would add dark money to that as well.
Phil Noble: At the risk of being accused of picking on Mr. Smith, let me give you an example of what I think is crony corruption. Our Attorney General Alan Wilson was in trouble for campaign finance violations. He turned and hired James Smith to get him off, and he did, and he then rewarded him with an opioid lawsuit that's gonna generate for James hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. That's crony corruption, and what we need to do is some very specific things. Number one, we ought to ban all legislators from doing business with state government. I'm the only one that's proposed that. We ought to ban all political action committees. We ought to have a permanent investigator to prosecute legislators and the utilities. Number four or five or six, whatever that is, we need to have a strict code of ethics that says if you're in the legislature, you can't be making money for yourself off your connections, your relationships and your lobbying. I'm the only guy who's proposed that, and we need that.
Marguerite Willis: The corruption we're talking about is buying and selling votes and essentially tax fraud. And today as we know Senator Courson plead guilty, and as he told one of my friends, he said, “I guess I'm gonna be spending some time in a concrete room.” Here's the deal. There are smoke-filled rooms in the State House. Mr. Smith smells like smoke because his friends are the Quinn’s. His best friend is Rick Quinn. I believe he's been his personal lawyer, and where there's smoke, sometimes there's fire. Mr. Smith has got to explain how he was in the legislature for 22 years, had drinks every week with Rick Quinn, worked with Senator Courson and doesn't know anything about this problem. And what I'll do, I'll enforce the ethics laws that are on the book, and I will try through my bully pulpit to get stricter laws passed with regard to dark money and with regard to candidates and legislators raising money during the legislative session.
James Smith: Charles, our political party, the Democratic Party, is a party of ideas. It's the party of common sense solutions that affect the lives of everyday citizens. We're not the party of dishonest personal political attacks. The fact is everything that these two have said bears no relation to the truth, with the exception of the fact that I certainly do know Mr. Quinn, and you know what? The fact that I know him and have worked with him, and we've successfully passed several important pieces of legislation like the abandoned buildings revitalization act has helped rural communities all over our state revitalize their city centers and towns. The fact that I happen to be a good lawyer, and I get hired by Republicans and Democrats and Independents, I guess I'll plead guilty to that. But the reality is this. We need to stop this garbage. I didn't run for office to attack my opponents. I ran to attack the problems facing everyday South Carolinians, and that's what I'll do as governor.
Marguerite Willis: Yeah, you ran to get elected governor, Mr. Smith, and your record matters here. And what you've done and what you haven't done matters to every voter. And I remember the night in Saluda where you got up and said Democrats don't shoot each other in a circle. And I looked at you and I said, "Mr. Smith, "I never heard that before, but my job is to run against you and your record." That's what's called competition, and if I'm hurting your feelings, I'm sorry. And if I'm wrong, you tell me I'm wrong. But from this day forward every time I get a chance I'm going to tell the folks what you did and didn't do.
James Smith: I appreciate your concern for my feelings. [audience chuckles] I've actually really been shot at, like actually really been shot at, so the concern that you all might have for these dishonest political attacks really is not. The point is this. This is not about me being governor. It's about the people of South Carolina and their future. That's what we need to be talking about. And who can win in November and deliver the change that we need, and I know that I can do that in November. And I'll deliver the higher education and the public education that we need, and more healthcare. With your support we can do this.
Phil Noble: You know, it's amusing to me every time we bring up something about James' record is dishonest. I just ask him, you ought to ask your client. He sent you a check. It's on your campaign finance, it's on your report. You got the opioid suit. It's on your report. You ought to read your own documents because they're the ones that are upholding what we're saying, and you're standing there and denying your own campaign finance reports, your own personal financial disclosure. You ought to just tell the truth, James. It's really not that hard. You ought to try it.
Q: In the low country recently we had the shut down of the Wando. Huge problem. I know you've talked a lot about infrastructure. That shut down of that bridge affected so many people's lives, and it raised a lot of questions not only about infrastructure, but I heard a lot of locals here say that we can't build ourselves out of this one. Perhaps it's time to talk about public transportation. Your thoughts on that.
Phil Noble: Sure, public transportation is a great thing, but first we've got to deal with existing corruption in the department of transportation. Today our decisions about where we spend money, where we build roads, what bridges we repair is not based on need. It's not based on even where the biggest problems are gonna happen soon. It's based on politics. It's based on which politician calls up his buddies the department of transportation, says come fix my road. That's how we're making decisions. And it's not just about highways. It's about everything else. And it's also about being stupid. Most of the steel that failed in that bridge was Chinese steel. We have two steel plants in South Carolina that are making great product, good steel, employing South Carolinians, and we ought to be giving preference to our people as opposed to the Chinese. It's safer, it'd be better for jobs, and it's better for our state. We ought to do that instead of let the politics decide all these things.
Marguerite Willis: Thank you, but I'm not gonna repeat some of the good points that Mr. Noble said, so let me just plow on a bit. I live in the country. Now some folks may not think Florence is the country, but I grew up in Greenville, so I think of it as the country. Certainly the Pee Dee is a rural area, and we need to have the potholes fixed. People are having accidents because of potholes. And I agree that we're not getting the help we need there. But to your question, Victoria, particularly about public transportation, you bet it's time to talk about public transportation. You know why? With regard to rural South Carolina, people can't get to work. Not everybody in this state has a car. That may shock the people in this audience, but it's true. And we had great jobs that were brought by Hoffmann-La Roche, and people couldn't get there to work. We need public transportation to be a driver of our economic recovery in rural South Carolina, and that's a fact.
James Smith: I'll just continue to pile on. Certainly absolutely we need to look at new modes of transportation and public transportation, and I've already been working on that, particularly with the mayor of Charleston. There's a plan for a high speed bus and setting up a line which would be the first step to really helping to move that process forward. But it's also another big ticket item that we would need to work together and prioritize. But it is true that this is such a concern for our state as so many of our cities and towns are becoming gentrified, and folks are being pushed out, transportation is more and more important. But equally important is the availability of low cost and affordable housing, and I have a plan to provide for, much like we've done with the revitalization efforts of our cities and towns, but also do the same with incentives for affordable housing in city centers that will help deal with that transportation issue and move people to the jobs.
Q: Being the minority party in this state means that a lot of proposals that Democrats put out there really don't go anywhere. As governor what will you promote, what will you push that will actually be approved by the Republican dominated legislature?
Marguerite Willis: I'm going to take on the big issues, and I'm going to make the economic and the hard arguments to work on poverty. And I can do some of that myself. I run the department of commerce, and I can get them to focus like a laser on the areas like Marion County that need new jobs. And we're gonna be creative about that because Boeing isn't coming. Boeing isn't coming. Volvo is not coming to Marion County. And what we're gonna do there is we're going to say to the folks in the department of commerce, you're smart folks, and we're gonna fish in a different pond. No more fishing for the whales. We're gonna fish for the brim, and we're going to look at every option. I've said before, I'll say tonight, if the folks in Marion county want a casino, I will advocate for casino gambling. I'll advocate for gaming. I'll advocate for anything that will help bring people out of poverty, and can be regulated and taxed. I think that's good for rural South Carolina. Martin Luther King said we all came on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.
James Smith: And you’ve already begun the effort and spoken with the speaker about an agenda for public education, something that he is ready for and embraces. Things like making sure we work to raise teacher salaries, not give our teachers weapons. Things that we do to lower class sizes to better the opportunities for our kids to have a relationship with their teacher. To expand things like looping or team teaching so kids are with the same teacher for a number of years. I'm also gonna work with our chambers of commerce who already want these things. We're gonna make sure that we pass important criminal justice reform like making sure expungement is expanded so more people can get back to work. And the current governor, he vetoed that bill. I'll be there to sign it. I'm gonna make sure that we expand and have finally equal work for equal pay, and I know how to do it, and I've got a coalition right now that'll support it, support it by the chambers of commerce around our state that I believe we can make this a difference, and we can bring people together to make these changes. And I'll also expand solar and renewable energy, which I'm on the cusp of getting done already.
Phil Noble: You know, if James was half as successful over the last 20 years as he says he's gonna be, this would Shangri-La around here. Our schools would be first and not 50th. And what we've gotta do is stand up and fight for Democratic values, and there's no bigger fight than education. And I will live or die by big bold radically better education reform. And if that means making the legislature mad, I'll make them mad. I'll call their donors and lobby them. I'll call their girlfriends, their boyfriends. I'll call whoever. I'll call their momma. I don't care of who I've got to offend, who I've got to make mad because it's about the kids of South Carolina. And the problem is we've had too much go along, get along, same ol', same ol' politics, and it's given us 50th in education, 50th in roads, 50th, 50th, 50th. If we're not gonna fight for it, then why even talk about it?
Q: A recent poll came out that said half of all Democratic voters are undecided or don't know who the candidates are. Why do you suppose that is?
James Smith: Well, if you look that same poll actually seven or five weeks ago said there was only 24% undecided. So how you go from 24% to 50% and you're moving towards an election I think calls a lot of suspicion into the actual numbers of that poll. But look, polls are polls, and frankly as a candidate I'm really not concerned about the polls. I'm concerned about the people of our state and the campaign that we have to run, and the encouragement that we get all across our state. We've been to all 46 counties, and we've got an ambitious plan to continue to connect with the people of our state. I've been very encouraged by the response that we've gotten because we're talking about the things that matter, that we share, shared aspirations for better schools and more access to healthcare and lower utility bills, and the kinds of things that are gonna make the lives of our people better.
Phil Noble: Sure, I look at polls like everybody else. There have only been two real polls. I was ahead in one. I was tied with James Smith on the second one. The truth is yeah, 50% of the people in this state don't know who to vote for, and I find that really encouraging because my friends here have run two weeks worth of television advertising, and we're just getting started with that. And people have looked at what they proposed, and they said nah, I don't want that. Fifty percent of the people in this state are looking for something different, and I offer different. Bold innovative new ideas, a way to do something better than what we have been settling for in the past, and people are looking for that. And that's why that 50% there, they're still looking. They've taken a look, and they haven't liked what they've seen, and they're still looking. And that's why I believe I'm gonna win.
Marguerite Willis: I love that poll. I only started four months ago, and if 50% of the folks don't know these two guys who started last fall, I'm in good shape. And so I'm very happy with that. There was another poll that came out because there's a poll for apparently every day or so, that said I'm at 45%, and James is at 40%, so pick your poll. But as far as my campaign is concerned, we're happy with the 50% because my message is why folks haven't decided, because I'm the new kid on the block, and I'm the one they're looking at. And talking about change, let me just say this one thing. Once again the guys have misstated the facts. Education is not the governor's job in this state. Education constitutionally belongs to the legislature, and James Smith, the last thing he did was in 1999 with first steps. He hasn't done anything else. Education does not belong to the governor. You can say you wanna fix it, you can try to fix it, but it does not belong to the governor.
James Smith: You know, if you wanna vote for a candidate who simply says education is not my job, not my responsibility, I would urge you to think about that. What would happen if Dick Riley said, “You know, that's just not my job, not my responsibility?” Would we have ever gotten the EIA? Would we ever had made huge innovations in education? What would have happened if Jim Hodges said, “You know what? That's not my job, education, soI'm not gonna pass a billion dollars of school bonds and infrastructure.” I'm not gonna worry about first steps of school readiness or first early childhood education in the history of our state, or lowering class sizes or raising teacher pay. It is the job of the governor, and I'll do it.
Phil Noble: Sure, you got a real clear choice here about education. You got somebody says it ain't my job, and somebody that's proven they can't do the job. [audience chuckles] What are we gonna do in this state if we don't fix education? And we need big and bold and radically audacious ideas about how to reinvent education. And I've put them forward, and I've been attacked by some people. And I've said fine, if you just wanna keep doing what we got, that's fine. Maybe we just will screw it all up, and we'll be 50th in education. That's where we are today.
Marguerite Willis: What I wanna do is tell the truth to the voters because they're entitled to know whose job it is. If you wanna run education, gentlemen, run for secretary of education and not for governor.
Q: Speaking of education, we have more than 80 school districts here in South Carolina. Do you think we need to consolidate some of them? And if you do, what kind of criteria should we use to consolidate districts?
Phil Noble: Sure. We ought to consolidate lots of schools, but you're looking at the wrong end of the funnel. You're picking at two or three little different problems. It's not about this thing or that thing or the other thing. It's about everything. We need to totally reinvent public education. Not just pre-k, but prenatal all the way to post grad. And we've got to do whatever we have to do, starting with doubling the pay of teachers. We've gotta provide every kid in this state a basic level of support, a laptop, an iPad, adequate health, nutrition service. And then we gotta let teachers teach. We gotta let them decide what they need to teach because each teacher in classroom know how to teach their kids best. And then we've gotta hold them accountable for agreed upon standards of where we need to be. Simply fixing the old system ain't gonna work. We need a radically different bigger, bolder system. We owe it to our kids. If not, education is just a frog for them.
Marguerite Willis: Once again I'm gonna try to answer the question because I seem to be the only one who actually tries to do that. We do have too many school districts, and we should try to consolidate some of them. That's what they did over in Orangeburg, and it took forever to do it because there are a lot of financial issues with regard to school consolidation. Some districts have bonds, others have other borrowings. For example, over in Florence, Florence school district 4, which is Timmonsville, it's in terrible shape. It was just taken over by the government, by the state, but nobody wants school district 4 over in Florence because they have too many problems and too much debt. So there's going to be a need for a lot of financial restructuring to do this, and frankly, I haven't studied all the financial restructuring that is needed, but I know that it's mighty. The other thing that's important is a lot of our underperforming school districts are in rural South Carolina where people are poor, and some of the jobs they depend on are jobs in administration of the school district, and we have to take that into consideration.
James Smith: Sure, we do need to look at consolidation, but we shouldn't think that this is gonna fix and deliver all the money we need in the classrooms. And there is a criteria. The education oversight committee did a study and established criteria for consolidation. But the way to get there is gonna be very difficult, and you gotta be smart about it. And I've written a plan that will do it. What happens is because it's like the third rail of politics, you take something like a brack style commission. It studies it, it comes up with their own solutions and rewrites the school districts, and then the state house can only up or down vote the whole thing or not, and not reject it or accept it. It cannot amend it. It's the way they deal with base closures and realignment, and that's the way they've been successful to do that in congress. But the bottom line is this. That's not gonna fix our education system and deliver the resources we need in the classroom, give the teachers the support that they need and move our state forward in a positive way.
Phil Noble: Yeah, there's a huge factor here that nobody wants to talk about, and that's race. The reality is our schools are still segregated. Sixty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Education. If you're white, urban, affluent district, your schools are not too bad. But if you're poor, you're black in a rural area, you've got terrible schools. And the reality is, like so many issues in this state, prisons and everything else, we've got a huge percent of the legislature that are a bunch of white folks who just do not give a damn about what happens to about a third of this state that's black. It's a reality.
Marguerite Willis: I'd just like to say again that not all of the schoolchildren in rural South Carolina are black. They're white and other kids of color, and they all deserve a decent chance here, Mr. Noble. So quit trying to make it just about race. It's about fairness to all the children.
Q: You're running as the ticket for governor and lieutenant governor this year is something new. Not only may voters not know any of you all that well, they may not know your running mate much at all. So tell us who your running mate is, and what is it that she or he brings to the ticket that you might not.
Marguerite Willis: Thank you for that great question. My running mate is Senator John Scott from right here in Richland County. He's a great guy. He's a realtor, he's a business man, and he's been in politics one way or the other in public service for almost 30 years. He's currently a senator, and he's been a senator for nine years. What he brings is integrity and experience, and he's a man of faith, and that matters to me. He is a fellow who serves his constituents. I've been with him from meeting to meeting in Richland County, and you can tell is someone just comes once every six months, or whether they're there all the time, and John Scott is there all the time for the folks he represents, and that matters to me. What he brings to the ticket that I don't have is this. He's a man, I'm a woman. I'm white, he's a man, a person of color. And we stand next to each other, and we put our arms around each other, and we say this is what South Carolina looks like. And this matters to me because I believe in diversity, and I believe in leaving no South Carolinian behind.
James Smith: Charles, I'm very proud to have asked Representative Mandy Powers Norrell to be my running mate in this race. She comes from Lancaster County. She's the granddaughter of sharecroppers who lived in a home where you could see the dirt through the floorboards. Her parents worked at the mill. She's the first in her family to go to college. When it looked like she couldn't afford it, her parents couldn't get her there, she went to work herself. No stranger to hard work. Worked her way through school. Then she was successful at getting a scholarship to law school. She's a public servant dedicated to the constituents of Lancaster County, and she brings all people together, white, black, Republicans, Independents. She's got tremendous support from her area, and it's because of her commitment and a willingness to serve others and put their interests before her own, because that's what it means to serve. And that what it means to lead. So I know one, she's ready today to be governor. Two, I know the people of our state will be proud because she delivers the courage and integrity that we need to move the state forward. And she is ready to work hand in hand day one. She needs no training. She doesn't need any learning to get up and ready to go. She knows how to move legislation through the general assembly, and she's gonna work to do that for the people of South Carolina.
Phil Noble: My running mate is a really interesting woman. Her name is Dr. Gloria Tanubu. She is from Plantersville, South Carolina. She was born and raised in Brookgreen Garden where her father was a gardener and a maintenance guy. She was the first African American woman to graduate from Clemson University with a degree in applied economics. She's a very bright woman. She's a professor, she teaches in colleges. She has worked in economic development, rural economic development throughout this state. But what is more important than the gender and the racial differences is that she is an outsider. She like me is a reformer. She's not part of the state house crowd. I didn't look around the whole state and decided that who I wanted for my running mate was somebody sitting down the aisle in the legislature. That's the problem. We got too many people in the legislature with a broken and corrupt system. In terms of what we're different, she's about that high. I got the height, she got the brains.