Florence City Councilwoman Octavia Williams Blake Endorses James Smith

Florence Leader Endorses James Smith in Democratic Primary

On Monday, May 21th, Florence City Councilwoman Octavia Williams Blake announced her endorsement of Representative James Smith in this year’s Democratic Gubernatorial Primary.

“I could not be more excited to endorse my friend James Smith for Governor. James has a long record of fighting for the people of South Carolina – from standing up to the energy companies and fighting for lower rates – to advocating for higher teacher pay and better schools for our kids,” continued Williams Blake “I know with James as our Governor our state will do great things, which is why I will be proudly voting for him on June 12” said Williams Blake.

“I am honored by the endorsement from the Florence City Councilwoman. She is a leader in the community and someone I greatly admire, and I look forward to working with her as we get out the vote right here in Florence.”

South Carolina teachers, state employees rally for better pay, send governor letter

SC teachers and state employees rallied Saturday at the Statehouse. The rally comes amid similar protests in other states, most recently North Carolina, where educators have pushed for better pay. While teacher strikes led to school being cancelled in some states, Saturday’s event was timed not to disrupt school.

Attending Saturday’s rally was Rep. James Smith and his running mate, Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, the only candidate team at the event.

“It’s so encouraging to see teachers gathering like they are and like they’ve been doing across the country,” he said. “It’s one of the important reasons I am running for governor, and it will be job one, to raise teacher pay, lower class sizes and give them the professionalism and training they need.”

Greenville News

Democrats hitting airwaves in South Carolina governor’s race

The first television ads of the Democratic primary for South Carolina governor are hitting the airwaves.

State Rep. James Smith of Columbia will air his first 30-second spot Thursday focusing on his biography and some of his most prominent endorsements as he continues to introduce himself to voters across the state.

On the same day, Florence antitrust attorney Marguerite Willis is going up with her first ad of the race highlighting her legal background and introducing her running mate, state Sen. John Scott of Columbia.

Smith’s ad touts his 22-year record in the Statehouse and his background as a military veteran from the war in Afghanistan.

“He’s been a leader in the Legislature. He’s been a leader on the battlefield. He’ll be a leader as governor,” the narrator says in the ad.

Smith also highlights two prominent endorsements from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most influential Democrat, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who remains a popular figure among Democrats in the state.

In Willis’ 30-second spot, the first-time political candidate walks down a dusty rural path and says she will focus on tackling poverty and improving education and healthcare.

“I became a nationally respected attorney in a business biased against women because I refused to back down,” Willis says.

Both campaigns are spending more than $100,000 on the initial buy to air their ads in the state’s four biggest media markets: Charleston, Columbia, Greenville-Spartanburg and Myrtle Beach-Florence.

Smith has led in fundraising so far in the three-way Democratic primary, reporting $622,000 in his campaign war chest at the end of March.

Willis has kicked in around half a million dollars of her own money to keep pace with Smith after getting into the race late in February. Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble has lagged further behind, reporting just $60,000 on hand at the March filing deadline.

Three of the five Republicans running in the race — incumbent Henry McMaster of Columbia, Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant and John Warren of Greenville — have already begun airing several TV ads. With significantly more money to spend, the GOP contenders are expected to blitz the airwaves as the June 12 primary approaches.

Post and Courier

Progressive Groups Back Smith for Governor

Indivisible Midlands is holding an event this afternoon to endorse S.C. Rep. James Smith in the South Carolina Democratic primary for governor. And last week, the South Carolina Progressive Network also backed Smith — its first gubernatorial endorsement in the organization’s 22 years in existence.

In doing so, the progressive groups — one venerable, one new — threw in their lot with the most establishment candidate in the Democratic race: a 22-year veteran of the General Assembly.

In the case of the Progressive Network, Smith’s establishment cred is part of the point — because they think it means he can win in November.

“The Network has endorsed James Smith because he is the only candidate who combines the vision, commitment, and, most importantly, experience to work with the Republican-dominated Legislature — and can win the general election,” the group said in a release. “These challenging times are an historic opportunity to stop our state’s race to the bottom.”

Indivisible Midlands also emphasizes Smith’s long experience in the General Assembly.

“James Smith’s history of honorable service to our country and in the S.C. General Assembly, is exactly the kind of change that we need in a governor,” said Kim Baker, a co-chair of the group, in a release.

Smith’s rivals, Phil Noble and Marguerite Willis, have floated plenty of progressive ideas, from Willis’ proposal to extend the school day to support working parents to Noble’s populist rants against SCE&G’s relationship with the legislative power structure.

The few polls done in the race have showed Noble and Smith running near each other, with Willis close behind and plenty of undecideds.

But when it comes to endorsements, Smith is cleaning up. He’s won support from issues-based organizations like Planned Parenthood’s political arm and Conservation Voters of SC. And with the latest two announcements, he finds support in explicitly grassroots, activist-based nonpartisan but left-leaning organizations.

The Progressive Network says Smith “ has been a staunch ally and advocate for the Network” since it was founded, and cites his support for two key priorities of theirs: independent redistricting reform, and “a moral state budget that prioritizes funding of critical public services over corporate tax subsidies.”

As for Indivisible Midlands, which was formed in the wake of Trump’s election, it said Smith would help work to “create a state government that prioritizes affordable health care, quality public education, fair wages, and clean land, air and water for all people.”


What South Carolina’s 2018 governor candidates say about the issues, the office

In a month, South Carolina voters will trim a field of eight candidates for governor by at least half. TV and online ads have started appearing. Running mates are being named. Campaign stops are popping up across the state.

Even this close to an election, a large portion of voters have not made a choice. Nikki Haley was a backbench lawmaker with scant hope around this time in 2010 before a few key events propelled her to a surprise win in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

With attention growing in the race this year, it’s time to get past the catchy phrases and push-button issues.

The Post and Courier sent each candidate a list of questions on schools, energy, prisons and the environment. They also were asked how they would like to expand the power of the office and what they saw as the state’s biggest recent accomplishments and disappointments.

Here are the highlights of their answers. (Read more details and find additional questions, here.)

Fixing schools: Boosting teacher pay was the popular answer.

All three Democrats back raising teacher salaries. Charleston businessman Phil Noble wants to give schools money to start innovative education ideas. State Rep. James Smith favors pushing project-based learning where students study real-world issues. Florence attorney Marguerite Willis says schools should stream lessons from the state’s best teachers.

Some Republicans mention boosting teacher pay. All but former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill said they want school choice. McGill wants to audit the state’s education agency and school districts to find money to fix buildings and hike teacher pay. Gov. Henry McMaster backs consolidating school districts and putting that savings into classrooms. Greenville businessman John Warren wants at least 70 cents out of every education dollar in the classroom.

Growing the economy: The candidates say education is the key to helping South Carolinians fill high-tech jobs.

Smith and Willis seek partnerships between colleges and businesses to retrain workers. Smith wants to boost initiatives so veterans can find jobs in new industries. Willis says the state should allow rural areas to find “unorthodox” economic development opportunities, such as opening a casino in Marion County.

Republicans also see a role for colleges in preparing workers, including providing apprenticeship programs. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant said tuition needs to fall. Two-time state agency head Catherine Templeton says schools need to bring back “shop class” to teach skills needed at some employers.

Preserving beaches and water quality: The question about environmental issues drew few very specifics from candidates.

All the Democrats would stop offshore drilling efforts. Smith says he would appoint state agency leaders “who will responsibly enforce regulatory requirements.” Noble says he’s “disgusted by the Legislature tying the hands of municipalities trying to reduce the use of plastic bags.”

Among Republicans, Bryant also believes local governments should make decisions, such as with bags. Three Republicans mentioned a ban on offshore drilling, including McMaster who said the state has no room to accommodate refineries, storage tanks and truck traffic.

The abandoned expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. File/Provided

Deciding energy needs: All the candidates want to stop South Carolina Electric & Gas customers from paying for the abandoned V.C. Summer Nuclear Station reactors in Fairfield County.

Bryant seeks to preserve the abandoned equipment at the project site so it can be sold to help repay customers. While some GOP candidates backed selling state-run Santee Cooper, McGill wants “protect the jobs of the regular (utility) employees who had nothing to do with this debacle.”

Smith wants to elevate the S.C. Energy Office to Cabinet level where it can craft an energy plan. Willis mentions expanding renewable energy including solar, wind and biomass.

Making schools safer: Again there’s agreement, this time in backing additional officers at schools.

Democrats each mentioned some sort of gun-related ban: Noble, assault weapons; Smith, bump stocks; and Willis, comprehensive gun control. They also broached adding safety features in buildings and boosting mental health resources at schools.

A couple of Republicans — Bryant and Templeton — say they back teachers carrying guns.

Curbing prisons violence: In the wake of the nation’s deadliest prison riot in a generation, the hopefuls for the Governor’s Mansion favored better pay to recruit and retain more correctional officers.

Willis suggests harsh penalties for contraband suppliers and some inmates with incentives for good conduct, such as additional or extended family visits.

Templeton said the state needs to require prisoners serve their full terms. She and Bryant want South Carolina to jam cellphone signals even without federal permission. McMaster wants to press federal officials on the issue.

Warren wants to merge the state’s prison and probation agencies and use the savings to boost correctional officers pay.

Powering up the governor’s office: Asked what power they would give the governor’s office, most Republicans mentioned appointing the chiefs for the state’s schools and transportation agencies.

Schools could happen soon with voters expected to consider in November whether to stop electing the state superintendent. McGill says he would rather give more control to local governments “where the individual citizen’s voice is stronger.”

Among Democrats, Noble wants to form a commission so state agencies can come up with a “big new idea” to the state forward.

Choosing S.C.’s wins and losses: Candidates were asked to name the state’s biggest recent accomplishment and biggest disappointment.

Noble and Willis mention removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. Noble says his biggest “shame” is that the state failed to enact curbs on guns that could prevent a repeat of the Charleston church shooting that led to the flag’s removal.

Some Republicans mentioned accomplishments tied to their tenure in state government. For Bryant, it was the reform of the state’s employment agency; McMaster, a 17-year low in the jobless rate; and Templeton, Boeing’s North Charleston jet plant expansion.

Disappointments ranged from the abdication to halt abortions (Bryant); the “jarring break of faith” from the nuclear project collapse (McMaster); lawmakers caught in a corruption probe not going to prison (Templeton); and funding Planned Parenthood (Warren).

Determining the state’s priorities: Asked where should the state be more or less assertive, most candidates gave vague answers and talked in generalities.

McMaster and Templeton brought up their plans to cut income taxes. Bryant suggests backing off regulations that keep people out of licensed professions after minor convictions or because they don’t have a four-year college degree. Warren wants the state to push school choice.

Willis wants to find creative way to boost state revenue, including medial marijuana. Noble would like less meddling in schools by the Legislature.

Post and Courier

‘The right choice’

Crowd hails pick of Mandy Powers Norrell for Lt. Gov.

Hope, as the saying goes, springs eternal.

After 15 years in the political wilderness, state Democrats are feeling positive about their chances of re-taking the governor’s mansion in 2018.

At least that was the vibe Friday afternoon, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. James Smith of Columbia came to town to officially announce that Lancaster’s Mandy Powers Norrell would be his running mate as lieutenant governor.

“She’s just perfect; there couldn’t be a better fit,” said a Smith campaign volunteer from Columbia who identified herself only as “Fannie.”

Numerous others in the crowd who were interviewed echoed parallel sentiments.

Inspired by Smith’s candidacy, those surveyed said Norrell was expected to bring an extra spark to the campaign as it pushes ahead to the June 12 Democratic primary and hopefully, they said, into the November general election.

“This feels so good,” said a beaming Norrell.

“And it also feels kind of heavy, because I look at you and don’t feel I deserve this much love. But I’m going to take it, and keep on taking it, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Norrell told the partisan crowd.

Smith said there was never any other choice to fill his ticket outside Norrell, who has represented Lancaster in District 44 in the S.C. House since 2013.

Running mate

Until this year, the state’s lieutenant governor was elected independently of the governor.
A 2012 constitutional amendment, however, now requires the governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket, beginning with the November 2018 general election.

Despite the limited role the lieutenant governor plays under the state constitution, Smith said he sees Norrell playing a crucial part not only in the campaign, but also in serving the agenda of the governor’s office should the pair be elected.

“She’s the absolute right choice,” Smith said after the announcement, which drew several dozen supporters from across South Carolina to the historic Springs House on Gay Street.

Both are friends and compatriots in the General Assembly and have been for years.

Perhaps, more important to Smith’s campaign, Norrell thrives in a district that went overwhelmingly for President Trump in 2016 by nearly 26 points.

Norrell is seeking a third straight term without opposition. That, Smith said, is testament to her ability to appeal across partisan lines.

Smith said both he and Norrell have been successful as staunch Democrats who can work with members of other political parties. That spirit of bipartisanship should also bode well for the campaign, he said.

During the event, much was made of Norrell’s upbringing – the only child of textile workers who worked her way through school, became a successful bankruptcy lawyer and eventually a state legislator, whose roots have made her sensitive to the plight of so many South Carolinians who still struggle from paycheck to paycheck.

“Honestly, what both of us have seen is that broad spectrum of Republicans, Democrats and independents, who all have a shared frustration about what’s happening in Columbia and are looking to this campaign to deliver the answer,” Smith said.

“I have found a woman who has the experience and strength of character we need,” he said. “A woman who shares our core values. A woman who is ready to serve and lead South Carolina.”

In addition to Smith and Norrell, many of her closest friends from the state legislature were on hand to tout her, including Reps. John King of Rock Hill and Terry Alexander of Florence. Also on hand were former 5th District Congressman John Spratt, and the state’s top Democrat, 6th District Congressman James Clyburn.

Like Smith, Clyburn said he could not imagine a better pick than Norrell.

“From day one,” Clyburn said, Norrell was his first choice. “When (Smith) asked me, I said there’s lots of people, but (she) would be my first choice.”

The Lancaster News

SC governor hopeful Smith picks lawmaker as running mate

A Democrat hoping to become South Carolina’s next governor has picked a fellow state lawmaker as his running mate in this year’s election, telling The Associated Press the ticket has already begun attracting the Republican support that will be needed to win the November general election.

Smith and his pick for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, sat down with The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement, planned for Friday in Norrell’s hometown of Lancaster. Smith said he picked Norrell in part because of his confidence in her ability govern but also the bipartisan attitude she has displayed during her six years in the Legislature.

“Mandy is so well-respected on both sides of the aisle,” Smith said. “There’s under-the-radar Republican excitement for this ticket.”

This year marks the first time that candidates for South Carolina governor and lieutenant governor will run on the same ticket, and Smith is the last of the three Democratic hopefuls to announce his running mate. Florence attorney Marguerite Willis has picked state Sen. John Scott, while Charleston consultant Phil Noble announced Thursday he’d be running with Gloria Bromell Tinubu, an educator and former Atlanta city councilwoman who has previously run for the U.S. House.

Gov. Henry McMaster has selected businesswoman Pamela Evette as his pick for lieutenant governor.

Since Norrell joined him in the state House in 2012, Smith said the two have teamed up on a number of legislative efforts, including a recent proposal to remove a limit on the expansion of solar power generation in South Carolina, a measure intended to protect jobs and save utility customers money. The effort failed, under pressure from the state’s major utilities, but had bipartisan support.

Since 2003, both South Carolina’s Legislature and its governorship have been controlled by Republicans. Smith said the combined 28 years he and Norrell have spent in the General Assembly enable them to establish an administration that knows how to navigate the House and Senate chambers to garner necessary legislative support.

“It’s about mutual respect,” Smith said, of both his and Norrell’s efforts to engender support among Republicans. “You’ve got to build relationships when you don’t need them.”

Norrell, who has already campaigned at county-level Democratic Party gatherings for Smith, said she sometimes finds herself “to the right” of her running mate.

Norrell won her most recent re-election bid without any Republican opposition, while President Donald Trump carried her home county of Lancaster handily, defeating Hillary Clinton by more than 24 percent.

In the next month leading up to the June 12 primary, Smith and Norrell plan to visit each of South Carolina’s 46 counties.

A Republicans for Smith group is growing, and Smith – who served eight years as a JAG officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard before resigning his commission, re-enlisting as an infantryman and serving a year in Afghanistan – said he and Norrell will work through the summer to build both grassroots Democratic and crossover Republican support.

“The values that we bring to this ticket are the values that are reflected in the hearts and minds of South Carolinians all over this state,” Smith said. “And I think we will be able to appeal to Democrats who are fired up, and independents, and Republicans who believe in a better South Carolina.”

The State

S.C. Black Newspaper Publishers Hear Why Smith Should Be Governor

Columbia Rep. James Smith told S.C. National Newspaper Publishers Association newspaper publishers he’s best qualified to win the Democratic nomination as a candidate for South Carolina governor in the November 6 general election. For the past 22 years Smith has represented Richland County House Dist. 72. A small business owner and practicing attorney, Smith currently serves on the house Judiciary and Legislative Oversight committees.

His investment in people is part of the message Smith says he hopes resonates with voters in the June 12 Democratic primary election. In addition to his service in the state legislature, the Columbia native and University of South Carolina graduate also has served more than 20 years in the Army. He is a major in the S.C. Army National Guard. Smith served eight years as a JAG officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard when a 2001 visit to Ground Zero in New York stirred something inside of him. It motivated him to resign his commission and enlist as an infantryman. At age 37, he began basic training.

In 2007 as an infantry officer Smith deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He served as a combat advisor to Afghan security forces operating in remote areas in southern Afghanistan. Smith worked side by side with Afghans to enforce the rule of law. For his service he received the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Purple Heart.

In his various aspects of service Smith, always committed to make South Carolina a better place for all to live and work has fought to shake things up. He hopes to become South Carolina’s first ‘Education Governor’ since Richard Riley.

Smith proposes some strategies to impact public education that include ‘arming’ teachers with better pay. “We can’t be committee to (bringing in) jobs and not be committed to education. Every child deserves a high quality education that prepares them for the future,” he said. As for arming citizens, Smith advocates legislation that closes loopholes, requires universal background checks and restricts retail sales of military-style weapons. Gun violence in many South Carolina communities has become a health issue, he said.

Diversity is one of the state’s greatest strengths, Smith believes. That strength should be enhanced through more equitable funding for children’s health, schools and early childhood education, especially in rural areas, he said. As governor Smith said he would expand Medicaid and resources for mental health.

Economic development is another area where Smith says the strength of the state’s diversity can be enhanced. Small business centers, apprenticeship programs and aligning our public education system to meet the needs of industry while insuring state agencies ‘do the right thing’ with respect to the procurement process are steps that can be taken to do that.

Despite the dysfunction and corruption that prevails in state government, Smith thinks his experience can help him lead a legislature that is ready for change. Over the past 22 years he’s learned how to do things. His confidence wasn’t wasted on the newspaper owners.

“Out of all of the candidates we have talked to during our editorial meetings with candidates running for Governor of South Carolina in the Democratic Primary, James Smith seems to be one that can build support across party lines – a key component to making sure that all of the citizens of South Carolina’s voices are heard as we deal with the underfunding of education and healthcare. But the question remaining is can James Smith or anyone of the candidates address these issues without a tax increase for the citizens of South Carolina?” said Community Times/Upstate Times Publisher Larry Smith.

Carolina Panorama Publisher Nate Abraham said, “James Smith said that his 22 years in the State House gives him a unique insight into the issues affecting the Black community. He said that he is proud to run on his record in the South Carolina House of Representatives.”

And Charleston Chronicle Editor Damion Smalls, added, “In normal times, a politician with two decades of experience in the state legislature would be an overwhelming favorite against two gubernatorial opponents who have never served in office. But these are not normal times. Voters need to be assured that when it comes to James Smith, his political experience is necessary in this race. Also, his claim to be the “education governor” should be backed up with strategies to rectify the “Corridor of Shame”, the education gap between racial groups and the often misused disturbing schools law that disproportionately harms South Carolina’s Black students.”

Charleston Chronicle

The Blues: Could a Democrat Be Elected Governor in SC?

It’s a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at Hunter-Gatherer’s new brewery at the renovated Curtiss-Wright Hangar in Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood.

People are gathered in little pockets across the lawn, talking, laughing, toasting and basically taking advantage of a perfect spring day. A band is setting up equipment, and a large group of motorcycle riders are gathered around their bikes, swapping stories. Inside the expansive hangar, bartenders pour glasses of craft beer, and staff from the kitchen hustles here and there with steaming hot pizzas and other snacks.

I’m running a little late for an appointment with gubernatorial candidate James Smith, and having a tough time spotting the Democrat, who represents this neighborhood in the S.C. House. Finally, a text from Smith comes through.

“Sitting with some new friends,” it reads.

Indeed, I find Smith at a table on the south side of the brewery, drinking a Session IPA and passing out campaign business cards to the people gathered around. He’s not exactly holding court. Rather, the conversation is flowing both ways, easy and breezy on a Sunday afternoon.

All in a day’s work for a man who wants to be the 118th governor of South Carolina.

Read more>>

James Smith gets SC governor’s race endorsement from Planned Parenthood

Columbia Democrat James Smith picked up the endorsement Wednesday of a women’s rights group in the 2018 governor’s race, just a month ahead of the three-way Democratic primary.

Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic made Smith, a state representative, its first gubernatorial endorsement in South Carolina. The organization began backing political candidates shortly after forming in 2016.

“Throughout James Smith’s tenure in public office, he has been a staunch supporter in the fight for women’s rights and a vocal advocate on the S.C. House floor to protect the fundamental care Planned Parenthood provides to thousands of women, men and young people in South Carolina each year,” the organization’s public affairs director, Vicki Ringer, said in a statement.

Smith, who has argued against proposed abortion restrictions on the House floor and pushed to expand HPV vaccinations, said he is proud of the endorsement, which came as a debate over a proposed abortion restriction consumed the state Senate.

“Politicians have no place in the exam room and they have no business making deeply personal, medical decisions for a woman and her family,” he said. “As governor, I will be a brick wall against any attempt to roll back the rights of the women or restrict access to care in this state.”

Smith faces Florence attorney Marguerite Willis and Charleston business consultant Phil Noble in the June 12 Democratic primary.

The State