Category: News

Why this SC teachers association is making their choice known in the governor’s race

The state’s second-largest teachers association said Friday it will support James Smith’s bid to be South Carolina’s next governor.

In a statement Friday, the S.C. Education Association called state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, a “friend, defender and counselor” of the state’s teachers and students.

The association, with more than 8,300 members, is a state affiliate of the National Education Association.

“While the SCEA and the students we serve have been supported by a few committed advocates in our state Legislature, no legislator has been more committed than James Smith,” said Bernadette Hampton, the association’s president.

“His record gives us every reason to call him the best choice to be our next governor.”

That endorsement was likely helped by Smith’s appearance May 19 at the State House, where hundreds of S.C. public school teachers and state workers rallied to demand higher pay and more education funding.

The state is dealing with an ongoing teacher shortage, a result, in part, due to low pay and demanding teaching requirements.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association, with more than 12,000 members, does not endorse candidates, said the association’s director, Kathy Maness.

Smith — who on the campaign trail says he will be the state’s next “education” governor, similar to former Gov. Jim Hodges — is running to win the Democratic Party’s nomination in the June 12 primary.

He faces Charleston businessman Phil Noble and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.

Friday, Smith said he was honored by the latest endorsement from the S.C. Education Association.

“Our public schools are the foundation of the American Dream — the promise that no matter who you are or what your circumstances, you can achieve anything,” he said.

“Teachers make that promise a reality.”

The State

Norrell’s greatest skill: Connecting

Lancaster Democrat throws herself into statewide campaign

Retired couple Carol Edens and Ed Epps chatted with Democratic gubernatorial candidate James Smith for a few minutes Wednesday at an Irish pub in Spartanburg.

Then Edens asked about “that 15-year-old girl” who was campaigning with him for lieutenant governor.
“Oh, she’s young,” Smith said. “But she’s a good egg, with an old soul.”

Smith moved on, and Mandy Powers Norrell sat down at their table with a bright, wide smile, locking eyes individually with the man and then the woman.

“Hi, how are y’all!” she said with a sweet Lancaster drawl.

After a bit of chit-chat, the couple questioned Norrell on a slew of issues – education, healthcare, immigration.

The 44-year-old attorney held forth for 15 minutes. She talked about her political passions and how she’s fought for them for six years in the S.C. House. She peppered her policy positions with anecdotes that brought warmth to cold, hard subjects.

The couple smiled back at Norrell, nodding in agreement. When the candidate wasn’t talking, she was listening. Intently.

She paused only once, politely, to order lunch. Tuna, rice and pinto beans.

“I know you shouldn’t order pinto beans with tuna, but I just love pinto beans,” Norrell said with another infectious smile.

The spell had been cast. They loved her.

“I didn’t know anything about her, but I was very impressed,” Edens said afterward. “Absolutely I’d vote for her…. I like her background, too. She doesn’t come from privilege. She’s very mature. She does look very young, but she has kids almost as old as mine. I guess I’m just jealous!”

“I think she’s terrific,” Epps said. “I’ll vote for her. I liked her. I loved her.”

At a time when politicians in general are loathed even more than usual, Norrell has an uncanny knack for making people like her. Connecting is her superpower. She makes it seem easy – adorable and real, without pretense.

“She’s other-oriented,” explained Keith Grey, Lancaster County’s Democratic Party chairman. And the most incredible part is that it’s apparently sincere and genuine, he said.

Norrell, who represents District 44 in the S.C. House, seems to be that rare politician who cares about her constituents more than her own personal or political ambitions, Grey said.

Rep. Brandon Newton, a Lancaster Republican representing District 45, said he disagrees with Norrell on practically every issue, but he acknowledged that she has a special gift.

“We’re on complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, but Mandy is a very good campaigner and very relatable to people,” said Newton, a former county GOP chair. “And I hope whoever wins our party’s nomination for governor will take her very seriously.”

Mitch Norrell, the candidate’s husband and law partner, said he thinks he knows where that special gift came from: her family and the town she grew up loving – a town that loved her back.

Hometown girl
Norrell, 44, has lived nearly her entire life in Lancaster. Talking with her in a conference room in the Norrells’ Main Street law offices, it seems she’d be perfectly happy to spend the rest of her life here.

Hearing her talk, the town and its people are seemingly imprinted on her soul and hard-wired into her DNA. Her family’s Lancaster roots go back at least 11 generations, she said. And those roots run deep.
Like many Lancaster residents, her parents Beverly and Carl Powers, now both deceased, worked at Springs Mills.

“Their parents before them were sustenance farmers,” Norrell said. “My dad’s people were sharecroppers.”
Her dad didn’t finish high school, but instead enlisted in the Navy. She’s fond of recalling the fact that her father didn’t grow up with electricity or running water and liked to say the Navy “fixed my teeth and showed me the world.”

When his Navy hitch was over, her father came home and started work at the old bleachery. Norrell’s mother, who married her dad while still in high school, became a key-punch operator at the mill.
The couple tried fruitlessly to have children, with six successive pregnancies ending in miscarriage, Norrell said.

On the seventh try came Mandy.
“I was an only child, growing up feeling very special,” Norrell said, beaming. But it wasn’t only her parents and other family members who were thrilled when Mandy came into the world.

“Everybody who worked at Springs with my parents were so invested in them having a child,” she said. “It was amazing. I grew up with people just coming up to me in various places in Lancaster and telling me I was special and that they were praying for me.

“So I grew up feeling very, very loved by my village.”

College dreams
Her parents dreamed Mandy would be the first family member to attend college, but that dream looked bleak when Norrell’s mom had to quit her job in the 1980s because of a bad back and other degenerative ailments.

“So I got a job at the mill, because you could always get a job at the mill,” Norrell said, noting she worked at Grace Bleachery in screen-printing. And besides, she said, if you were a member of the Powers family, you were expected to work.

“With that money and student loans, I was able to go to college,” said Norrell, who graduated with honors from Lancaster High in 1991. Sadly, she added, with the skyrocketing costs of a college education, “I think today nobody would be able to do what I did then.”

She graduated from Furman University with honors and received a scholarship to attend law school at the University of South Carolina. In between, at age 21, she fell in love and married Mitch, who was then 33. Today the couple have two children – Teddy, 19, a rising sophomore at Duke University, and Emma, 16, a rising junior at LHS.

Norrell credited her interest in law to a time when her mother made her come and sit in court while she served jury duty. The legal process and the two old-school Southern attorneys doing battle that day on an accident case fascinated her, “and I just thought this could be an awesome (career) path.”

Political interest
Her interest in politics was spurred as a child by her adoration of then-President Jimmy Carter who, to Norrell, stood out for his intellect, his morals, his compassion and his approach to religion.
“I just loved that man,” she said. “As a little kid, if anybody said they were voting for Ronald Reagan, I’d try to convince them to vote for Carter.”

Norrell continued to live in Lancaster, commuting to law school each day in Columbia. She managed to graduate in two and a half years, near the top of her class, she said.

A law-school grad who matriculated cum laude could likely ride that to a big-city, high-paying job. Instead, Norrell said she wanted to stay true to her roots and use her talents in her hometown.

She does some litigation, but specializes mostly in personal bankruptcy. She also serves as attorney for the town of Kershaw. Mitch is city attorney for Lancaster.

“So now I’m filing bankruptcies for people I used to work with because the mill’s closed,” she said. “They come in and I’m so happy to see them, but under the circumstances, it’s so sad.”

Quite simply, she just couldn’t bail on Lancaster – neither the town nor its people.

“There’s something about Lancaster,” she said. “I swear I could be anywhere in the world and if somebody from Lancaster were to come around I wouldn’t even have to know them – I’d just know. Lancaster is that special. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Impassioned fan
On a recent night, when the conversation came around to Norrell in Lancaster’s popular watering hole The Craft Stand, David Adrian Cook’s entire being seemed to come alive.

The normally gregarious Cook had mostly been sitting quietly by himself at the bar, sipping a stout after a hard day’s work at his business, H&C Auto Shop. At the mention of Norrell, Cook launched into an effusive soliloquy, saluting his old friend and former Lancaster High prom date.

“She cares more about this town than anybody I’ve ever known,” Cook said. “I’ve never known anybody who loves this community more than Mandy does.

“Most people who seek power seek it to wield it against other people. She’s the only person I can honestly say that I knew that sought political office to help her community,” he said.

“She is beyond her age in wisdom – and that was fairly evident even when she was 16 years old,” Cook said.

Campaign trail
When Norrell first considered entering politics, she sat her family down and told them they had veto power over the decision. The family gave its consent, on one condition: Norrell had to be home every morning to help get the children off to school.

In nearly six years in office, both Mitch and Mandy said they can only think of about a half-dozen times where she was forced to stay overnight in Columbia.

The rigors of a statewide campaign, however, mean constant crisscrossing of the state in the lead-up to the do-or-die June 12 Democratic primary, in which Smith faces two challengers. (Norrell isn’t on the June 12 ballot with Smith; the lieutenant governor will appear on the November general election ballot.)
Last Wednesday, Norrell and Smith, along with deputy political director Scott Harriford and a Lancaster News reporter, visited Spartanburg for a series of small, intimate events with voters as part of the campaign’s “introduction tour.”

The candidates made four stops before heading down to Richland County for a candidate’s forum in the evening. The first stop was Papa’s Breakfast Nook, a popular downtown 24-hour joint where a smattering of voters, local friends and supporters – including Norrell’s brother-in-law Tom Norrell, pastor of Spartanburg’s Central Methodist Church – filtered into a back room for a bite and a chat.

Next was lunch at Delaney’s Irish Pub, in the heart of downtown, where both Norrell and Smith table-hopped, speaking with voters and pleading their case.

From there it was off to the local Krispy Kreme, owned by longtime Democratic Sen. Glenn Reese, 76, who handed Smith a campaign donation, along with some hard-won advice earned through 27 years of winning in a Republican-dominated county.

Sitting in his office, where he, Barack Obama and a small handful of others in 2007 plotted the strategy that would help propel Obama to a come-from-behind victory in the S.C. primary, Reese urged the candidates to bridge the partisan divide.

“Both sides love you,” he said. “You should run as a bipartisan ticket.”

The Parnell news
With his check in hand and his advice taken to heart, the candidates made their last Spartanburg stop on the outskirts of town at a Panera Bread restaurant, a meeting of supporters and would-be supporters put together by former Congresswoman Liz Patterson.

While none of these events drew more than 16 people, Smith and Norrell considered the day a success.
Yet behind it all was a pall that lingered throughout the day.

In stolen moments here and there, Smith and Norrell conferred and discussed how to respond to the news that 5th District Democratic congressional candidate Archie Parnell had physically assaulted his first wife in 1973.

Around 2 p.m., the candidates released a statement calling for Parnell to drop out of the race. The positive energy that seems to flow like an endless stream from Norrell had become a trickle.

“I consider Archie a friend. That’s what makes this so hard,” she told Reese.

She had confided earlier that morning that the whole thing is “heartbreaking.”

“I’m not a fan of kicking someone when they’re down,” she said. “I’m not a fan of piling on.”

While not close friends, Norrell campaigned for Parnell in his first run for Congress against Ralph Norman. “But there is a closeness that develops when you work together on a campaign,” she explained.
Norrell said she was gratified that Parnell first came to her to make sure she wasn’t intending to run before launching his own bid, which gave both S.C. and national Democrats a jolt of enthusiasm when he came close to defeating Norman last year, further fueling talk nationally of a potential “blue wave” in the 2018 midterm elections.

But Smith said domestic violence simply cannot be tolerated, especially not in a state such as South Carolina, which has among the nation’s highest rates of physical violence and murder of women at the hands of men.

Rough ’08 race
The Parnell episode may have been disheartening and depressing. But such are the perils of politics.
It’s a rough-and-tumble business. Norrell herself had been accused in 2008 of throwing elbows and taking liberties with campaign ethics rules in her first, failed race for office against Mick Mulvaney for the District 16 state Senate race – a bitter campaign in which both candidates were slammed for spending more time damning the other than discussing issues.

“Still, to this day, I tell people that’s the nastiest campaign I’ve ever watched,” said Rep. Newton, a Mulvaney supporter who was in high school and beginning to get heavily involved in politics at that time.
“It was rough, and I think it was rough not just on the candidates, but on the community. When an election gets that personal, it bleeds over into your supporters. That was a very, very nasty race. One that I hope I never see again.”

Norrell seemingly admitted as much, telling a pair of voters at one stop in Spartanburg, “That race was brutal.”

Across the aisle
Since then, Norrell has had opposition in only one race since 2012, and she is running unopposed again this year for her House seat – a race she intends to stay in should she and Smith fail to win.

It’s obvious from watching her that she learned lessons from that failed Senate race, and how to use her innate ability to connect with people – be they voters or opposition politicians.

As a state legislator, Norrell has made a name for herself as someone who can reach across the aisle to accomplish legislative victories. That’s no small task, since Democrats hold only 44 of the 124 seats in the House and Republicans control every level of state government.

Among her proudest accomplishments, she said, was her fight for passage of Erin’s Law, enacted in 2014. That law now requires all S.C. public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual-abuse program.

The House vote on that bill was an impressive 99-1 in favor.
Should Smith prevail on June 12, Norrell will be an asset either by his side or out in the hinterlands campaigning. Smith has said Norrell was his first and only choice. The trip to Spartanburg gave a glimpse as to why.

Showing a reporter her Twitter feed, Norrell stopped on a Tweet pic of her with a little girl. Norrell had met the girl and her mom in Greenville. The mother told Norrell she was undecided. So Norrell sat down with her one-on-one and told her why Smith should earn her vote.

After a few minutes of talking to her, espousing the candidates’ combined experience and their track record of working with the opposition, “she left and immediately went and voted absentee for James,” Norrell said. “That’s so exciting!”

Full of surprises
If anyone truly knows Norrell, it’s her husband and law partner Mitch.

And it’s not all pretty, he said. She can be rather untidy, not to mention impetuous and maybe just a tad wacky.

Norrell herself admits to the wacky part. She remembers vividly times when she would don mascot uniforms at school pep rallies for important football games played by her Lancaster High Bruins. And not Bruin mascot uniforms, but mascot uniforms for the opposing team.

In one instance she recalled donning a uniform and undergoing a mock beating and arrest by police officers for one big game.

Perhaps the pinnacle came in 1990 when her future husband accompanied her to the state high school football championship at Williams-Brice Stadium for a game between Lancaster and Union.

Norrell excused herself to go to the restroom, only to emerge minutes later in a Yellow Jacket costume running down the stadium steps past her unsuspecting and bewildered beau. “Then they put a cage over me and hauled me off,” she said.

“That’s when I think he fell in love with me,” Norrell said. “He didn’t realize I was so wild and crazy.”
“Yeah, she’s full of surprises,” Mitch Norrell said of his wife, also recalling last year when Mandy decided the family would spend Christmas in Iceland after discovering a Black Friday deal on plane tickets.

“Iceland was never on the top list of places to travel to,” he said, admitting, however, that it turned out to be a “wonderful, fabulous time.”

Utterly transparent
Such silliness aside, Mitch said, his wife seems utterly transparent.

“Her public persona is her private persona,” he said. “She will talk about her life story to anybody. She’ll open up to anybody. She’s just a very loving person.”

When it comes to Norrell’s ability to connect and engage with people, her husband said he believes it comes from the home she was raised in and the sharpness of her mind.

“She had a very good combination of parents,” he said. “Her mother was very outgoing just like Mandy is. And her father was very quiet and he studied people. And I think she gets the best of those [traits] from her parents.

“And she was an only child after a lot of failed pregnancies, so Mandy was adored from the moment she arrived in this world,” he said. “So she never had any doubts that her parents and her entire family adored her.

“When you have that, you don’t develop the emotional walls that most people have. So she can connect immediately.”

Mitch said his wife also possesses a “mind like a steel trap,” which comes in handy in her law practice and in her ability to connect with people.

“I remember a time a man came up to her and said, ‘Excuse me, I know you don’t remember me, but….’ And she told him, ‘Of course I do. You sat behind me in second-grade.’ That was amazing. I can hardly remember who sat in front of me in school, much less behind me.”

If she has an Achilles heel, “it’s clutter,” he said, laughing. “Her clothes and her papers, things like that, are just wherever she puts them down.

“I think we compliment each other,” he continued. “I’m more of the planner. I’m the one who makes sure we have toilet paper and groceries. She is more a free spirit. So, it all works out.”

And what of the future? The governor’s office or perhaps Congress and beyond?

“I can see anything imaginable in Mandy’s future,” her husband said. “She is capable of anything. I’m supportive of anything she wants to do. There is no question that if she had to step into the role of governor, she could do it on day one and be super-capable of it.

“There’s nothing she couldn’t do.”

The Lancaster News

James Smith is seen as the Democrats’ best hope. But can he survive the SC primary?

James Smith is the golden boy of the South Carolina Democratic establishment.

His backers say he is progressive enough to win his party’s June 12 primary for governor and has the crossover appeal necessary to beat a Republican, taking back an office that has eluded Democrats for more than a decade.

A Columbia attorney with 22 years in the S.C. House of Representatives, Smith is banking on having a broader appeal in this pro-military red state. He’s an Afghanistan combat veteran who received a Purple Heart. He supports the Second Amendment, but also wants “common sense” gun control reform.

He has the backing of the Democratic establishment, winning endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden and key African-American S.C. lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn. And he’s raised more money than his opponents.

Smith sees these factors as advantages that can propel him — not his opponents Charleston businessman Phil Noble and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis — into the governor’s office.

“I am the candidate that can win in November,” Smith said Thursday during a Democratic debate.

Yet, with less than a month until the primary, Smith’s path to win his party’s nomination has gotten rockier.

He’s taken a lot of fire on the stump, forced to defend his record again and again from opponents who, for the most part, have ignored each other and focused on painting the longtime legislator as a part of the establishment and the problem.

If his opponents are winning over voters, Smith also could wind up in a runoff. The few polls released publicly in the race show him vulnerable: barely in first, tied or in second place.

And up until Thursday’s debate at Clemson University, Smith largely had been unwilling to engage opponents publicly to fight back and defend his record.

“I don’t worry about all that stuff, really,” Smith told The State newspaper in an interview en route to Charleston this month. “I just stay focused on what we’re trying to do. You can only control so much in a campaign. The stuff you can’t, you pray about it, have others pray about it and stay focused.”

Without more recent polls, it’s hard to say which Democratic candidate is in first to win the S.C. primary, said Jordan Ragusa, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, but the candidates’ efforts to reach voters provide a clue.

“I’ve seen a lot more Smith ads on TV than Noble or Willis. That can be a pretty good indicator of what happens in the primary,” Ragusa said. “Smith is probably still the front-runner. … My sense is he’s still in the lead, but (the lead has) narrowed.”

‘I’ve been shot at for real’

Smith’s opponents have taken a no-holds-barred approach.

Hoping to win over gun-control advocates, and playing on an emotional issue, Noble repeatedly attacks Smith for sometimes high legislative scorecard grades from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund.

The Charleston Democrat says the grades are evidence the gun lobby has endorsed Smith, a point Smith refutes, noting the gun group has made no endorsements in the Democratic race. In a racially charged comparison, Noble said Smith has waffled on gun control, going as far as to compare him to a “Klansman taking his sheet off and saying, ‘Well, I’ve changed.'”

“Reality is, year after year, you stood with the NRA, supporting legislation that threatens the life of our children,” Noble said at Thursday’s debate.

“I want to ask why he voted to take guns into bars and restaurants,” Noble said, referring to a law that allows permit holders to carry concealed firearms into places that serve alcohol.

Smith said he voted for the concealed carry bill after Democrats worked to improve it. He also defended his record, saying his ratings likely were due, in part, to past legislation he supported that affected gun ranges and hunting.

“He (Noble) wants to distract with things that really don’t tell the whole story,” Smith said in Charleston earlier this month after facing a similar attack.

Calling himself the state’s next “education governor,” Smith has received endorsements from education advocates, but he also has fielded questions from opponents about his legislative record and his children’s education.

During Thursday’s debate, Willis changed topics abruptly and asked Smith why he sent his children to private school. She also said that Smith failed to revamp the state’s education system while in the House. The state is facing an increasing teacher shortage brought on, in part, by low pay.

Smith defended himself, saying Democrats face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Legislature. He touted his work on the state’s early childhood education programs. Smith was a big proponent of the state’s free 4-year-old kindergarten program.

On Friday, he shot back at Willis for bringing his children into the debate.

“Marguerite Willis has said that it is not the governor’s job to improve our education system. She then attacked my children — as my daughter sat in the (debate) audience — based on personal parenting decisions,” he said.

“That is not only shameful, it is hypocritical. My children are not running for office.”

Until June 12, Smith says he will keep deflecting his opponents’ shots.

“I’ve been shot at for real,” Smith told reporters after a May 15 Charleston debate, referring to his time in combat. “I’m not concerned about a few shots from a debate stage.”

A challenge for Democrats

Seen as appealing to moderate Republicans in a military-loving state, Smith contends he is the only Democratic candidate running for governor who can win in the general election.

Though Noble has called out Columbia’s “corrupt culture,” moderate Republican voters might be hard-pressed to elect such a progressive candidate for governor, who has swatted repeatedly at the National Rifle Association in a pro-Second Amendment state.

And Willis’ targeting of President Donald Trump, accusing him of being a racist and sexist, might not go over well in a general election in a state the former New York real estate mogul won with 55 percent of the vote.

However, Smith’s liberal positions also will be the target of Republican ire if he survives the primary.

For example, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Votes is backing Smith — an endorsement heavily criticized by the anti-abortion GOP candidates for governor, including Gov. Henry McMaster.

Smith says he’s prepared for that debate.

“I don’t know anyone that is pro-abortion. It’s a question of people’s rights, fundamental rights,” Smith told The State newspaper this month.

“So often, it’s funny to hear my colleagues defend the Constitution when it comes to the Second Amendment but seem to forget all about it when it comes to the right to privacy,” he added. “As someone who has sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of our state and our nation, I take the entire Constitution seriously and all the rights and protections that are there.”

Smith does stand a chance to win in November, said the College of Charleston’s Ragusa.

“You can never discount idiosyncrasies. Things can happen in any election,” he said. “People thought Donald Trump had no chance of winning the presidency, and he did.”

But for Smith to win a general election will be an “an uphill battle,” Ragusa said.

‘There’s a lot of excitement’

Smith also has another challenge to overcome: a lack of name recognition.

Though considered the Democratic establishment favorite since his announcement last year, “very few people know him outside of downtown Columbia,” said Rick Whisonant, a political scientist at York Technical College.

To get over that hump, this month Smith picked his House colleague Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell as the lieutenant governor candidate running with him.

The 44-year-old Lancaster Democrat helps balance the ticket as a woman. She also represents a district where she has a lot of African-American support and one that went for Trump in 2016.

Smith is the only Democratic candidate without an African-American running mate.

But support from Clyburn, South Carolina’s senior congressman, and other African-American lawmakers could be enough to pull in votes from African-Americans, a core constituency of the Democratic Party.

His supporters say race has nothing to do with this election.

“He’s concerned about the state, not just Democrats, Republicans, blacks or whites,” said former Richland County councilwoman and community activist Bernice Scott.

“There’s a lot of excitement for him.”
—————————————————————————————————————————————-
James Smith

The S.C. House representative and attorney is running for the Democratic nomination for governor on June 12.

Lives in: Columbia

Age: 50

Family: Married to Kirkland Smith; four children

Job: Attorney; president and chief executive officer of The Congaree Group LLC

Education: University of South Carolina

Money raised: $951,260

The State

Experience, New Ideas Clash in SC Democratic Gov Debate

The Democratic candidates seeking to become South Carolina’s next governor squared off in a vigorous debate Thursday night that stood in contrast to the less combative Republican debate held a night earlier.

The two outsider Democratic hopefuls sought to blame longtime state Rep. James Smith for the multibillion-dollar boondoggle known as the V.C. Summer nuclear project. Smith reminded both that the legal framework for the ill-fated project was passed by a Legislature firmly controlled by Republicans.

“It’s either dishonest or naive to not understand that the Legislature is run by the other party,” Smith said.

“This is a robbery,” Charleston consultant Phil Noble said, describing the failed reactor project, for which customers have already been forced to pay a collective $2 billion, and for which the utilities involved are seeking to recoup billions more, even though it never generated any power.

More precisely, Noble called it “a $9 billion robbery of the people of South Carolina, aided and abetted by a state Legislature that is little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the utilities.”

“The Legislature has let the state down,” added Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.

Smith cited many achievements over his 22 years in the state House of Representatives, but the nuclear financing vote was one he didn’t participate in: He was deployed with the National Guard in Afghanistan when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve the Base Load Review Act in 2007, which obligated customers to pay in advance for the ill-fated massive construction.

House and Senate lawmakers are currently hashing out differences between legislative proposals to ameliorate ratepayers’ burden in the wake of the project failure.

“I will make sure that we have an energy plan that works for South Carolina and South Carolinians,” Smith said. He pointed to his work pushing for a consumer advocate to represent utility customers’ needs, and said he would elevate a state energy office to report to him if elected governor.

Smith encouraged his opponents to “attack the problems, not each other.” He also noted that the Legislature is firmly in Republican hands.

Asked about education, all three candidates pledged to work toward increasing teacher pay, with Noble saying radical, systemic change is needed to move South Carolina from the bottom of national education rankings.

“We need to junk the system we’ve got now,” Noble said, proposing a revamp from pre-K all the way through college. “We’ve got stale, old thinking that has kept us in the same box over and over again.”

Willis again took the opportunity to blame Smith for the state’s failings.

“My question is, where has Mr. Smith been for the past 22 years?” Willis asked. “He is talking big now, but he hasn’t done much in the past.”

Smith responded that he had been working to effect change, while Willis made money practicing law.

Gov. Henry McMaster and the four Republicans seeking to unseat him debated on the same stage at Clemson University the night before. Both sets of candidates have another set of back-to-back debates at the University of South Carolina on June 4 and 5.”This is a robbery,” Charleston consultant Phil Noble said, describing the failed reactor project, for which customers have already been forced to pay a collective $2 billion, and for which the utilities involved are seeking to recoup billions more, even though it never generated any power.

More precisely, Noble called it “a $9 billion robbery of the people of South Carolina, aided and abetted by a state Legislature that is little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the utilities.”

“The Legislature has let the state down,” added Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.

Smith cited many achievements over his 22 years in the state House of Representatives, but the nuclear financing vote was one he didn’t participate in: He was deployed with the National Guard in Afghanistan when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve the Base Load Review Act in 2007, which obligated customers to pay in advance for the ill-fated massive construction.

House and Senate lawmakers are currently hashing out differences between legislative proposals to ameliorate ratepayers’ burden in the wake of the project failure.

“I will make sure that we have an energy plan that works for South Carolina and South Carolinians,” Smith said. He pointed to his work pushing for a consumer advocate to represent utility customers’ needs, and said he would elevate a state energy office to report to him if elected governor.

Smith encouraged his opponents to “attack the problems, not each other.” He also noted that the Legislature is firmly in Republican hands.

Asked about education, all three candidates pledged to work toward increasing teacher pay, with Noble saying radical, systemic change is needed to move South Carolina from the bottom of national education rankings.

“We need to junk the system we’ve got now,” Noble said, proposing a revamp from pre-K all the way through college. “We’ve got stale, old thinking that has kept us in the same box over and over again.”

Willis again took the opportunity to blame Smith for the state’s failings.

“My question is, where has Mr. Smith been for the past 22 years?” Willis asked. “He is talking big now, but he hasn’t done much in the past.”

Smith responded that he had been working to effect change, while Willis made money practicing law.

Gov. Henry McMaster and the four Republicans seeking to unseat him debated on the same stage at Clemson University the night before. Both sets of candidates have another set of back-to-back debates at the University of South Carolina on June 4 and 5.

Smith also reminded the audience of his military service, which took him out of the country when other lawmakers agreed to let utilities charge customers years in advance for the nuclear energy that never materialized.

US News

Democrats throw punches in SC governor debate. On the issues, they are more united

The three Democrats who want to be South Carolina’s next governor took swings at each other Thursday night. They said their opponents were inexperienced or part of a corrupt system or misrepresenting their records. They are State House insiders or friends of special interest or naive.

But when it came to the issues that will affect South Carolinians after November, the trio expressed a lot more unity — whether the question was asked of Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble, state Rep. James Smith of Columbia or Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.

All three said they want to expand Medicaid in South Carolina. They oppose spending public education dollars on private schools, want to increase funding of public schools and oppose private-school vouchers. They even agreed they dislike the new NFL policy restricting on-field protests by football players.

But there were fireworks when the candidates turned on each other.

Noble went after primary front-runner Smith for the S.C. House member’s past high approval ratings from the National Rifle Association — a frequent line of attack for his campaign — as well as criticizing Smith’s support for a 2014 act that expanded where gun owners could carry their weapons.

“Reality is, year after year, you stood with the NRA, supporting legislation that threatens the life of our children,” Noble said. “I want to ask why he voted to take guns into bars and restaurants.”

Smith responded by arguing he has been endorsed by groups that advocate gun control — Moms Demand Action and Our Revolution. The Columbia Democrat said Democrats worked to improve the guns-in-restaurants bill before it passed the GOP-majority House and his past NRA ratings were related to votes that affected gun ranges, rather than public safety.

After the debate, the Afghanistan war veteran said he was a proud gun owner but had taken “common-sense” positions, opposing the open carrying of weapons and lowering standards for concealed weapons permits.

“You sound like a broken record. No one believes you,” Smith said to Noble, adding the gun lobby “has never offered me a dime and I’ve never excepted any.”

Willis also aimed her fire at Smith.

When Smith said he wanted to see a consumer advocate created to argue for utility customers in the wake of the collapse of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant, underwritten by SCANA and Santee Cooper, Willis accused Smith of voting against a similar position in 2004.

“The horse is way out of the barn now,” Willis said.

For his part, Noble said he would fire the board of the state-owned Santee Cooper utility over the nuclear debacle and also wants to force out the board of the privately owned SCANA, too. (That board would cease to exist if Dominion Energy succeeds in its buyout of SCANA.)

“Somebody ought to go to jail,” Noble said.

Willis said Smith, as a member of the Legislature, had failed to improve the state’s education system. Thanks to her advocacy for an equal pay law in South Carolina, she added, “Mr. Smith finally introduced that bill when I announced I was running for governor.”

Smith retorted that he had worked on similar equal-pay legislation with fellow Democrats for years. As to school funding, he told Willis, “It’s either naive or dishonest to not understand the Legislature is under the control of the other party.”

Noble came out swinging at Willis as well, hoping to differentiate himself from the other outsider candidate in the race. From his opening statement, Noble said his two opponents were a “big-time corporate lawyer and career politician at the State House.” Afterward, he said both his opponents are “products of the same State House system.”

Defending his time in the State House, Smith took what might be one of the toughest swipes a candidate can take in a Democratic primary — comparing his opponents to Republican President Donald Trump.

“We’ve seen what a lack of experience does in (president) No. 45 in the White House,” Smith said.

The State

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.”

FreeTimes