Editorial: Setzler the clear choice in SC Senate 26 race

October 24, 2012 

LIKE MOST legislative candidates, Lexington Sen. Nikki Setzler puts job creation at the top of his agenda. Unlike far too many of them, he puts working across party lines right up there with it, arguing that “you’ve got to have people who are willing to deal with different ideas and who can work together and move this state forward.”

Unlike the too-small number of candidates who even pay lip service to such values, Mr. Setzler has a solid record of follow-through. Part of that is by necessity: As a Democrat in one of the most Republican counties in the Deep South, he always has had to toe a more moderate line than other Democrats, which pushed him into alliance with Republicans; and since Republicans took over the Senate, such alliances have been essential if he hoped to accomplish anything.

And he has accomplished a good bit. He is a respected voice in education policy, working with Republicans and Democrats to fight off efforts to undermine public education. He was one of the key architects of laws that stemmed the bleeding in the State Retirement System and the old Employment Security Commission. And he has been one of the few Democrats to consistently support efforts to empower the governor — although he dropped the ball at a critical moment this year.

His refusal to cast the crucial vote to ensure passage of a long-overdue bill to abolish the Budget and Control Board and turn executive authority over to the governor has drawn sharp criticism from GOP challenger Deedee Vaughters and groups aligned closely with Gov. Nikki Haley, who are investing heavily in defeating him.

Mr. Setzler says he wasn’t willing to force a vote on the bill, because it’s important to support the Senate’s tradition of extended debate; but frankly, that tradition is abused, and it was being abused during the Budget and Control Board debate.

Ms. Vaughters also has a point when she says Mr. Seltzer shouldn’t have taken advantage of a law that lets legislators triple their pay by officially “retiring” while remaining in office, or accept per diem reimbursements when he lives so near the State House.

But that certainly doesn’t make him “corrupt,” as she claims. And while we wish he had voted differently on the Budget and Control Board cloture vote, and acted with more restraint on his state benefits, those flaws pale in comparison to Ms. Vaughters’ wrong-headed positions on tax policy and public education — two of the most significant issues in the Legislature’s purview.

The Aiken challenger wants to eliminate the income and property taxes and replace them with a sales tax, which would destabilize the tax system and require a business-killing tax rate. She supports efforts to pay parents to abandon public schools, and thinks county legislative delegations should be more involved in local policy, which is about as diametrically opposed as you can get to responsible decision-making.

Let’s be honest: The real reason Ms. Vaughters and the governor and her supporters are going after Mr. Setzler has nothing to do with his pension or expense reimbursements. Just as state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian is fixated on taking out Sen. John Courson because he can’t stand a Republican holding a Senate seat in his increasingly Democratic Richland County, some Republicans can’t stand a Democrat continuing to hold office in Lexington County.

That’s the sort of thing that partisans and ideologues obsess over. It’s the sort of thing that holds our state back. And it’s the sort of thing that Nikki Setzler has made a career of resisting. We need more legislators like that, not fewer. Voters would do themselves, and our state, a favor by returning Mr. Setzler to the Senate for another term.

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