In a speech Monday, state Rep. James Smith bewailed South Carolina’s low teacher pay, decried party politics and said he would work to establish a cabinet-level energy post.
“Money is important in our education system and, right now, we are among the lowest of starting salaries for teachers in the country,” said Smith, 50, an Afghanistan combat veteran and Columbia attorney who told the Columbia Rotary Club he wants to be known as “the education governor.”
“We’ve got to make sure we value our teachers more than we do now,” said the Columbia Democrat, who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor.
Smith faces Charleston businessman Phil Noble and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis in the June Democratic primary.
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If elected governor, Smith said he would work to reduce class sizes and ensure students in rural counties had advantages, including access to high-speed internet, that more well-to-do school districts have.
Smith, a state representative since 1997, did not detail where the money would come from to hike teachers’ salaries but said some improvements could be made by more focused thinking on education problems.
Referring to the debacle created by the abandonment of a nuclear reactor project in Fairfield County by SCANA subsidiary SCE&G and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, Smith said he will work to “fix our energy future” and add a cabinet-level energy post. “We’re going to write our own energy future, and we’re going to make sure we incorporate renewables, and we drive rates down.”
Smith also decried party politics.
High-profile hot-button battles over cultural issues “don’t educate a child or pave a road or move our state forward,” Smith said.
“We have got to find a place in our politics where we realize there are so many other things more important than party.”