Three of the four candidates for the vacant state Senate District 32 seat agree that the struggling port of Georgetown is the area’s biggest asset and key to economic development.
They differ slightly in their approach to improving the port and in what they offer as the person to take the seat vacated when Yancey McGill stepped aside to take the vacant lieutenant governor slot.
About 300 people packed a warm meeting hall at Bethel AME Church Thursday night, some of them applauding their favorites and becoming animated despite the moderator’s pleas for them to remain quiet so the program could get in all its questions to the candidates.
“The turnout tonight shows how much interest there is,’’ said moderator Al Joseph, leading the program for the sponsors, the nonpartisan Citizens for Progress.
All four candidates are Democrats, and no Republican is running, so the winner of the Sept. 2 party primary will most likely claim the office.
Candidate Sam Floyd of Kingstree did not attend.
Speaking at the forum were state Rep. Carl Anderson of Georgetown, state Rep. Ronnie Sabb of Greeleyville and Cezar McKnight of Kingstree. Sabb and McKnight are attorneys, Anderson is a pastor and insurance agent.
Besides staking out their positions on the major issues, the candidates were given a chance to tell voters who they are.
Sabb said he grew up in a house with holes in the roof and floor, but had an inspiring mentor who was an educator, and went on to college and law school, school board and the legislature.
“We’ve gone from the outhouse to the Statehouse,’’ he said.
Anderson also stressed his modest upbringing on the west side of Georgetown, spending summers working in the tobacco fields and Myrtle Beach motels. He also benefited from education and became a pastor and involved in a family furniture and appliance business before being elected to the House 10 years ago, he said.
McKnight said he grew up in the tiny Williamsburg County community of Salters, later completed college and law school and served in the National Guard.
Anderson and Sabb stressed their experience in elected office, while McKnight said it’s time to do things differently.
“The old way of doing things has passed,’’ McKnight said. He sought the seat two years ago and lost to McGill by fewer than 100 votes.
“I have a vision for the district,’’ he said. “I’d like to finish in ’14 what we started in 2012.’’
All three agreed that the state must do better on funding for public education. Even though the amounts required by law were supplied this year, they said other districts have more to offer and have better facilities, so the funding formulas are not operating fairly.
The mostly-rural district with its handful of small towns, including Georgetown, sprawls over five counties and is one of the poorest sections of the state. Education “is the way out of that,’’ Sabb said.
“We need better classrooms, we need the technologies there,’’ as good as what is available in richer areas such as Charleston and Greenville, Anderson said.
Greenville “looks like the land of milk and honey’’ when it comes to school facilities, McKnight said, but schools in the senate district look like they are stuck in the 1950s.
The three squabbled over how and why some residents of a low-income neighborhood in Plantersville got stuck with a $250 annual sewage service fee, plus monthly bills, and how a grant to cover the costs was lost. But they agreed that grant money to help the customers may still be available and should be sought.