He wants lawmakers to release their tax returns publicly. He wants expectant mothers to register so the state can track their offspring and offer services if their children are not thriving. To fix education, he says “a third of teachers need to be fired” while the rest need their salaries doubled.
At a recent campaign stop covered by the Lancaster News, Democrat Phil Noble bet a man who was challenging him from the audience, “I’ll kiss your ass on Main Street if we’re not 50th (in education), and I’ll give you half an hour to gather a crowd.”
Colorful language and long-shot proposals mark Noble’s campaign for governor.
That style likely will be on full display when the Charleston businessman and other Democrats running for governor – state Rep. James Smith of Columbia and newcomer Marguerite Willis of Florence – debate Friday at the Palmetto State Progressive Summit in Columbia.
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Noble is running as a political outsider and, as such, has no record of governing to defend. That allows him frequently to take aim at legislators. But, if elected, he would have to work with them hand-in-hand to get anything done.
It’s a strategy that has some advantages but perhaps no payoff, political observers say.
“He’s not tied down to what the Legislature is doing” which “allows him to be more free-wheeling and shoot from the hip,” said S.C. Democratic consultant Lachlan McIntosh. “(But) if he’s not willing to raise serious money, he’s not going to go very far.”
Former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, who beat Noble in the race for party chairman in 2011, says Noble’s campaign is not serious.
“He (Noble) just wants to talk about ideas, pie in the sky,” Harpootlian said. “It’s great stuff to espouse, wonderful in a college seminar.”
Friday, S.C. voters will get their own chance to size up Noble, Smith and Willis when they are on the same stage.
It’s a rare, early opportunity to see the candidates interact, taking on the issues and each other. For candidates at a fundraising disadvantage, including Noble, a forum is of even greater importance to helping him get his message out.
Smith, a veteran legislator and Afghanistan War combat veteran, widely is seen as the torch bearer for the party establishment, support reflected by the early endorsements of prominent Democrats across the state.
Willis, an antitrust attorney with Nexsen Pruet law firm in Columbia, announced her candidacy only this week.
Noble has been a staple in S.C. Democratic politics for decades, running a political consulting firm and as the longtime president of the S.C. New Democrats.
However, Noble would be a newcomer to public office if elected. Noble lost his only bid for public office in 1994 when he finished fourth in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, winning 13 percent of the vote.
A look at some of Noble’s proposals:
▪ Get rid of failing teachers
How? By giving teachers “radical opportunities ... to teach” and imposing on them “radical accountability for performance.”
Still working out the details of his education plan, Noble said he wants to cut the state’s testing calendar to one test when students start the school year and one when they leave for summer, a fairer way to gauge student progress, he says.
Teachers still would be required to meet goals, based on student performance. They would get help in their first few years in the classroom, including from “an education SWAT team to get them to where they need to be.” After five years, if the teacher still is struggling to perform, “they’re gone.”
“We get rid of a third of the teachers that way,” Noble said. “They’ve got five years to do it. And if you can’t get your act together in five years, then you shouldn’t be there.”
▪ Dramatically raise the salaries of the best teachers
Noble said the state should aim for a 50 percent pay raise in the next few years for teachers who are meeting performance goals. Those salaries should double, he said, “soon thereafter.”
(It’s unclear how much Noble’s proposal would cost the state, but the price tag would be huge, requiring drastic cuts to other programs or a new revenue source for the state.)
On improving child welfare
▪ Register mothers, track children
Improving education means getting to at-risk children early, Noble says. A system to track children, starting before they are born, would help identify families that need state services, he said. The tracking would start with pregnant women registering with the state.
“We need to understand who she is and what her needs are going to be and what is her ability to provide those needs to herself and her family,” he said.
In theory, the tracking system would show if a “family needs help, access to daycare, books in the home, if the kid’s getting vaccinated, if he’s enrolled in the CHIP program,” Noble said.
A health care worker might check in to ensure that a child has had a doctor’s checkup recently, for example. In another example Noble provided, the tracking system might show a child has a “single parent” in a home where the “electricity has been cut off three times,” the police have been called for disturbances and someone living there was arrested for “running a meth lab.”
Asked about privacy issues, Noble said he’s still working out the details, but the system would connect existing programs. “I’m talking about taking what we’ve got and making it work better.”
On corruption and ethics
Noble says the state suffers from a “plantation politics system where the Legislature controls everything.”
The essence of the problem is money in politics, he says.
To address those problems, Noble proposes:
▪ Banning campaign contributions from political action committees. PACs are tied to special interests, including corporations, that have a corrupting influence on lawmakers, Noble says.
▪ A lifetime ban on former legislators becoming lobbyists
▪ Requiring lawmakers to disclose their tax returns publicly every year. (Noble has promised to show his own tax returns to The State, but has not yet fulfilled that request.)
▪ Banning lawyer-legislators from representing clients before state boards, commissions or agencies or representing state agencies. That rule change likely would affect a quarter of the state’s legislators, who are attorneys.
The Bernie of the primary?
By railing against corruption and the influence of special interests, Noble is aiming to be the Bernie Sanders of the June Democratic primary, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.
(Noble’s campaign adviser, Chris Covert, was Sanders’ S.C. state director. However, Sanders lost the state’s presidential primary in a landslide to Hillary Clinton.)
“Sanders was able to really excite and inspire people,” Knotts said. “The jury is still out on whether Noble can get the following.”
On whether he can win, Noble points to a recent poll showing him in the lead and says the column he writes for some S.C. newspapers likely means he’s known to many voters.
He also insists his proposals are not out of reach.
“The single biggest challenge at the State House is convincing people it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Want to watch?
Who: Progress South Carolina, an advocacy group for progressive issues, is hosting the Palmetto State Progressive Summit at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center
What: Three Democratic candidates for governor – Phil Noble, state Rep. James Smith and Marguerite Willis – will debate. (Republican candidates declined to participate.)
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
Watch online: Progress South Carolina will broadcast the debate via Facebook Live. Find them at @ProgressSouth.