The following is the full text of the Democratic Response to Governor Nikki Haley's State of the State address by Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, as prepared for delivery:
"Hello. I am Mandy Powers Norrell and I represent the Southern half of Lancaster County in the South Carolina House of Representatives.
Like Governor Haley, I was also born and raised in rural South Carolina, and educated in our public schools. But while we have similar backgrounds, we see things from different perspectives.
Governor Haley describes a South Carolina from the perspective of those at the top. I see it from the ground level. And from the perspective of a mother of teenagers in public school and a small business owner in a former textile community, I see hard working people struggling to make ends meet, Senior Citizens having to choose between paying their mortgage and buying their medicine, teachers trying to make do with less than minimally adequate funding, and families grieving after collisions on dangerous roads and bridges.
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Twenty five years ago, Governor Haley and I were both finishing high school. She was in Bamberg and I was in Lancaster. Per-pupil funding in our schools was at an all time high. Our roads and bridges were some of the best in the nation. Our neighbors had jobs with reliable health insurance and stable retirement plans. The future looked bright.
What has changed in the past twenty-five years?
I’ll tell you one thing that has changed. During that time, Republicans have been in almost total control of state government.
They have had the Governor’s mansion, the House of Representatives, the Senate, our congressional delegation, and Republicans currently control every state wide elected office.
Are you proud of our public education system? Are you satisfied with the condition of our roads and bridges? Are you confident that if you got sick, you could afford the treatment?
In the past 25 years, our state has declined in almost every category. We’ve been duped.
I grew up in a textile town. Both of my parents worked for Springs Mills and I worked there during the summers to pay for college. But those mills and that textile economy are gone. What’s worse is that our Republican-led education system is not preparing our children for the economy of today, much less the next economy.
In the past two decades, public education has become grossly underfunded. If you find that hard to believe, ask yourself, did your parents have to send packs of paper, disinfectant wipes, and glue sticks to outfit your classroom on the first day of school each year?
Republican leaders refuse to fund even minimally adequate education for our poor and rural schools. And now they are even refusing to obey a Supreme Court Order requiring them to fund public schools schools equally.
This pattern of defunding is no accident. If public education is brought to its knees, then that strengthens the argument for those Republicans who want to divert our tax money from public schools to private academies that cater to the wealthy.
Public school has always been the great equalizer. It’s the promise that no matter who you are or where you come from, if you’re willing to work hard and sacrifice, you can be anything. And when I talk to children in our schools and ask them what they want to be when they grow up – rich kids, poor kids, kids of all races – they tell me the same things: doctor, lawyer, policeman, president. But we know that the chances of a child from a low income family realizing those goals is not as great as it was a generation ago.
A Democratic Legislature would invest in our public schools – the way we did 25 years ago. Democrats believe that our children are our future and that we need to start TODAY to prepare them for success in this quickly changing world. I bet you agree.
While Republicans talk a big game about economic development, their policies have weakened our small businesses, small towns, and farms.
Just one month ago, Governor Haley turned her back on our agriculture community when farmers, reeling from the flood, asked for disaster assistance. Her unwillingness to help our state’s largest industry has put the future of agriculture in South Carolina at risk. The South Carolina farm community can trust and believe you have a friend and unwavering advocate in Democrats.
You have heard a lot about the businesses that have relocated to our state. Sure the economy has improved in many ways, but I would submit to you that South Carolina’s recovery is part of the national recovery, happening in every single state - not just in South Carolina. January marks the 70th straight month of job growth in our country, so of course South Carolina is sharing in this national trend.
It’s true that we have brought in several out of state and overseas corporations by offering generous incentives funded by our citizens. But what about the local family businesses that are being taxed at the full rate while their larger competitors enjoy subsidies funded by every day South Carolinians like you and me? That’s not fair.
What about the workers who were displaced when their jobs moved overseas who are too young to retire, but all the available jobs only pay a fraction of what they used to make?
What if we didn’t have to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives to convince companies to move to South Carolina? World-class public schools, a healthy workforce, and safe roadways would be far more persuasive incentives than the hundreds of millions in tax dollars our citizens are paying to recruit these companies now.
And speaking of safe roadways - why haven’t we passed a bill to improve our roads and bridges? I remember hearing my Republican colleagues say over a year ago that roads were the most important issue. Lately, you’ve heard Governor Haley call for unity. I agree. We need to start working together to get things done. But what she hasn’t told you is that the fighting is within her own party. Republicans in the Senate actually filibustered their own roads bill last summer until it was dead for the year and while Republicans are fighting amongst themselves, our citizens continue to suffer with tattered roads and dangerous bridges.
Democrats, on the other hand, remain unified in our commitment to pass a bill to reverse the decay of our long-neglected roadways. We hope the Republicans will join us. But make no mistake, if Democrats were in control of the legislature, we would have a roads bill on Governor Haley’s desk within days. Republicans have had over a generation and we still have no solution for our roads and bridges.
I love South Carolina. I know you do too. I especially love living in my hometown where I know the people I meet on the street every day. I know the names of the police officers and emergency workers who protect my neighbors and me. Our greatness comes from our people, not from our politicians. And we have a moral duty to take care of our people, our greatest resource.
Under Republican leadership, though, South Carolina remains one of the most unhealthy states in the nation with one of the highest rates of uninsured citizens.
Did you know that we actually turned down 11 billion dollars in federal funds that would have provided healthcare for 300,000 of our citizens who don’t have it now, and would have created 44,000 new jobs?
Did you know that if you are working but making minimum wage, you would have health care coverage at no cost if the Republicans had only voted with the Democrats to accept these federal funds?
And this money would have come at almost no cost to our state either. You’ve already paid for it with your Federal tax dollars. But Republicans said no.
That does not make sense for our people who need jobs, and it especially does not make sense for those in our state who are sick and who cannot afford to go to the doctor or hospital.
Our state has been through a lot in the past year – from the unspeakable tragedy in Charleston, to the 1000-year flood. These events tested our fabric and showed that South Carolinians are made to endure. But the storm is not over for many South Carolinians. While the flag has come down and the flood waters have receded, as state leaders, it is our responsibility to continue to unify our state and help affected families make a full recovery.
Yet the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet for a generation, we have continued to elect the party that refused federal health care funds, that underfunds public education, and that refuses to address our crumbling roads and bridges.
We want you to know that the South Carolina Democratic Party has been fighting for South Carolinians just like you and me.
But the Democratic Party has made mistakes too. Chief among them is that we have let the other side define themselves as the moral party.
But the truth is you cannot lead on moral issues if you mislead on substantive ones.
You cannot alleviate the hurts of working people by giving tax cuts to the wealthy.
You cannot protect this beautiful earth that God has given us by opening our shores to offshore drilling.
You can’t lift people up by pushing them down.
You can’t call yourself pro-life if you are anti-child.
And you can’t ensure a good education for every child if you take money from our public schools and give it to private schools that cater to the wealthy.
If the Republicans could have given us the South Carolina we want and know is possible, they would have done it a long time ago.
It's time for us as a state to wake up from these distractions and misinformation because we are better than that. We are smarter than that.
We are South Carolinians.
We are a family.
And my colleagues and I urge you to come home to the Democratic Party - the party that cares about you. Everyone is welcome here.
Goodnight. God bless you and God bless the state of South Carolina."