State Sen. Vincent Sheheen has spoken to Michael Burgess’ Lexington high school American history class five times before. But on Monday, Sheheen attracted two new guests – reporters covering the presumed Democratic nominee for governor this year.
The reporters’ presence at River Bluff High School spurred Sheheen to talk about the role of the governor in commanding attention. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s daughter, Rena, is a 10th grader at the school, though she is not part of Burgess’ class.
“You may have heard we have a weak governor in South Carolina,” he said. “I don’t mean the current one, I mean the position. Well, maybe, I mean that.”
The crowd of 40 students laughed before Sheheen continued.
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“The greatest power the governor of South Carolina has is the power of publicity,” Sheheen said. “(Reporters) are here because I am running for governor. That should give you a little taste of the bully pulpit of the governor’s position in South Carolina.”
Sheheen talked about how he wants to take the first three years of the Medicare expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act paid by the federal government entirely, though he dislikes mandates on small businesses.
He said he wants to ease the tax burden on small businesses and attract “value added” work in rural counties, such as crop processors. Sheheen said chasing big economic-development prospects are just part of what’s needed to aid South Carolina’s economy.
“It’s great to recruit (big) companies to South Carolina,” he said. “But if you’re approach to economic development and job growth in your state is totally based on recruiting big businesses, you’re on a race to average at best because every state is out there recruiting.”
Sheheen also talked about education – halting moves to private school tax vouchers, raising teacher pay and ending the obsession with standardized tests. He recalled what happens with his three kids in school.
“When testing came around, it consumed everything,” he said. “It sucked life out of the school and instead of all the creative, wonderful things like you all are doing. This conversation we’re having right here will never be on a standardized test.”
Sheheen said Haley’s $160 million education proposal unveiled last week, which included giving more money to poorer districts, was more of a budget request than reforms like his plan to expand 4th grade kindergarten statewide.
Haley spoke in the Burgess’ Politics in the Palmetto State Speakers Series in December.