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Political season kicks off with candidates for SC governor trading barbs

08/28/2014 8:21 PM

08/29/2014 12:27 AM

The Gamecocks and Aggies were not the only foes battling Thursday in Columbia.

South Carolina’s gubernatorial rivals, Republican incumbent Nikki Haley and Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen, traded barbs on gameday, too.

Haley’s camp took Sheheen to task for an ad that said the Republican governor covered up the hacking at the Department of Revenue for more than two weeks. Sheheen countered by saying the governor held a taxpayer-funded rally Thursday, trying to show improvement at the troubled Department of Social Services.

Sheheen was referring to Haley’s remarks at a rally of child welfare advocates at the State House.

Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as CASA, holds an annual event on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, executive director Paige Greene said. This year, CASA, a public agency, decided to mark the day with a march, culminating in a State House rally.

CASA partnered with the S.C. Department of Social Services, a Cabinet agency that reports to Haley, to plan the event. Greene said CASA invited Haley to speak. Social Services has been the subject of state Senate hearings into the deaths of children who had contact with the agency.

“We’ve had to deal with an issue that I never thought that I would deal with, and that was: How do you protect children from their own parents?” Haley said in brief remarks at the rally.

Haley said Social Services has made improvements to help its caseworkers by forging partnerships with the state’s alcohol, drug abuse, mental health and law enforcement agencies.

She also said politics should be put aside.

“We’ve all got to agree that the only person that matters in this is that child,” she said. “And, in order for us to do that, there’s no passing the buck, there’s no pointing fingers.”

After the rally, Sheheen told reporters Haley’s “blatant hypocrisy and dishonesty ... must stop.”

“Nikki Haley just had a state-funded campaign rally” and “she had it about an agency, her agency, that has been a complete and utter disaster,” he said.

Sheheen said Haley is “pretending that things are OK,” when Richland County was home to Robert Guinyard Jr., a child who was beaten to death in his home after repeated calls to Social Services.

Richland County Council chairman Norman Jackson also spoke at the Thursday rally, calling on Haley and other state leaders to take action, and ensure Social Services caseworkers have the proper training and support.

“There comes a time when we must take a position, to let go of politics and embrace what is morally, ethically right,” he said.

Carla Damron, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers in South Carolina, attended the rally in protest.

Like other critics of Social Services, Damron said the state’s child welfare workers have been pressured “to reduce their numbers (of children in the Social Services system) at all costs, and the cost was children, and that is not Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.”

McMaster defends Haley

At the same time Sheheen was meeting with reporters, former state Attorney General Henry McMaster held a press conference to chastise Sheheen for an ad that his campaign released last week. That ad criticized Haley for her handling of the theft of records belonging to 6.4 million taxpayers, their children and businesses in 2012. The security breach was the nation’s worst at a state agency.

McMaster, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor and a close Haley ally, said the ad was inaccurate in saying the governor “hid” the hacking for more than two weeks. McMaster said Haley was following the requests of the Secret Service and State Law Enforcement Division to withhold news of the breach for 16 days while those agencies investigated.

“To do otherwise would be irresponsible,” McMaster said. “She could have ignored the request, and the investigation likely would have been impeded or even obstructed, and justice would have stopped right there.”

Nothing about the investigation has been released nearly two years since the breach became public, and no arrests have been made. Also, no verified reports have surfaced about identity-theft cases that directly resulted from the hacking.

McMaster, a former U.S. attorney in South Carolina, said probes can take years and that releasing information too soon can tip off the criminals.

SLED said the investigation is ongoing. Efforts to reach the Secret Service were unsuccessful Thursday.

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Kristin Sosanie defended Sheheen’s ad, saying if the Camden lawyer had been governor, he would have shared news about the hacking immediately and released a report on how the breach occurred. The state Department of Revenue has refused to make public that report.

“Law enforcement will air on the side to secrecy,” she said. “A governor can waive that for the public’s right to know.”

Sosanie also said McMaster — who is running for the state’s No. 2 post, which oversees the state Office of Aging — should be looking out for the seniors who could be hurt by the breach.

“If he was half as concerned with seniors as he is with the governor’s race, he’d be in a better position (to win),” Sosanie said.

McMaster of Columbia faces Democratic state Rep. Bakari Sellers of Bamberg in the lieutenant governor’s race.

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A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to Follow The Buzz @buzzatthestate. Follow Cassie @cassielcope. Follow Jamie @jamiemself. Follow Andy @andyshain.

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