SEN. Ronnie Cromer’s opponents in next week’s Republican primary have three main complaints about him: He hasn’t been outspoken and active enough, he’s not a doctrinaire opponent of government and government spending, and he doesn’t live in Lexington County.
They’re probably right on the first count, although we’d rather have a legislator who supports good legislation and opposes bad legislation than an aggressive activist who champions measures that will do our state harm.
The third count has more to do with opportunism than good government: No one charges that Mr. Cromer ignores Lexington County; it’s just that the newly drawn district now has more Lexington than Newberry county voters. In fact, the complaint shows off a valuable quality about Mr. Cromer: To a greater degree than his opponents, he recognizes that while it’s important to represent the district, a state senator is first and foremost a state senator, whose job is to look out for the needs of the entire state. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand how anyone who recognizes that the state needs to stop frittering away money on local projects — which is the main thing that legislators do for their districts — would be fixated on the home address of their legislator.
That leaves that tiresome too-liberal charge. The encouraging thing is that Mr. Cromer’s challengers are not nearly as extreme as a lot of candidates these days, and they reject the idea, fashionable among tea-party adherents, that compromise is a dirty word — no small thing, that. Still, they champion ideas from the far-right side of the Republican Party — which means they’re out of step with 80 percent of the voters in this state, and considerably more than just a majority in Senate District 18.
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Kara Gormley Meador promises to shake up the status quo without the anger that often accompanies such pledges. Yet despite the fact that our state has some of the lowest taxes in the nation and our Legislature has a fixation on tax cuts, “tax reform” in her mind must include cutting taxes. Even after years of budget cuts, she’s convinced we need spending caps. And while she makes a point of saying she wants to strengthen the public schools, every time we asked her for specifics, she turned the conversation back to home schooling and private schools, and the need to excuse parents from paying their taxes if they take their kids out of public schools.
Rich Bolen does the best job explaining the need to accept less than full victories, as with the legislation to abolish the Budget and Control Board, and to seek out creative solutions. But he promotes himself primarily as a “very strong defender of individual freedoms,” which sounds fine, until you hear what he has in mind. His first example was repealing the seat-belt law — thereby increasing the times the rest of us will be forced to pay when the uninsured sustain much more serious injuries than they would have with a seat belt, and increasing the risk to bystanders, since unbelted drivers are less able to control their vehicles after a crash. He said government shouldn’t give the public a false sense of security with regulations that aren’t enforced, but should do away with them instead; one of his examples was health ratings for restaurants.
Alan Hunter sees the role of a legislator not to make law but to tend to the needs of the district, and so his priorities are similarly limited.
In short, the challengers do not make a credible case that they would be better senators than Mr. Cromer, who has developed a good grasp of complex problems facing our state. He has been working for more oversight of state spending, including the regular review of state agency budgets that is embedded in the Department of Administration legislation, and has tried to rein in legislative prerogatives. He understands that our schools aren’t nearly as bad as critics claim, but that they need support and reform. He recognizes how changing one part of the tax code can have unanticipated consequences on other parts; he’s not out to raise taxes or to cut taxes, but to fix them.
Mr. Cromer understands that a legislator’s job is to write state law, not to dictate local government decisions — a concept that hasn’t always been appreciated by lawmakers who represent Lexington County. In fact, he noted that he stopped attending most local council meetings in the district when he realized that could come across as meddling in decisions that were not his to make.
Although Mr. Cromer has supported some proposals we don’t like, on the whole he has shown himself to be, as he puts it, “a commonsense conservative with an open mind” — which we could stand to have a lot more of.