Politics & Government

Gubernatorial candidates take crowded stage

Watch the debate: Video courtesy of myetv.org. More information about the debate can be found here.

Ten candidates vying to be governor of South Carolina left little doubt Tuesday of the importance of natural resources and the environment.

From global warming to off-shore oil drilling and nuclear waste storage, the candidates were grilled by journalists in a tightly woven debate on their views on protecting the environment without stunting economic growth.

Debate organizers said it was the first time in state history all the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor took a stage together, to address issues pertinent to voters and critical to the state's future.

"The reason is, there is tremendous economic benefit derived in this state from our natural resources," said Emmett Davis, chairman of the South Carolina Natural Resources Society board, which sponsored the debate.

Excluding farming, which still is big business in the Palmetto State, Davis cited a recent study setting the economic impact of the state's natural resources at $29.1 billion annually, accounting for 236,000 jobs.

The five Democrats and five Republicans, comprising one of the larger gubernatorial fields in recent state history, took 10 questions. Though he wasn't there, the sharpest criticism during the 90-minute debate probably went to Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for a cap-and-trade proposal designed to address global warming.

Republican candidates took aim at Graham, while Democrats generally backed him on the issue.

"Cap and trade is nothing but a tax," which leads the state in the wrong direction, said Attorney General Henry McMaster.

Republican Rep. Nikki Haley, a Lexington Republican, said further restricting emissions on American industries would put the country at a competitive disadvantage.

"India and China are trying to catch up (with the United States on jobs)," said Haley, the only female in the race, adding that she was "disappointed" with Graham's position, which also includes an expansion of off-shore oil drilling.

"No," said Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer to cap and trade. "To put our state at a competitive disadvantage with China and others? No."

U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett cited a conservative think tank that says cap and trade would cost the state 18,000 jobs and add $1,400 to the average power bill.

Democrats differed.

"I don't understand why we can't be clean, green and competitive," said Jim Rex, state education superintendent.

"We need a new generation of leadership," said Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden. "Being on the good side of things shouldn't cost (us jobs)," he said

"The only people who are debating global warming are the politicians," said Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod. "Jobs and the environment are not mutually exclusive," he said.

The candidates did not totally agree on whether global warming was a man-made problem, though some Republicans agreed that man at least plays a role.

"Yeah, I think it is a problem," Barrett said.

Sen. Larry Grooms of Bonneau, a Republican, disagreed most sharply on that issue. "It could be global cooling," Grooms said. "I think the debate should continue."

The candidates also disagreed on the path forward for greater energy independence and a reduction in emissions.

Republican candidates strongly favor greater reliance on nuclear-generated electricity as the future power base of the state, and several Democrats agreed.

Another area in which the candidates had a wide-range of views was offshore drilling.

Grooms said the state can safely drill offshore for natural gas, but the prospect of an oil spill left many of the candidates concerned about harming the state's thriving tourism industry.

"Go after oil if it's there (off the S.C. coast)," McMaster said, "natural gas and wind, too. But nuclear is the future."

Grooms also strongly supported nuclear energy as the state's best opportunity for future energy production.

Others were skeptical about offshore drilling, though.

"There is no rationale for endangering our coastline, or those of our neighboring states," Rex said.

"We would be fools, fools, to jeopardize our tourism industry (to drill offshore) and I would not support it," said Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Kershaw Democrat.

Democrat Dwight Drake agreed.

"We should continue to explore the idea (of offshore drilling) and not write anything off," Barrett said.

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