Politics & Government

SC 5th District candidates spar over health care, guns, more in TV forum


Underdog candidates for South Carolina’s open congressional seat tried to gain ground with 5th District voters, taking shots at opponents in their only joint appearance ahead of next Tuesday’s special election.

In his opening comment, Democrat Archie Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs financial adviser, took a swing at Republican Ralph Norman, a former S.C. House representative, saying he had “insulted police officers” by opposing a workers’ compensation plan that would cover mental injuries incurred by officers in the line of duty.

But the 30-minute forum – more of a discussion than a debate – immediately moved on to other topics. Parnell made other references to “my opponent” throughout the sit-down discussion, but he and Norman never directly engaged on the issues.

Parnell and Norman were joined by two third-party candidates for the Thursday taping of the S.C. ETV forum, which airs Friday at 7:30 p.m.

To win in the Republican-leaning district on Tuesday, Parnell needs to pick up support. Polls have shown Parnell down between 10 and 17 points to Norman. Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney won in 2016 with a 20-point lead.

Mulvaney resigned the seat earlier this year to take a job as White House budget director under President Donald Trump, paving the way for Tuesday’s special election.

Green Party candidate David Kulma and American Party nominee Josh Thornton, both of Rock Hill, also participated in the forum, lessening the chance of a clash between Norman and Parnell.

With the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act as the biggest lightning rod in the current Congress, candidates staked out opposing stances on health care.

Norman said he largely supports the Republican health plan that passed the House earlier this year, saying Trump and the GOP are trying to implement the campaign promise to “repeal and replace” Obama.

“This thing takes time to come to,” Norman said. “The press was jumping on (Trump) for not having the votes ... (but) it’s a complicated issue that’s been in place for seven years,” he said.

Norman argued instead that consumers should have the option to buy insurance across state lines and set up expanded health savings accounts to control their own health care options.

But Parnell said the GOP plan would reduce Medicaid and children’s health coverage in order to pay for tax cuts for higher income brackets.

“What we need to do is take what benefits 70 percent of the population in this state and fix it,” Parnell said of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation.

Parnell said he would like to see customers automatically enrolled in a default plan under Obamacare. Kulma, a Winthrop University music professor, and Thornton, a high-school teacher, support a single-payer health care system paid for by the federal government. In a battle to win the mantle of most progressive, Kulma challenged Parnell to endorse the single-payer system as well.

“So you won’t join other Democrats in calling for (a) single-payer (system)?” he asked. “There’s more than 100 in the House.”

The ETV discussion was held the day after a shooting that injured a congressman and others in the Washington area. Norman, who has a concealed weapons permit, said he would protect gun rights in the aftermath of the shooting.

“I’m going to protect the Second Amendment. That’s why the NRA endorsed me,” said Norman, who told the Associated Press after the forum that more people should carry guns.

Parnell said he wanted to close the “Charleston loophole” that allowed convicted church shooter Dylann Roof to purchase a gun. Parnell also said he wants to bring more civil discourse to Washington.

“I’m the only candidate who’s talked consistently about Democrats and Republicans needing to talk together, not shout at each other,” he said.

SC’s 5th District forum

A look at what the four candidates running to succeed former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney have to say:

“We need to end slavery in our prisons... There’s a clause in the 13th Amendment that allows us to enslave prisoners, and we do so to make lots of money for very rich people.”

– David Kulma, Green Party

"You start with what Mick Mulvaney is doing, analyze the budget and make specific cuts. The president has advocated increased security and infrastructure spending, and while he's doing that we're cutting things on the books that should have been sunset years ago."

– Republican Ralph Norman

“People think Trump is taking the country a bit off the rails. Unlike my opponent, who’s lockstep with Trump, a lot of people I’ve talked to say they’re actually frightened about what’s happening.”

– Democrat Archie Parnell

“We have two sides where, when one says ‘up,’ one says ‘down’ automatically... Compared to where we’re leading from, (Norman and Parnell) are on the extreme right and left.”

– Josh Thornton, American Party