Politics & Government

Gov. McMaster makes big promise in his first TV ad before SC’s November election

Henry McMaster calls for more security in schools in latest TV ad

Gov. Henry McMaster advocates for putting security officers in all South Carolina schools in his latest campaign ad.
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Gov. Henry McMaster advocates for putting security officers in all South Carolina schools in his latest campaign ad.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s first television ad before next month’s election features an ambitious — and expensive — promise.

The spot, “Our Children,” began airing Friday and features the Richland Republican pledging to put a school resource officer in every S.C. public school — a move that would require legislative approval and, more problematically, could cost the state more than $40 million a year.

“Schools are places of learning, places of laughter, places of peace,” McMaster says in the 30-second ad. “We will protect our children, all of our children.”

McMaster has called for more school resource officers since January, when his executive budget asked lawmakers to spend $5 million to hire armed guards. He intensified that push after the Valentine’s Day school shooting in a Parkland, Fla., high school, saying at his March school-safety summit that every S.C. school should have a resource officer.

The Legislature, ultimately, approved spending $2 million from the state’s $8 billion budget to hire officers — the first time the state ever has paid for resource officers. Lawmakers also OK’d spending $15 million on school security.

Just 607 of the state’s 1,195 public schools have resource officers, according to the S.C. Education Department. Most that don’t have officers can’t afford them. And, in some cases, officers are stretched thin, serving more than one school.

McMaster’s campaign says it is spending six figures to run the ad statewide.

The incumbent governor follows his Democratic opponent to the airwaves.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, began airing his minute-long TV ad, “The Call,” in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville on Tuesday in an effort to highlight his military service and boost his name recognition.

Smith said Friday he also supports putting a resource officer in every school. The 22-year House veteran said he is part of a legislative effort to hire those officers by 2020 and put a mental health counselor in every school by 2022.

“We can get there,” Smith said. “I’m glad the governor has finally chosen to think this is a great idea. We’ve been working on this.”

McMaster and Smith both suggest paying for the new officers out of the state’s existing budget, already stretched thin by underfunded state agencies and underpaid workers. Neither said if programs should be cut to pay for the new officers.

“This is a question of priority, and it is one of the governor’s highest priorities — to provide for the safety of our children,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said. “That absolutely can come from prioritizing existing funds.”

In the State of the State address in January 2018, Gov. McMaster said he wants trained police officers posted in all SC schools at all times.

Staff writer Tom Barton contributed to this report. Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.