Politics & Government

Who do these SC veterans support for governor? Not the Afghan war veteran

A coalition of more than 50 S.C. veterans, including Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Gen. James Livingston and Adjutant General Bob Livingston, Wednesday endorsed Republican Henry McMaster in his bid for a full four-year term as S.C. governor.

McMaster — who is running against Afghanistan combat veteran James Smith, a Democratic state representative — rolled out the military endorsement at the state’s military museum just four weeks before the Nov. 6 election. The endorsement came a week after Smith launched a TV ad, “The Call,” in an effort to highlight his military service and boost his name recognition.

Veterans are an important voting bloc in South Carolina.

The state is home to eight major military installations and more than 400,000 military veterans. That is one of every 10 adults in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Both McMaster and Smith say they want to elevate the state’s Division of Veterans Affairs to a Cabinet-level agency and give tax breaks to retired veterans.

“You couldn’t ask for a better economy than you have here in the state of South Carolina, and that’s what veterans are looking for,” Livingston told reporters. “They want to come to a state, when they get out of the military, where they can get a good job.”

Since taking office as governor in 2017, McMaster has announced that companies plan to create 23,000 new jobs in the state and invest nearly $8 billion, but S.C. manufacturers are having difficulty finding skilled workers.

“I talk to companies like Boeing, Volvo and all these large companies, and they always look at me and say, ‘General, how can we get these great veterans to come to South Carolina to be part of the workforce?’” Livingston said. “And I look at them and I say, ‘We’re working on it, and I want you to know the governor’s working on it.’ We’ve really got to accelerate that opportunity today.”

McMaster said he plans to push recommendations outlined by the S.C. Veterans Advisory Committee, including providing in-state tuition for veterans, their spouses and children, and making it easier for service members to vote when they are out of the country.

“Our rich military tradition keeps us strong ... and has kept this nation strong,” McMaster said. “It is the duty — it is the aspiration and hope — of our state government to see that we do all we can to keep that tradition strong and thank our veterans.”

Smith, a major in the S.C. Army National Guard, has been endorsed publicly by a handful of veterans.

If elected, he has said he would push for the creation of special programs to match veterans with jobs and expand the “Troops for Teachers” program. That program helps service members and veterans begin new careers as K-12 school teachers.

“I’ve got a long record serving our country and our state,” Smith said. “While I appreciate the governor joining in the effort, I’ll continue to lead and take South Carolina where we need to go.”

McMaster was in the U.S. Army Reserves, in the Judge Advocate General Corps, from 1969 to 1975 but did not deploy overseas.

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83