Both candidates for lieutenant governor of South Carolina denounced hate speech and called for promoting civility in politics Monday in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the mailing of bombs to critics of President Donald Trump.
But, in their debate, the lieutenant governor-running mates clashed when it came to solutions for improving education, poverty and health care in the state.
Upstate Republican businesswoman Pamela Evette and Democratic state Rep. Mandy Power Norrell, of Lancaster, faced off Monday in the final debate in the race for South Carolina governor.
The Nov. 6 election marks the first time South Carolina’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor will run as a team.
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Evette, a 51-year-old Travelers Rest business owner and political newcomer, said her business experience and accounting background will bring a set of “fresh eyes” to how to best serve S.C. taxpayers and advance Gov. Henry McMaster’s pro-business agenda of lowering taxes and regulation.
“I’ve seen firsthand ... what high taxes and heavy regulation can do to stifle business,” Evette said.
Norrell, a 45-year-old attorney, said she would help advance state Rep. James Smith’s legislative agenda in a State House controlled by Republicans. She argued that she and Smith have spent their political careers working to “bridge the gap and work across the aisle with Republicans” to get substantive bills passed, from fighting child abuse to promoting solar and renewable energy.
And, she added, experience matters. No one with a car in need of repair would take it to someone who had never fixed a car, she said.
The running mates also spent much of the debate defending the top of their tickets.
Evette defended McMaster’s record of fostering economic expansion, noting companies have promised to add more than 23,000 new jobs and make $8 billion in new investment in the Palmetto State since he assumed office in 2017. Unemployment also has fallen to a record low.
A lawyer from rural South Carolina, Norrell said she is having to file bankruptcies for people in Lancaster because McMaster’s economic-development plan isn’t working. She argued the new jobs numbers fail to account for jobs lost during McMaster’s tenure, population growth and declines in the percentage of South Carolinians either working or looking for work.
Norrell also defended Smith’s pledge to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured South Carolinians, saying not taking the money would be “stupid,” like declining a tax break.
Evette said expanding Medicaid would cost the state money that it doesn’t have. That money, she said, would have to be taken from spending on schools, social services and other government programs, or come from raising taxes — arguing there are better alternatives. Those include promoting the use of telemedicine and loosening the restrictions on nurse practitioners so they can do more to improve the health of rural South Carolinians.
The federal government would cover the cost of expanding Medicaid in the first couple years, and the state’s share would not increase past 10 percent of the cost, Norrell said.
She argued the state is leaving money on the table that would improve health outcomes and boost the state’s economy, adding jobs. And, she predicted, S.C. lawmakers would feel pressed to fund South Carolina’s portion of the Medicaid expansion after residents become accustomed to having health care.
Evette said that answer would scare an accountant, arguing that’s like saying, “The bill is coming, and we’ll figure out how to pay for it once it gets here.”
Asked what they would do to fix K-12 education, Evette said she and McMaster would work to cut the amount of paperwork that teachers must do and consolidate small, failing districts.
Norrell also suggested cutting regulation and offering more innovative programs. She also wants more S.C. schools to include project-based learning and looping, where teachers move from grade to grade with their students.
Asked how to address poverty in the state, Evette said through continuing the governor’s push to attract more businesses and jobs to the state through lower taxes.
“Good, quality jobs is what we need to help the poor … giving them the advantage to spend their money the way they want to,” Evette said.
But without an available skilled workforce, tax incentives and credits for new businesses won’t matter, Norrell argued, saying McMaster has failed to focus on workforce development.
Evette countered the governor has pushed for stronger collaboration between high schools and the state’s technical college system and universities.
Norrell called McMaster’s “notion of cutting taxes” a “nice platitude,” that often merely shifts the tax burden to local governments that have to pick up the revenue shortfall through cuts or higher taxes.
Evette, meanwhile, said Smith and Norrell have failed to detail how they would pay for their plans to improve health care and education. The only solution is to raise taxes, which would cause business to flee, she said. “Then, what is going to solve our problems?”
Norrell responded: “We will not raise taxes,” adding neither she nor Smith have proposed a tax increase during the campaign.