Politics & Government

GOP leaders praise focus, Democrats decry ‘almost insulting’ rosy view of SC

Gov. Henry McMaster during the national anthem at his inauguration ceremony Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, at the South Carolina State House.
Gov. Henry McMaster during the national anthem at his inauguration ceremony Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, at the South Carolina State House. tdominick@thestate.com

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster heartened Republicans and irked some Democrats with his inaugural address, promising major education reform and insisting South Carolina will continue “winning.” What eight influential lawmakers had to say about the Columbia Republican’s speech:

‘Focusing on education’

“The governor had a lot of substance in his speech. Obviously, I was excited to see that he’s focusing on education in South Carolina, that he’s focusing on infrastructure in the rural areas of this state. A lot of what he said goes along with a lot of what we’re looking at doing. We have kept in fairly close communication with the governor. ... We know where he wants to go, and I think we’re going to try to help him go there.”

— S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington.

‘Very encouraging’

“He tackled some of the big challenges that we have, with workforce development and education, both at the K-12 level and higher ed. ... I agree with him on that. Then, he laid out a vision on how he’d like to address them. ... That suggests to me that the governor is going to be actively engaged himself in this process, in this reform movement. If he does that, then we have a good opportunity to make some significant changes.”

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield

‘Almost insulting’

“The bottom line is that there are thousands of South Carolinians that just aren’t ‘winning.’ … They just aren’t winning. To paint that rosy picture is truly almost insulting and a discredit to them.

“We’ve got teachers across our state that are (paid) 15 percent below the Southeastern average, who are fighting every single day to stay in their profession that they love and enjoy but they’re being run out of it because they can’t afford it. I don’t think they’re winning.

“Because of that, we’ve got students all across our public schools that aren’t getting the education they deserve, so I don’t think they’re winning.

“We’ve got thousands upon thousands of working families out there that barely scrape by to make ends meet, and we’re denying them Medicaid coverage because we’re not going to accept tax dollars that we’ve already sent to Washington. I don’t think they’re winning. ...

“I heard rose-colored glasses that I think we’re past. We need to get serious and try to address these problems that continue to plague our state.”

State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Orangeburg

‘It’s South Carolina first’

“It’s South Carolina first. And how do you keep South Carolina moving forward? We work together. We’re all South Carolinians. We all have the affinity and love for South Carolina. It’s teamwork. It’s team South Carolina, and that’s what he talked about. Isn’t it great that we have an opportunity to walk alongside the governor in working for the state? ... You have the executive branch and the legislative branch working for the betterment of South Carolina.”

House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York.

‘Talk is one thing’

“Many of the issues and priorities that the governor expounded upon today are things that we’ve been talking about – not only as the Legislative Black Caucus, but as Democrats ... — particularly the focus on education and economic development and a focus on rural areas. Those are things we’ve been waiting on for years and years. The important thing is that it gets done. But it’s going to take a team effort to do that. Talk is one thing. Action is another. The devil is in the details.”

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus

‘Hit all the key points’

“He hit all of the key points that he needed to hit. He talked about education. He talked about economic development. He talked about training the workforce. He also did one thing that I really liked … to say, ‘We don’t have to spend all (the budget surplus money) and that there maybe ought to be some tax rebates.’ That’s an idea I’m very interested in.”

— House budget committee chairman Murrell Smith, R-Sumter

‘Education is a priority’

“It was a strong speech that laid out a clear vision that reflects what we intend to do in the General Assembly, as far as making sure that education is a priority. In the coming weeks, we’ll see a transformative plan for overhauling education that’s long overdue.”

State Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington.

‘We saw this crisis coming’

“It does (feel good to hear the governor support education reform), with the exception of the fact that ... we saw this crisis coming. We wish Republicans wouldn’t wait until we’re in a crisis to actually do something about it. But we’re happy it is an agenda item. To hear him talk about bold moves is the thing that moved me the most. I went and congratulated him and told him that that is what’s going to make Democrats get on board and make sure that he is successful.”

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.