Politics & Government

Richland senator to give Democrats’ response to McMaster’s State of the State

A Richland County state senator — and former Democratic lieutenant governor hopeful — says he plans to use S.C. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s State of the State address to strike a bipartisan tone.

The S.C. Senate Democratic Caucus said Tuesday that state Sen. John Scott will deliver the Democratic response to McMaster’s 2019 State of the State speech Wednesday.

Scott’s rebuttal will follow immediately the governor’s address to a joint session of the General Assembly, scheduled for 7 p.m.

Scott said he plans to touch on a number of key legislative priorities for Democrats, including addressing pay inequity, modernizing public education and securing access to health care for all South Carolinians.

“The people of South Carolina need vision,” he said. “Our schools are coming apart and our higher education has not become affordable to basic families, and that’s not the way it’s suppose to be. Teachers and our state employees need raises. We have a lot of work to do.

“They don’t need any more empty promises and pledges.”

The owner of a Columbia real estate company, Scott, 65, said he sees the Democratic response as an opportunity to call on both parties to work together, and “make it abundantly clear” that the future of the state depends on “a bipartisan effort.”

“I’m not interested in debating the governor but working with the governor to solve some of these problems,” Scott told The State on Tuesday.

Scott has represented the northwestern portion of Richland County in the state Senate since 2009. Before that, he was in the S.C. House for nine terms.

Last year, Scott joined Florence attorney Marguerite Willis as her lieutenant governor-running mate in June’s Democratic primary, losing to former state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, and his running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster.

Earlier this month, McMaster outlined his priorities for his first four-year term, emphasizing low taxes, reforming the state’s school system and growing the Palmetto State’s economy.

In his inaugural address, the governor promised “bold” education reform. But, he irked some Democrats by painting what they said was too rosy a view of the state, which ranks near the bottom in the nation in measures of education, health care and poverty.

The governor’s 2019-20 executive budget proposal, released last week, calls for a 5 percent pay hike for public school teachers and a $200 million refund to S.C. taxpayers. It also includes more investment in the state’s rural communities, and a proposal to freeze rising college and university tuition costs.

Scott said he is eager to hear more specifics from the governor in his State of the State address Wednesday, including how he proposes to attract more jobs to rural South Carolina. Democrats, he added, will continue to push the governor and the GOP-controlled Legislature to expand the joint federal-state Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, saying the move would create thousands of new jobs and help low-income South Carolinians find and afford medical care as rural hospitals close.

McMaster has said the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid. Instead, he has focused on economic development as a way to bring higher paying jobs to the state and lift families out of poverty, so they can afford health coverage.

Past lawmakers who have delivered the Democratic response have included rising stars within the party, including Smith and Norrell, who used the spotlight to elevate their political profiles ahead of runs for statewide office.

Scott, though, said he has no interest in that.

“I’m not interested in bashing anyone,” he said. “We need to talk about issues rather than politics. … The election is over.”

The Governor’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

How to watch

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster will give his 2019 State of the State address Wednesday to a joint session of the General Assembly

When: 7 p.m.

To watch or listen: The address will air live on SC ETV, S.C. Public Radio and on scetv.org.

Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.