Part dinner party and part pep rally, Democrats gathered Wednesday night at The River Rat to ask why not them for U.S. House Dist. 5?
And, more specifically, which one of them?
About 150 people turned out for the Greater Lake Wylie Progressives candidate forum. Democrats Alexis Frank, Les Murphy and Archie Parnell are among 15 candidates looking to replace Mick Mulvaney after he left the seat to become President Donald Trump’s budget director. The primary vote is May 2, followed by the special election June 20.
At recent Republican forums candidates pointed to the November election night as cause for renewed optimism and a reason for running. Democrats, too, spoke of how the election of Trump has been a pivotal event for them. They weren’t talking optimism.
“I wept,” said Frank, a 26-year-old Army veteran from Rock Hill. “I was heartbroken. I didn’t see this coming. None of us did.”
Frank and her friends decided they were “tired of just saying we were going to do things” after the election. So she put a platform together to run.
She said frustration has been mounting toward the Trump presidency, and she “gained my own type of steam as he was gaining his.”
Parnell pointed to recent executive decisions. A list of proposed federal infrastructure improvements surfaced without anything for this state, he said.
“South Carolina needs to be at the table,” Parnell said.
Internet privacy is in danger, too, he said, talking about recent legislation that narrowly passed both houses of Congress with mostly Republican support. Trump said he’s inclined to the sign the bill that reverses an Obama administration ban on internet providers sharing or selling consumers’ web browsing habits without their consent.
“This is something that will take away our privacy and sell it to big corporations to trade it,”Parnell said.
Murphy, a disabled Marine veteran from Fort Mill, spoke of being trained for service under Obama and enduring the new administration.
All expressed concern with the immediate and long-term future of the country under Trump’s watch.
“Things are happening every minute,” Parnell said, “and we have to be prepared every minute.”
If any of the three Democrats takes the seat in June, up next would be working with the Republican-led legislative and executive branches. Candidates were asked Wednesday how they plan to get much done.
Murphy pointed to his Marine training. He is a “solution-solver” with the persistence for the task, he said. With a dozen screws in his feet making it difficult to stand after his military service, Murphy still completed a 23-month program in veterans affairs and has experience with the Department of Homeland Security. He knows both the government and the Marine spirit.
“We win because we don’t give up,” he said.
Parnell points to his endorsement from former Rep. John Spratt, the York County Democrat who held the seat before Mulvaney for about 30 years. He was the district representative, Parnell said, “that really reached across the aisle to get things done.” Parnell also noted his own career in the tax departments of U.S. companies abroad and knowledge of federal tax law.
“I’ve had to deal with foreign governments face-to-face,” Parnell said.
A former Army paralegal, Frank just finished graduate school the week before the debate. As a biracial student and member of the military culture, the idea of being a freshman representative in the minority party doesn’t phase her.
“I’ve been a freshman about three times, and I’m quite used to being a minority,” she said.
Frank says a representative who listens to and acts on the needs of constituents still can find plenty of common ground in Washington.
“We all operate differently, but we all want basically the same thing,” she said.
Asked for each of their top two issues, all three candidates named healthcare. Universal healthcare “is a cornerstone” of Murphy’s platform, while Frank wants to be vigilant even if early Republican efforts to undo healthcare reform from the Obama administration aren’t successful.
“The Republicans will come back, and they will try to destroy what we have again,” she said.
Fixing the Affordable Care Act is preferable to repealing it, she said.
“When you see a flaw in the system you don’t demolish it,” Frank said. “You get your best people together and you fix it.”
Parnell said more ideas need to be discussed, such as auto enrollment where people would have to opt out rather than opt in for coverage or face a penalty. The cost of prescription drugs is “much too high,” he said. Given drugs meet FDA approval and are prescribed legitimately, Parnell sees possibility in opening options beyond borders.
“People should be able to import drugs from other countries,” he said. “(However), there should be limits on that.”
Candidates also alluded to, or outright stated, pro choice positions in relation to healthcare coverage. As a man, Murphy said it wasn’t his role telling women what to do with their bodies.
“The issue of choice and reproductive rights is not mine,” he said.
Murphy looks at his own life and the role education played. He wants the same opportunities for children today.
“When you know better, you do better,” he said.
Frank said Democrats “need to fight against” the demolishing of the federal department of education. She is against a voucher system she said would take money away from public schools and hurt special needs and other students.
“Education and healthcare are fundamental rights that you get as a human being,” she said. “It’s not just for the people who can afford it.”
Frank said she talked with a Fort Mill resident who postponed a move to Chester so the child could finish school there.
“Why are those children in Chester not getting that same education people are flocking to Fort Mill for?” Frank said. “That is not OK.”
Parnell said all the ideas discussed have to do with finding ways to fund them.
“Taxes is a big thing I can help with,” he said.
His corporate tax background means he not only can advocate for programs, but show ways to fund them. There are “trillions of dollars” outside the country in U.S. companies that could be taxed with law changes. There is a reason, he said, federal budget decisions are made in a ways and means committee.
“We need to find the ways and means to fund the government,” Parnell said.
While Republicans at recent forums talked about eliminating or limiting the Environmental Protection Agency, the Democrats predictably sided the other direction.
“There’s more than enough scientific data to show our planet is sick,” Murphy said.
Frank said Lake Wylie of all places should understand a clean environment is “a huge way of life for us” given the lake itself. She isn’t a fan of EPA comments such as what Chad Connelly of Newberry said at the March 20 Republican forum in Fort Mill.
“They’re not economic terrorists,” she said. “They’re making sure we have clean air and clean water.”
Any Democrat looking to win the Dist. 5 seat is going to need a boost from the other side in the 11 largely red counties making up the district.
Parnell would lean on his experience as a Washington trial lawyer and tax expert, along with his native South Carolina values to show voters he is an informed pick.
“I think I’m the Democrat who has a chance to win this election,” Parnell said.
Parnell “would doubt” current representatives have as thorough an understanding of the tax code.
“That’s what we need, people who can talk about these things in detail,” he said.
Murphy carries a concealed weapon and supports responsible gun ownership — positions likely to appeal to some Republicans. He lost a cousin during his childhood to an incident involving a gun, and Murphy is teaching his own child about the importance of gun safety.
“Gun control means a lot to me, as do the rights allowed in the second amendment,” Murphy said.
Though she wouldn’t do it again, Frank admits she once voted for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Her values changed since then, but she understands the Republican perspective, too.
“I was swayed with what other people wanted me to say,” Frank admitted.
Frank said a representative who listens and serves constituents can overcome political leanings. She sees the role as about forming relationships.
“Sometimes that’s more important than the politics behind some of those things,” Frank said.
Another Republican calling card, the military, could serve the candidates well. Parnell grew up on an Air Force base. Murphy served in the Marines. Frank served in the Army, and her husband remains an active duty Marine.
Murphy pulled out his phone during the forum to play a video of a traditionally Republican voter saying in this election, Murphy is the right choice.
“I’m flipping votes now,” Murphy said.
Case for change
Several times, Frank referenced her age and the diversity of her family as positive factors for her campaign. Part of winning in a Republican district may involve rallying around someone like her, she said.
“We have to try something different,” Frank said. “Sometimes something as simple as being young, is something different.”
There is a reason Congress put the age requirement at only 25 years, she said.
“We need those younger people in there who still say, ‘I have that idealism,’” Frank said.
As a minority, Murphy, who is African-American, is “committed to the fairness of justice. Not the elite, ‘just us.’” He also believes Marine service and training uniquely prepare him for the task.
“I am a product of this government,” Murphy said. “I know things you can only learn (from government work).”
Having overcome physical limitations, political ones don’t scare him.
“I didn’t ask for pity,” Murphy said. “I asked for an opportunity.”