S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday morning he is suspending all campaign activities until further notice as the state prepares for Hurricane Florence. His Democratic challenger in November’s election, state Rep. James Smith of Columbia, followed suit hours later.
“The governor is focused on preparing the state for the possible impact of this hurricane, and we encourage all South Carolinians to take the appropriate steps to stay safe,” McMaster campaign spokeswoman Caroline Anderegg said.
McMaster previously canceled a trip to attend a Republican Governors Association retreat in Sea Island, Ga., in order to oversee weekend hurricane preparations at the S.C. Emergency Operations Center.
“This is a time to help our friends and neighbors get ready for this potential disaster any way we can, not for politics,” Smith said. “We urge each and every South Carolinian to take appropriate measures to stay safe.”
Smith, a major in the S.C. Army National Guard, expressed confidence in the state’s emergency preparedness system, law enforcement and other first responders. “They work hard all year preparing for just such a situation, and they know just what to do,” he said.
Smith, an Afghan combat veteran, held a news conference Monday morning to announce a proposal to create a cabinet-level secretary of veterans affairs position in state government to coordinate and elevate veterans‘ issues, including suicide prevention.
“This is critically important to show that we in South Carolina keep faith with our veterans and the great service that they have done for our state and for our nation,” Smith said, flanked by eight veterans. “There are a multitude of issues we know are important, both to the health of South Carolina and to the health of veterans and their families.”
State government now has a division of veterans affairs within the Department of Administration.
Smith, however, hopes elevating the office to a cabinet position will mean greater visibility, transparency, accountability and accessibility of services for the state’s many veterans.
South Carolina 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.
In addition to spearheading and coordinating suicide prevention efforts, Smith said the new position — which he would seek legislative approval for — would help guide military veterans and retirees into civilian jobs.
The secretary would work to expand the Troops for Teachers program, which assists transitioning service members and veterans in beginning new careers as K-12 school teachers, and oversee a “Helmets to Hardhats” program.
“The opportunities are here, and we know we can marry that great talent that comes from the retired military and their families with the jobs that we have here today,” Smith said.
Smith said if elected, he also would work to enact a full elimination of taxes on military retiree pay as way to recruit more veterans to the state to help address workforce shortages.
McMaster included a $22.6 million tax cut in his 208-19 executive budget that would have fully exempted the pay of retired military veterans, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other peace officers from state income taxes. If re-elected, the Republican governor plans to continue to push for that exemption during the next legislative session.