As expected, much of the first debate in the 2014 South Carolina governor’s race consisted of incumbent Republican Gov. Nikki Haley defending her economic and ethics record while taking criticism on that same record from her four challengers.
Tuesday night featured the first of two debates hosted by the Charleston Post & Courier, WACH-TV in Columbia, WCIV-TV in Charleston, WLOS-TV in Asheville, and WPDE-TV in Myrtle Beach.
The roughly 50-minute debate’s satellite signal was interrupted twice due to particularly stormy weather in the Charleston area. However, viewers did get to see most of the event held at Charleston Southern University in North Charleston.
Gov. Haley touted the decrease in the unemployment rate and increase in Gross Domestic Product that has occurred under her watch. “Our focus will continue to be to put as many people to work as possible and to make sure it’s good, quality jobs that we’re bringing to South Carolina,” she said.
However, Democratic challenger State Sen. Vincent Sheheen tried to undercut more than the 50,000 announced jobs that the governor’s campaign often mentions. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a decline in incomes in South Carolinians,” he said. “And, of those jobs that Governor Haley said she announced, only about 50 percent of them actually show up.”
Haley responded that the 50 percent figure was misleading because many of those jobs “don’t happen overnight… it will take awhile for that to happen.”
Independent petition candidate Tom Ervin and Libertarian Party nominee Steve French took the governor to task for what they called a lack of transparency in the millions of dollars in incentives South Carolina has given corporations that open or relocate to the state.
“I look at jobs like I look at sex: you shouldn’t brag about it if you’ve got to to pay for it,” French said. “The fact is, every one of you in this room tonight can create jobs if you’re given billions of dollars of other people’s money.”
Ervin, who previous polling indicates has the highest support among the three “minor” candidates, also criticized both Haley and Sheheen for being a part of a “culture of corruption,” in Columbia. He called for independent investigations into ethics issues and term limits for lawmakers.
“Let’s drain the swamp and fix South Carolina,” he said. “And, to do that, we need an independent like Tom Ervin.”
Sheheen also attacked Haley for an ethics investigation into her 2010 campaign (one that resulted in the governor paying a $3,500 fine for not properly reporting donors), as well as her campaign agreeing to reimburse the state for SLED bodyguards working campaign events.
Haley noted the effort she had spent on an ethics reform bill the past two years before its ultimate demise in the Senate.
“It’s amazing to me that he… that Senator Sheheen can say these things knowing that we had ethics reform the last two years in a row and he voted to kill it,” Haley said.
Sheheen retorted, “I’ll never vote for a bill that’s a fake bill,” drawing an audible sigh from the governor. “A bill that just allows a legislator to claim they did something or a governor to cover up her trail after she has violated the state’s ethics laws over and over again.”
(Listen to exchange below)
United Citizens Party candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves took comparatively few shots at the governor, but did propose legalizing marijuana to help raise additional tax revenue.
Reeves argued God created marijuana like any other plant we use. “All the wonders of the world first existed in the imagination of God: the Grand Canyon, Everglades, cotton, corn, marijuana, hemp. So rather than your 401(k) plan for your retirement, I would allow you to invest in the hemp milk, which is good for cancer. Those people who are hurting out there and you need that medication, I’m going to get it to you.”
French said he also supports decriminalizing marijuana. Ervin, Haley, and Sheheen committed to allowing it only for limited, medicinal uses.
The five candidates will square off again next week, when the second debate is held at Furman University outside Greenville on October 21.