The two candidates for lieutenant governor of South Carolina met in their only debate Monday just eight days before next week’s election.
The Republican candidate former state attorney general Henry McMaster and Democratic nominee Bamberg County State Rep. Bakari Sellers dwelt on seniors, Medicaid expansion, and experience during the hourlong debate televised by ETV.
This year will be the last time that voters directly choose the governor’s successor. Starting in 2018, candidates for governor will choose the position as their running mate prior to the election. The lieutenant governor is responsible for presiding over the Senate (that responsibility will also shift in 2018) and overseeing the state Office on Aging.
Sellers, who trailed the Republican by approximately 22 percentage points in a recent Charleston Post & Courier/Sinclair Broadcasting poll, used the debate to hit McMaster on his repeated runs for office (besides attorney general, McMaster has also unsuccessfully run for Senate, governor, and the lieutenant governor’s office before) and for his lack of experience in job creation.
McMaster touted his own experience running the state Attorney General’s Office for eight years, saying it has prepared him for the responsibilities of running a statewide agency like the Office on Aging.
“What (voters) are looking for is experience and a track record,” he said. “Someone who has actually gotten major legislation passed, was the leader getting it passed, has implemented it, and who’s gotten things done., important things, for the state of South Carolina.”
He borrowed a phrase from former lieutenant governor Glenn McConnell, who referred to South Carolina aging Baby Boomer population as a “grey tsunami” that will soon hit the state.
“We’ve got to take care of our senior citizens. We’ve got to help them,” McMaster said. “There are so many that are just barely hanging on. I want to work to see that they are safe, happy, and secure in their own homes as long as they want to stay there.”
But Sellers criticized the Republican for repeatedly saying volunteer caregivers will need to be part of the solution. “Volunteers being caregivers and having to do it out of their own pockets without any support from the state? That’s not a vision,” Sellers said. “We have to have someone with a plan to lead this state forward. Our seniors deserve that… our seniors deserve more than volunteer efforts.”
In what may have been the best “sound bit” moment, Sellers also slammed McMaster for enrolling in the state health plan (as a member of the state Ports Authority board) while simultaneously opposing Medicaid eligibility expansion in South Carolina. “You’ve been receiving so many benefits in government benefits over your career that there are some welfare queens out there that are probably jealous,” he said.
McMaster refrained from attacking Sellers personally, but did repeatedly argue against the Democratic candidate’s platform for increased state involvement in senior care. “Expanding govt is not a good idea,” he said. “It’s a bad old idea. My opponent is talking about depending on Medicaid to provide jobs for South Carolinians. Well, my friends, those jobs are not sustainable.”
Current Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill is not seeking re-election. The former Democratic state legislator agreed to give up his Senate seat in June after his predecessor Glenn McConnell resigned to become College of Charleston president. McGill will hold the state’s second-highest office until either McMaster or Sellers replaces him in January.
McMaster defeated three opponents in the GOP primary back in June, easily dispatching Columbia businessman Mike Campbell in a runoff. Sellers was unopposed in the Democratic primary.