During the final debate before next month’s election, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and Democratic challenger James Smith tried to portray the other as not good for the state’s future.
Smith argued McMaster will maintain the status quo, while the governor portrayed his opponent as wanting to raise taxes to pay for new programs, which he maintained would slow the state’s economy. There were fewer fireworks than last week’s debate, but each candidate still tried to differentiate himself from his opponent by pointing to their respective records.
Smith insisted McMaster has done little to benefit ratepayers in the 15 months since the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion project was abandoned last year. “The system that is broken has not changed,” he said. “We need leadership that’s going to make sure we have the ways to drive rates down.”
McMaster disputed claims about his inaction, saying his order for state-owned utility Santee Cooper to turn over a project audit known as the “Bechtel report” is the reason many of V.C. Summer’s problems are now public knowledge. “I’m the one that’s been pushing for full disclosure and for the ratepayers to pay zero (additional dollars) on this from the beginning.”
However, McMaster falsely criticized Smith for being in the legislature when the 2007 Base Load Review Act passed. The law put ratepayers on the financial hook for V.C. Summer despite its failure. Smith noted that, while he was in the House, he was serving combat duty in Afghanistan at the time. McMaster apologized a few minutes later after realizing his error.
Questioner Andy Shain of the Charleston Post & Courier asked McMaster about his executive order to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid family planning money. The order essentially vetoed all family planning dollars to any provider, not just Planned Parenthood. The abortion provider is currently suing.
McMaster said his Department of Health and Human Services has enough reserves to cover other providers’ needs, but emphasized he would not allow Planned Parenthood to receive taxpayer money. “I want to stop abortions in South Carolina, particularly by an organization that makes its money by promoting abortions,” he said.
Smith answered that the Medicaid money is not paying for abortions, but for screenings, contraceptives and other family planning services. “The veto and executive order that you issued was a pure political stunt that put at-risk the health of thousands of South Carolina women,” he said. “Who frankly don’t deserve the way you have treated them.” He added taxpayer money will likely go to Planned Parenthood anyway to pay its legal fees should it win the lawsuit.
Smith also hit McMaster for supporting President Trump, despite the governor admitting Trump’s tariffs could hurt many of South Carolina’s manufacturers. “In the end, you’ve got to lead… you’ve got to knock down the door of the White House to make sure that you protect the hard-working people of South Carolina.”
McMaster said he has worked to blunt the impact on South Carolina companies, insisting he acted to protect exemptions for TV manufacturer Element Electronics in Winnsboro and Samsung’s appliance plant in Newberry while Smith only complained. “That’s the case of jumping the gun before you know exactly what’s going to happen with these tariffs,” he said. “We’re in a strenuous negotiation period with other countries. I support what President Trump is doing.”
The debate at Greenville Tech will be the last between both men before the November 6 election. However, their running mates will square off next week in the lieutenant governor’s debate.