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Election 2010: Candidates face off - or not - in final days

District 108 forum takes candidates on the road

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Candidates for state House District 108 traveled 35 miles from their homes in the Pawleys Island area this week to do something they haven’t done in seven months of campaigning: meet in a public forum.

Democrats have criticized the Republican challenger, Kevin Ryan, for skipping a League of Women Voters forum with the incumbent Democrat, Vida Miller, in Georgetown to attend a Waccamaw Neck GOP meeting. Ryan said he had to honor the prior commitment.

About 70 people attended the Tuesday night forum at the McClellanville Town Hall, accompanied by as many if not more mosquitoes that drifted in from Jeremy Creek. About a third of the audience was from Georgetown County.

But the venue was significant. Miller has won Charleston County precincts by a steady margin of at least 2 to 1. She got 69 percent of the vote there in 2008, which accounted for 989 votes in her election for a seventh term that she won by 1,249 votes. She won 42 percent of the vote on Waccamaw Neck.

“This community is very special to me,” Miller told the audience. “I hope you know I will be responsive to your needs.”

Ryan, 22, dressed in a gray suit, blue-checked shirt and a tie with a small fish print, said he never thought he would return to the area while he was growing up at Pawleys Island. Now he realizes he wants to settle into a career and family. He pledged to serve no more than three terms in the House.

The December 2009 graduate of Clemson University said he decided to run for office after a summer internship in the governor’s office. That was the summer Mark Sanford went hiking on the Appalachian Trail, only to turn up at the airport after a visit to his “soul mate” in Argentina. The interns were sent out to visit state agencies in the wake of the affair, he said.

“I saw our state government was failing us,” Ryan said. “A government that’s too big, fractured and inefficient.”

Miller said government agencies have already taken a hit through budget cuts.

“Our job is to make sure state government works,” she said, adding that the job of legislator belongs to the people rather than the officeholders or their parties.

“Being able to help people, that’s what this job’s all about,” she said.

Miller, wearing a blue suit and white blouse, told the forum she was on the phone most of the day dealing with constituent matters.

The House candidates shared the polished oak council table with three candidates for the East Cooper seat on Charleston County School Board and Dickie Schweer, the area’s County Council member who is unopposed for re-election.

Miller and Ryan fielded two questions passed from the audience to the moderator, Sam Watson, getting two minutes apiece to answer each one.

The first asked about government reform and restructuring.

Miller said she favors making some of the state’s constitutional officers, such as the school superintendent, part of the governor’s appointed cabinet.

She also supports the concept of combining law enforcement officers from various agencies under a single department.

“We will have a better idea when we look at the budget in January,” she said.

She said the House has also adopted a rule that requires roll call votes and makes the results public.

Ryan said he would go a step farther and make roll call votes a state law rather than a House rule.

“State government is very antiquated,” he said.

He supports strengthening the governor’s authority and getting the legislature out of the business of running state government.

He also supports zero-based budgeting.

The second question bundled the issue of cuts to the state Department of Education with ways to increase funds for education and support for charter schools.

Ryan said he favors cutting 15 percent of the department staff of 450 and combining the state’s 85 school districts into 46 – one for each county. He also supports charter schools.

Miller said cutting state education department staff would shift more work to the district level. She won’t support “unfunded mandates,” she said.

She said she served on the committee that created the state’s current charter school law.

District consolidation caught the attention of Elizabeth Moffly, a school board candidate. Charleston’s district is too big, she said. “Counties with multiple districts are happier and have more involvement,” she said.

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