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Politics: 7th District candidates try to stand out in a crowded field

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

With similar stances on a number of conservative issues — a more limited government, lower taxes and less federal spending, for example — the biggest challenge for nine Republicans running for the 7th Congressional District is perhaps standing out in a crowded field.

It’s something voters said most were able to accomplish in a 90-minute forum at Pawleys Island this week. The event, in the new auditorium at Waccamaw High School, was a joint effort between the county Republican Party, the school district, the Coastal Observer and the Georgetown Times. It attracted about 350 people and candidates answered questions on topics ranging from the economy to accountability to energy initiatives.

The questions were selected from dozens submitted by the public for the event.

Each candidate had 60 seconds to answer and two minutes at the end of the event to elaborate on issues or touch on topics that weren’t included in questions. Time limits were strictly enforced, keeping the speechifying to a minimum.

“I thought it was beautifully staged,” said Rob Polack of Oak Lea, who was in the audience and was behind one of the questions posed to candidates. “It was the kind of thing you like to see in a robust democracy.”

Asked about dredging at the Georgetown port, estimated to cost $33.5 million which hasn’t been allocated because of law cargo volume, all spoke in favor of the project. But they differed about how to pay for it.

Randal Wallace, a Myrtle Beach City Council member who works in the real estate industry, talked about the need to invest in infrastructure and coming up with a merit-based appropriations system to replace earmarks as a source of funding. He also supports turning the port into a specialty port.

State and local taxpayers should share the cost of dredging, though the channel was built by the federal government, according to Jim Mader, a Litchfield businessman.

“We have to take a chance,” he said. “This is a chance for Georgetown County to survive.”

He also talked about the need for other infrastructure improvements, including widening Highway 521 to Interstate 95.

“It’s easier to get money if locally we have some skin in the game,” said Tom Rice, a tax attorney and Horry County Council chairman. “The port is vital to the economy and vital to the entire state of South Carolina.”

The cost of dredging should be shared “in a roundabout way,” André Bauer said. He is a businessman and former lieutenant governor. He would try to get the port designated as a free trade zone and offer tax incentives for businesses to come to the area, but ask them to make the repairs that would make the port viable for their use.

“We already paid for that port to be dredged,” exclaimed Katherine Jenerette, an Army veteran and mother of four. It was paid for “over and over again every time we pay taxes to the federal government. We just need to go and get the money.”

Dick Withington, an Horry County businessman, talked about avoiding the need for dredging by using barges to bring cargo into the harbor as Coastal Terminals of Charleston has filed to do. It wants to create a transfer facility near the entrance to Winyah Bay.

“When it’s economically viable to have cargo ships coming into Georgetown harbor, private industry will take care of the dredging,” he added.

When Polack’s question came up it definitely set one candidate apart.

“If you are in a position to cast the deciding vote on funds for port dredging, but it can only be done by adding to the federal deficit, how will you vote?” he wanted to know. And he wanted the answer limited to one word.

As it was asked down the line, candidate after candidate said “no.” Rice was the only exception. He was a little hesitant, but his “yes” was loud and clear. He explained his position in a subsequent question.

“The development of infrastructure is an investment,” he said. It pays for itself in returns and “in the long run it will actually reduce the deficit.”

Polack was satisfied.

“The question was designed to get a direct answer with no waffling around, and I think all the candidates answered the way they would have voted,” he said.

Whether he agreed with their answer was less important.

“It would be very rare that any candidate agreed with any voter on 100 percent of the issues 100 percent of the time,” he said.

Linda Caswell, who lives in River Club, said Rice’s yes answer was one of the things that stuck out for her from 90 minutes of questions and answers. She didn’t like it. Adding to the debt is “one thing we can’t do,” she said. “We need to cut back on things and get things under control, especially a lot of the entitlement programs.”

Caswell also submitted a question that was used during the event. She wanted to know each candidate’s top priority if elected, and each of the nine named something different.

Job creation was Bauer’s answer, and he added that the 7th District needs a business person as its representative.

“We’ve got to get back to the foundation of our country and get back to the foundation of our Constitution,” Jenerette said.

She wants to get rid of the 16th Amendment, which allows the Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on Census results, and the 17th Amendment, which dictates U.S. Senators be elected by popular vote rather than by the state legislature. There should also be “no compromise,” on the 2nd Amendment, she said.

“It says what it says. There are no add-ons.”

Mader’s priority would be freedom and liberty.

“It’s Congress that created this mess. It’s our job to ensure your liberties and freedom survives,” he said, listing perils to freedom such as warrantless searches and methods Big Brother could use to keep an eye on citizens.

“Debt and deficit” top Rice’s list.

“If we don’t deal with that quickly, we won’t have anything to argue about. We’ll be bankrupt,” he said.

Chad Prosser gave restoring the economy by cutting spending and paying down the national debt as his No. 1 concern, while Renée Culler spoke of cutting back on “irresponsible regulations.” Prosser is, former director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Culler is a Garden City Realtor and mother of four.

Jay Jordan, a Florence attorney, called for term limits, which he said would help elected official tell the difference between right and wrong without the distraction of which is more likely to lead to re-election.

Withington talked about too much expansion of the federal government and the need to stop abuse of the 10th Amendment, which reserves for states those rights not granted to the federal government or prohibited to states.

Wallace finished the round, expressing his desire to get people back to work and come up with a plan to determine what each county in the 7th District needs from Congress to get its people working again.

Eliminating the Department of Education was a popular topic, as was getting rid of regulatory agencies. Asked about services they use that they would be willing to use less or pay more for, no one was willing to pay more.

“I can’t tell you one [service] that’s worth paying more for,” Culler said to applause.

Bauer and Rice named NPR as an agency they could use less of. Rice added the TSA.

Jenerette used the question to talk about cutting taxes and implementing a fair tax.

Mader named the Postal Service and Jordan got a laugh from the crowd when he said he would “gladly do with less service from the IRS.”

Wallace talked about raising the age for Social Security benefits and Withington said he could do without Social Security benefits, Medicare and veterans benefits.

“I was perfectly healthy when I got out of the Navy,” he said, so he doesn’t think he should receive veterans benefits. Medicare needs to be capped and “we need to create an attitude and atmosphere where every senior should be working to pay something for every health treatment they get.”

Energy was another topic candidates used to differentiate themselves. Most used the opportunity to speak in favor of drilling off the coast for natural gas. Asked about the balance between that and the potential impact on tourism, Jordan recommended acting carefully, but “we have to recognize there’s an energy crisis in this country.

Withington, on the other hand, doesn’t support drilling and believes any benefits would be offset by the impact on tourism, he said.

Jenerette said what she has seen from Georgetown and Horry counties is they “don’t want real jobs here because they’re afraid it will take away the labor pool from the tourism industry.”

Rice took issue with that, saying he’s seen how hard both counties are working for jobs.

Asked about wind energy, Mader said the federal, state and local government should investigate “every single energy use,” including wind, solar, nuclear and petroleum.

Prosser talked about a need to explore all domestic resources, but warned against the federal government investing in and guiding investment in alternative energy resources.

Culler advocates splitting the focus between traditional and alternative sources of energy.

Bauer questions the viability of natural gas off the coast.

“You’ll have to convince me more,” he said.

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