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Politics: Democrats see an opportunity in 7th District

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The Democratic Party has just four candidates seeking the nomination for the new 7th Congressional District as opposed to the nine on the Republican ticket. But like the Republicans, the challenge when they met at a forum in Georgetown this week was standing out from the crowd.

The candidates all say they’re electable and will fight for Democratic values, but played up different strengths.

Gloria Bromell Tinubu emphasized her Georgetown County roots, her experience growing up in a rural community, a Ph.D. in economics and the fact that if elected she would be the state’s first black Congresswoman. She is the CEO of a family-owned economic development firm and a professor at Coastal Carolina University’s College of Business Administration.

Preston Brittain, an Horry County attorney and the youngest candidate in the race, introduced himself as the “next generation of candidate” and “a common sense solution to an old problem.” He also played up his recent endorsement by 6th Congressional District Rep. James Clyburn.

Parnell Diggs, an attorney in Surfside Beach and president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, put emphasis on his experience growing up without sight, striving to be treated like everyone else and the unique qualifications that gives him for the job he’s seeking. He also expressed strong support for President Barack Obama.

Rounding out the group, Harry Pavilack, also an attorney in Horry County, played up his business experience and made it clear he’s willing to fight for what he believes in.

Meeting at Bethel AME Church in front of nearly 200 people, the candidates were given just a minute each to answer questions at the event. Many of the questions were taken from the public and centered around local issues, such as the Georgetown port and I-73.

But the candidates started off with a question from Susan Smith of North Litchfield about how they would compete with Republican candidates without alienating Democrats.

Diggs pledged not to sacrifice Democratic values.

“I’ll work as hard as I can to convince people in the middle of the road to get out of the middle of the road and over to the Democratic side by telling them about the things I believe in protecting” — things such as Social Security, Medicare and working class families, he said.

Pavilack would attack candidates running on the other side of the aisle, which is something that isn’t being done now, he said.

Tinubu talked about “general issues we can all agree on,” such as investment in education and infrastructure important to economic development. She also took the opportunity to talk about the need to put public transportation in place and support small and medium-sized businesses with the same kind of breaks big business gets — issues she raised multiple times during the 90-minute forum.

Getting a Democrat in office in the 7th District will require getting some Republican votes, particularly in Horry County, which is heavily Republican, Brittain said.

“I don’t think there’s a person up here as qualified to do that as I am,” he said. He also talked about issues important to people on both sides of the aisle, including Social Security and Medicare.

Asked how they would serve their district while avoiding disputes with politicians on the other side of the aisle, Diggs said he wouldn’t hesitate to work with Republicans to move the country forward, “because in the end we all believe in better education and a higher quality of life,” he said.

Tinubu would look at policies that benefit the next generation rather than “what’s immediately politically expedient,” she said. “I think we could agree on that. Folks who have grandchildren, if you think about those grandkids and their future, I think you might behave a little differently.

Pavilack wouldn’t attempt to play nice, he said.

“Frankly, I’d just keep fighting them,” he said. He called Republicans stubborn and said he doesn’t think they would give in to Democrats or the Obama administration.

Brittain mentioned the Georgetown steel mill and the connection Bain Capital had to its closure, accusing Mitt Romney of putting people out of work to line his pockets. He drew huge applause when he said he’d be not only ready, but happy to fight for Georgetown.

The answer to paying for dredging of the port when there’s not enough cargo coming in to qualify for federal dredging funds was the center of one question. The situation is a catch-22 since more cargo can’t be achieved without dredging.

Diggs seemed the most knowledgeable on the subject, bringing up and calling by name a study on the port that the county recently commissioned. He also talked about what Republican candidates for the 7th district had to say when they were asked a similar question at a forum last month.

“When this question came up, they weren’t willing to stand up for Georgetown County and for the port,” he said. “They didn’t want to pursue federal earmarks” to bring in funding for the port.

Diggs wouldn’t hesitate to utilize earmarks to bring money back home to pay for the project, he said.

Ports are “part of our commerce base” and should be something the nation as a whole focuses on, Tinubu said. She called for a plan to improve all the country’s ports and said she would work with county council and other officials at different levels to see the port improvements made and the right infrastructure in place for Georgetown businesses to be able to participate on a global level.

“I agree it has to be a joint project to pull it off,” Brittain said. He talked about the thousands of jobs that could be created locally if the improvements are made. The district needs those jobs and he would fight for the port, he promised.

Pavilack talked about convincing federal authorities of the need for dredging and picking “the right people to sit down and talk about it.”

As for I-73, Tinubu said the project is deserving of support, but she sees a need to look at other issues in terms of improving infrastructure, including improvements to Highway 501 and directing funds to expanding public transportation.

Brittain turned the focus to how many jobs the interstate project would create, saying “we have a duty” to look for ways to create jobs and “this is an easy way to do it.” He also said the project is important to the manufacturing industry.

“This is another example of the legislative delegation not getting the job done,” Diggs said, adding that he’s for I-73.

Pavilack favors using a system that has been used up north, in which toll roads are built and the tolls used to pay off bank loans for construction.

Asked about balancing efforts to drill off the state’s coast with the potential effects on tourism, Brittain said it’s imperative that the state’s beaches be protected, which also protects the area’s top industry — tourism. He called for a comprehensive solution to the nation’s energy problem. Drilling is a part of that solution, but “we need to continue to invest in innovation of new technology.”

According to Diggs, “the problem is not just dependence on foreign oil, but on oil companies.” He is opposed to offshore drilling and, like Brittain supports looking for other energy sources.

Tinubu agrees, adding “we have to be more creative and think more in terms of long-term energy.”

Pavilack said he supports drilling, but only as a last resort.

The candidates support the president’s affordable health care act and called No Child Left Behind a failure that shouldn’t be reauthorized, at least not in its current form.

Brittain said he supports simplifying the tax code to help small businesses and promote economic growth, while Diggs would do away with a provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act that makes it legal to pay blind Americans less than minimum wage.

“I’m for regulation in general, because they protect you and me, but sometimes they can run afoul of what is fair and equitable in our society,” he said.

Pavilack talked about making it easier for small businesses to borrow money and Tinubu said she would level the playing field for small businesses by getting rid of the influence of lobbyists.

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