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Election 2016: Senate candidates differ on value of experience

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Candidates for the District 34 S.C. Senate seat said they want changes in Columbia but didn’t agree on the methods during a forum at the Waccamaw Library this week.

Roads, schools, jobs, taxes and ethics were all subjects touched upon by four Republicans on the primary ballot June 14: Reese Boyd, Joe Ford, Stephen Goldfinch and Dick Withington. Since there is no Democratic candidate, the GOP primary winner will have no official opposition in November.

Boyd, Ford and Withington said the state Senate needs new blood, outsiders who can shake things up among the old guard and begin reforms that lead to fairer spending policies. Goldfinch, as the only incumbent legislator and target of most criticism, chided them for their threats to be confrontational. As a member of the state House for four years, Goldfinch said he has learned the legislative ropes. “Having an edge is not a bad thing,” he said. “I’ve been working with these guys for four years.”

The League of Women Voters debate format discouraged candidates from criticizing each other by name as they answered questions posed by the audience. That was good news for Withington, who was arrested in March on a charge of accepting a bribe from an undercover police officer after asking for money to drop out of an Horry County Council race. He is free on a $10,000 bond.

Withington, who said he drives an 11-year-old car, told the audience, “I’m your frugal guy, who will save you millions of dollars.”

Boyd, a former law partner of Goldfinch, said he’s the only “true conservative” in the field. “We need a fresh perspective in Columbia,” he said. “I will be a voice of true, meaningful reform.”

Ford, a resident of Hagley Estates, said he has called government out time and time again. He has had public squabbles with both the Georgetown County Water and Sewer District and the county school district. “I will be your voice and your advocate,” he said.

Ford said his top priorities will be roads and schools. “When you have an infrastructure that is failing, you are not going to have jobs coming to this area,” he said. “When you have school districts that don’t provide students with basic engineering and technology-based knowledge and vocational type education, where they can’t even read a measuring tape, we aren’t going to have good jobs.”

Ford said he would prefer to see the majority of state lottery money go to primary schools rather than colleges. “Primary is the most important time of a child’s education,” he said.

Ford would eliminate the State Infrastructure Bank because its members are not accountable to the people and restructure the Department of Transportation as a Cabinet position under the governor. All new roads should have a maintenance plan with funding in place, he said.

Goldfinch said his priorities are infrastructure and education because they will produce jobs. He said he had put together a team to develop a magnet school for science, technology, engineering and math in Georgetown County.

Withington said there is dysfunction among the state’s 58 senators. “There is so much conflict they don’t get much done,” he said. His experience working with the Georgia legislature would prove invaluable, he said.

Boyd reminded Withington there are only 46 senators in the legislature and said he would focus on DOT and ethics reform under the umbrella of government restructuring. “We live in a state where the state government was designed in the 1800s,” Boyd said. “Many decisions are made under a legislative cloud.” He said voters agree that the state’s roads are abominable but don’t know who is to blame.

All the candidates agreed that the legislature can’t continue to self-police itself on ethics. Goldfinch said he has co-sponsored ethics reform and term limit measures.

A question from Marty Tennent of Georgetown stirred up the most excitement of the evening. He asked about candidates’ signs illegally placed in the public right-of-way along roads.

Boyd said the rule of law matters, even with regulations regarding sign ordinances. “I was somewhat irritated by early placements,” he said. He’s attempted to instruct his supporters about where to place signs, but admitted seeing one in the right-of-way on his drive to the debate. He promised to stop and remove it on his way home to Horry County. “We are trying to do the right thing and follow the rules as we understand them,” Boyd said. “I have seen more of my opponent’s signs improperly placed than my own.” He was referring to Goldfinch because Ford has been adamant about not having his signs along the roads and Withington’s signs have just arrived.

Ford said state and federal law prohibit signs in the right-of-way. “It’s litter,” he said. “It’s an ethical issue. You have to follow the law if you want people to go to Columbia and follow the laws and institute laws for you.” Goldfinch offered to remove all his campaign signs if the others would do the same. He got no takers.

The candidates were evenly divided on the issue of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

Goldfinch and Boyd favor seismic testing to determine what’s under the ocean floor but said it’s not financially feasible to drill now because prices are low. “It’s prudent to do the science,” Boyd said.

Goldfinch said the economy needs to shift from oil to gas. As for testing, he said it’s done in the Gulf of Mexico without harm to marine life.

Withington said he has opposed drilling since he ran for Congress. Ford said a majority of people in the district oppose it — and he would follow their will. “They made a loud statement against drilling,” he said.

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