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Election 2016: No debate prompts debate in 7th District

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Democrat Mal Hyman and Republican Tom Rice are blaming each other for the cancellation of their televised debate in the S.C. 7th Congressional race this week.

Hyman says Rice backed out of the debate and is hoping to turn it to his advantage. Rice says Hyman posted an emphatic “NO!” on his Facebook page about having a televised debate without a live audience so he called the Myrtle Beach television station WPDE and cancelled. The dispute has moved to the “he said, he said” stage.

“Tom Rice is being negligent to the voters in the district by refusing to debate and allow the people to make an informed decision,” Hyman says. “We set a date at his convenience. He engineered the conditions to play to his strengths and then he decided that the people did not need to hear from him so he again pulled out. This is pretty typical of those in Congress – their inaction over the past six years has made them reluctant to face voters. Mr. Rice could not take yes for an answer, and seems to being running from his record rather than running on it. This dishonors democracy.”

Rice blames Hyman, who wanted debates in all eight of the district’s counties, then three in front of live audiences. Rice said Hyman approached him about debating at Francis Marion University during one of his “Coffee with Your Congressman” events in Florence. “You have thought about it; I haven’t,” Rice said he told Hyman. “Let me get back to you.” Rice said he preferred “doing it right” with a televised debate in order to reach as many voters as possible. He arranged with Myrtle Beach station WPDE to televise a 60-minute debate this past Tuesday in prime time.

Rice said he left Hyman a telephone voice message about the debate arrangements but didn’t receive a call back to confirm it. Two days later Rice had his wife send Hyman a text to make sure he had gotten the phone message. Hyman sent a text that he would get back to Rice. “That was Sept. 5,” Rice said. “He never called back.” Rice said his staff told him Hyman was demanding live debates on social media rather than the debate in the television studio. Rice called the TV station and said, “I guess he doesn’t want to debate.”

Rice said Hyman called later, wanting the TV debate, but it had already been cancelled. “You said no; now you’re are saying yes,” Rice said he told his Democratic challenger.

There’s a possibility, Rice said, of a debate on South Carolina ETV, if a date can be found.

Hyman is trying to appeal to independents and environmentalists of both parties with his opposition to offshore oil drilling and seismic testing in the Atlantic. Jim Watkins, a Pawleys Island Democrat, said Hyman is the only candidate who has publicly opposed drilling and seismic testing, a stance preferred by the local group Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic.

Hyman, a professor at Coker College making his first run for public office, told members of the group Drinking Liberally last week he’s a different kind of Democrat. “I am declaring my independence from any corporate banking donations,” he said. “I’m also declaring my independence from any monies from the Democratic National Committee and from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee so I am independent and can represent the people of this district. If we are going to act in the public interest we need to be able to have the freedom to say what needs to be said.”

Hyman said he likes a lot of the Democratic agenda but “you have to pay for the infrastructure.” He said that raising the tax rate on the nation’s wealthiest one percent to half of what it was during the Eisenhower Administration would yield enough money to invest in the nation’s infrastructure. “And they are investments that business needs to flourish,” he said. “We know from the floods last year, the longer we wait the more dangerous it gets, the more expensive it gets. Interest rates are low. There are millions of good jobs there. It’s about time we did it.”

Rice agreed that infrastructure is critical to bringing jobs to the Seventh Congressional District, during a telephone interview this week. He is looking forward to reading the report from the Urban Land Institute about the future of the steel mill and state port in Georgetown. “I want the best thing for Georgetown,” Rice said. “I want something to develop in a way that the children of the people of Georgetown have an opportunity so they don’t have to move away. That’s true everywhere. That’s my No. 1 focus.”

Rice said he will continue to promote Interstate 73 into Myrtle Beach as his top infrastructure priority. Georgetown County will benefit from its proximity to the proposed interstate, he said, through improvements to Highway 707, the proposed Southern Evacuation Life Line and widening of Highway 701, though that’s not in the works yet. He said he would push for Highway 521 to be four-laned all the way to Manning and I-95.

“Infrastructure is the key,” Rice said. “Our whole district, in my opinion, has lagged behind the rest of the state in terms of infrastructure investment, and I’m fighting that right now.”

Hyman said he is open but skeptical about Interstate 73. “The estimates on the jobs aren’t right,” he said. “I’d ask for another study to slow it down and make them make their case.”

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