City Paper 2010 election endorsements 

Defeat the ghouls and goblins with these candidate picks

The frequent convergence of Halloween and Election Day happens so often that our spooky voting guide is about as dependable as a Nov. 1 hangover. But ghouls and ghosts have been on the campaign trail throughout the 2010 campaign season. You've had murderous legislators pulling the plug on grandmas, zombies like Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich rising from the grave, and some witch on TV up in Delaware. We've spent months following campaigns, interviewing candidates, and entertaining interns at Nikki Haley's campaign office with our interview requests. Here are the candidates who thrill us and our advice on the ballot questions that chill us to the bone.

State Offices

Governor

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Vincent Sheheen (Democrat)

Sheheen has framed his campaign as a referendum on which candidate voters can trust. Never in recent memory has that question been so easily answered, thanks to Republican Nikki Haley’s growing list of lies, cover-ups, misdirections, and vague defenses.

Haley lied about the circumstances of her split with her employers at the Lexington Medical Center. She refused to disclose her own work for Columbia firm Wilbur Smith Associates while calling for greater transparency on legislators’ contracts. She touts her experience as an accountant, but Haley has failed to pay her taxes on time for the last five years. Unlike Sheheen, she refuses to open her tax records for a full review by the public.

On the policy front, Haley has proven herself to be the type of right-wing radical who will pass up federal aid for the Charleston port, challenge home rule in North Charleston’s rail fight over the Navy Yard redevelopment, and ignores common-sense conservative principles on issues like reforming the state’s antiquated gambling ban. Haley has said she’ll eliminate taxes on corporations, but she’d create new taxes on groceries that South Carolinians need to survive.

If the last eight years taught voters anything, it’s that South Carolina needs a governor who will work with the legislature. It’s not a coincidence that Gov. Mark Sanford, Haley’s mentor, was forced to abandon his ambitions for the presidency before finding his most successful year working with the legislature on issues like tuition rates, spending reform, and economic development. We do not need eight more years of “principled” stonewalling while Haley revels in the national spotlight.

Vincent Sheheen has a proven track record of working across the aisle with Republicans, particularly on government reform. As a legislator, he’s called for more administrative control under the executive branch and for an inspector general to target waste and abuse in state operations. Sheheen called on Sanford to take stimulus money — a debt South Carolinians would have been responsible for, whether the money was spent on teachers and police officers in Charleston or Seattle.

Over the next four years, Sheheen says he’ll aggressively pursue businesses with the kinds of incentives that brought Boeing and an expected 3,600 jobs to the Lowcountry. Sheheen will hunt down federal dollars for economic development in South Carolina, particularly money to dredge the Charleston Harbor and improve the port to capitalize on burgeoning big-cargo business and revitalize Charleston’s declining share of East Coast port traffic.

Sheheen recognizes that several state priorities have suffered in the latest round of budget cuts. As governor, he’ll restore much needed funding for higher education and environmental conservation when the money is available. He’ll support public schools and foster deeper ties among high schools, technical colleges, and private employers so that a student’s degree matches careers available in the community.

Other candidates:

Lieutenant Governor

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Ashley Cooper (Democrat)

In his first run for public office, Ashley Cooper is tackling a statewide race in one of the most challenging political climates for a Democrat in recent memory. The Charleston lawyer has embraced the challenge, offering an ambitious agenda that goes far beyond the position’s current part-time expectations. Name a plight facing this state and Cooper likely has a plan to tackle it — whether it’s senior services, jobs, healthcare, energy, or education.

Of the lite gov’s existing responsibilities, Cooper is anxious to helm the state’s Office on Aging and address its biggest problem — the growing number of seniors in need of public services. The Democrat would develop a 20-year strategic plan to prepare for the influx. He’s also looking to tackle healthcare issues for the general populace so seniors will retire in better health and in need of less state aid.

To help address South Carolina’s unemployment rate, Cooper is looking for bright ideas regardless of which party they come from. One sure idea is to provide short-term state aid to businesses that hire individuals who are currently unemployed. With all the talk about tax cuts and stimulus programs to spur job growth, this proposal may be one of the few that can offer a direct correlation between government funding and job creation. It’s exciting to see a candidate paying attention to what works somewhere else, regardless of whether it’s a Republican idea or a Democratic idea.

Cooper would also coordinate a campaign to highlight South Carolina’s emerging alternative energy industry. He’d also partner with private companies and nonprofits anxious to see their communities move forward. Cooper insists that support is out there because he’s seen it during an intense and energetic effort to reach out and listen to these folks as a candidate. We’re anxious to see how he can apply the stories he’s learned in Columbia.

Other candidates:

Secretary of State

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Mark Hammond (Republican)

Hammond’s advantage in this race comes from eight years on the job in one of the most administrative-laden statewide elected positions. The Secretary of State’s office handles state filings for municipalities, businesses, charities, fundraisers, notaries public, trademarks, cable franchises, and state boards and commissions. Hammond has continued to carry the department into the 21st century with online registration for several programs and touts his department’s success in weeding out fraud among charities, trademarks, and telemarketing, along with stings on counterfeit merchandise.

Other candidates:

Attorney General

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Matthew Richardson (Democrat)

Matthew Richardson has snatched what would have been the hot topic in this year’s race for attorney general: healthcare. He’s replaced it with an issue that truly distinguishes the two candidates: political dynasties. In the Republican primaries, Charleston voters rejected the political ambitions of the sons of South Carolina’s most prominent politicians of the 20th century. We think there’s value in curbing the ambitions of Alan Wilson, son of South Carolina’s most infamous 21st century politicians U.S. Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson.

For more than a decade, the state’s attorney general has used the position for political jockeying by attacking partisan or salacious issues that look good in gubernatorial ads. We really can’t stand four more years of this grandstanding. Richardson has pledged he won’t run for another office while serving as the state’s top prosecutor, while Wilson seems destined to use the AG job as a step to a more prominent position.

Richardson’s positions on some of the most controversial issues facing the state also suggest that he won’t be a partisan bullhorn. Attorney General Henry McMaster was one of the first and most prominent opponents of federal healthcare reform. Richardson has consistently pledged to continue the legal battle. After dabbling in faith-based “constitutional principles” in the primary and “creating jobs” over the summer, Wilson has settled on fighting healthcare reform as his top message this election season. We disagree with both candidates, but respect Richardson’s ability to see past his party’s priorities.

On illegal immigration, Richardson says he’ll hold the federal government accountable for enforcing the law and tell Washington to get out of the way if it won’t address the problem. Richardson also says he’ll protect the state’s natural resources, an important job that has taken the backseat in the past few years to political showboating.

Other candidates:

Comptroller General

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Robert Barber (Democrat)

Owner of the Bowens Island Restaurant and a former legislator, Robert Barber says there aren’t enough business owners minding the taxpayer till in Columbia. There’s also too many entitled politicians romanticizing their power with disastrous results.

Incumbent Richard Eckstrom won another term in 2006, despite taking a family vacation on the state’s dime (for which he was lampooned on Saturday Night Live). Since then, he’s towed the line for Gov. Mark Sanford on spending priorities while getting into his own extramarital mess when private e-mails and texts were released detailing an emotionally combative relationship with his mistress (Eckstrom has claimed he’s long been separated from his wife).

We wouldn’t solely hold a personal breakdown against any candidate, but it appears the mess has Eckstrom stepping out on his responsibilities. He’s rightly released public spending records online, but it’s not the public’s job to check those figures — it’s Eckstrom’s. In April, state officials found an accounting error by the Department of Revenue that led budget writers to spend $60 million they didn’t have. This summer, a Department of Social Services employee was convicted of stealing more than $5 million in a check-writing scheme over four years.

And Sanford himself allegedly abused state resources for plane rides and other questionable spending, charges the governor settled by paying a $74,000 fine. All of these abuses occurred on Eckstrom’s watch while he was worried about getting credit card statements online.

Barber’s levelheaded, fair, down-to-business approach would be a breath of fresh air in the comptroller’s office. As a small business owner, Barber notes he always keeps an eye on the bottom line. Less scandal and more attention to detail will be just what South Carolina needs.

Other candidates:

Superintendent of Education

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Frank Holleman (Democrat)

An advocate for improving schools in South Carolina, Frank Holleman was also a top aid to former U.S. Education Secretary Dick Riley. He wants to use his experience to bring the best national programs to South Carolina, including Race to the Top, which has funded a string of innovative education ideas across the U.S. He supports public school choice and charter school programs — possibly the largest success of current Superintendent Jim Rex’s tenure. Holleman wants an efficient state education system, but he’s prepared to fight for more funding when a program is exceptional and the funds are available.

The Democrat is a strong advocate for early literacy efforts, essential to starting children on the right foot and addressing deficiencies prior to kindergarten. He notes this could make all the difference in graduation rates and college enrollment, and we couldn’t agree more.

Most importantly, Holleman will defend the public school system from proposals to use state tax dollars for private school tuitions. His concern is that it will sap money used for extracurricular activities like the arts and after-school programs. We’re more concerned about private school faith-based instructional standards and admission policies that could be kept from the public. We’d note that several private schools aren’t too keen on the idea of government meddling and it’s best we leave this debate where it has landed twice in the last eight years — the circular file.

Other candidates:

Agriculture Commissioner

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Hugh Weathers (Republican)

This year’s commissioner’s race is about vision. Weathers has campaigned on his 50 by 20 plan to make agriculture in the Palmetto State a $50 billion industry by 2020. Weathers has also embraced the buy local movement, a priority for Charleston’s farmers, businesses, and restaurants.

His opponent, Democrat Tom Elliott, has focused exclusively on his opposition to Weathers’ leadership in relocating the State Farmers Market. The project has had delays and raised the ire of Richland County politicians licking their wounds over losing the site to neighboring Lexington County, but the charges Elliott makes gives us no indication of his ability to properly manage this important state department.

Meanwhile, the farmers market finally opened this fall with The State noting praise from vendors and ambitious plans to complete construction with a retail building, demonstration kitchen, 400-seat amphitheater, and 200-seat conference center. On his campaign site, Weathers claims the shift in location saved the state $15 million by encouraging private investments.

We’re less interested in resolving this fight and more interested in moving South Carolina’s farmers into the 21st century.

Other candidates:

Federal Offices

U.S. Senate

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Nathalie Dupree (Independent)

She had us at “bring home the bacon.” Sen. Jim DeMint’s prideful homophobia and sexism were again on display a few weeks ago when he returned to his controversial belief that gays and unwed mothers shouldn’t be allowed to teach in public schools. Weeks before that, he told another faith-based crowd that traditional marriage will lead to “a more vibrant economy, a smaller government, and less taxes.” And now he’s orchestrating a witch hunt of National Public Radio because it expected objectivity from its journalists. This is your senator, South Carolina.

But the issue that has us ready to write in “Nathalie Dupree” on the ballot is one that Charlestonians can embrace regardless of where they rate on the Kinsey scale or the size of their donation to NPR. He has suggested otherwise, but DeMint alone has blocked a $400,000 federal grant that would begin the process for dredging the Charleston Harbor.

The senator’s opposition to earmarks has come home to roost, with his principled stand now standing in the way of the Port of Charleston’s continued economic viability. The definition of a statesman is a “political leader regarded as a disinterested promoter of the public good.” It’s okay to complain about the system and to work to change it, but South Carolina didn’t send DeMint to Washington to hold the Lowcountry hostage for his personal principles.

Dupree promises to work for South Carolina, not her ideology. And the first thing she’ll do is bring Charleston’s hard-earned tax dollars back to work in our community, instead of shipping it off to growing ports in Florida, Georgia, and the Northeast. Just as important, Dupree would be able to garner something that has alluded DeMint for the past six years: the respect and support of the senators on either side of the aisle.

Other candidates:

1st Congressional District

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Rob Groce (Working Families)

After June’s primary, we were worried there wouldn’t be a good option on the ballot come November. Fortunately Groce entered the fray, offering an alternative that has pleased many Democrats, including former candidates Linda Ketner and Robert Burton.

Groce isn’t trying to overturn the tough choices made for healthcare reform. In fact, he wants to expand public options. In Washington’s politically charged environment, that’s not going to be possible — but it’s better to have a Congressman working for expanded opportunities for the nation’s sick and needy rather than a representative seeking ways to roll back reforms.

Groce’s support for organized labor is laudable, but largely immaterial in this right-to-work state. We’re more interested in his push for a well-trained workforce, the kind of asset South Carolina needs to attract more Boeings.

While it would be ideal to see energy companies taking the reigns on developing safe alternatives to the fossil fuels we’re now dependent on, they’ve proven slow and/or unresponsive to the challenge. Groce insists they take responsibility to find solutions.

The drive to replace the earmark process would be acceptable if no one was benefiting from targeted federal spending, but that’s not how Washington works. Groce will do what it takes to make sure Charleston’s tax dollars make it back through programs like the proposed dredging of the Charleston Harbor and dozens of other high-profile projects that have benefited from federal dollars, like the Ravenel Bridge.

As conservatives look for excess in Washington, they’re targeting a program that should rightfully be scrutinized: the Department of Education. But Groce recognizes the department must be preserved and that better education for every student should be a national priority, not one left to the whims of states that are themselves leaving districts and school houses strapped for cash and resources.

Other candidates:

6th Congressional District

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Jim Clyburn (Democrat)

The House Majority Whip doggedly defended Congress’ work over the last two years, and with good reason. Consumers have more protection from their banks, their lenders, their employers, and their insurers. A Republican majority in the House, something that quite frankly will come to pass in 2011, has already laid out an agenda focused on supporting corporations with the blind faith that they will generously spread the wealth. These companies should be responsible to their shareholders. It’s Congress that should be responsible to the taxpayers.

Clyburn says the focus in his next term will be on expanding energy opportunities in South Carolina. Initiatives by Clemson and private companies have tilled the soil in South Carolina for an energy industry. Federal funding could provide support for these programs, as well as grassroots opportunities throughout the state for improved energy efficiency. New heating units, solar panels, and other energy-saving devices require professional installation and that means jobs in every community. Meanwhile, Boeing’s new facility will drive its suppliers and similar businesses to locate here. Similarly, Clemson’s new wind turbine center offers an opportunity for broader economic development. We encourage Clyburn to focus his personal energy and political capital on this effort and avoid partisan rhetoric and finger-pointing.

Other candidates:

Statehouse Races

District 115

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Anne Peterson Hutto (Democrat)

In a legislative body controlled by Republicans, it’s difficult for a Democrat to find anything resembling success. That reality makes Hutto’s accomplishments impressive and deserving of a sophomore session.

While Republicans obsessed over national healthcare reform (with little to offer as an alternative), Hutto was taking on a problem that had been ignored in all the partisan fighting. Working with insurance companies, instead of against them, Hutto secured protection for South Carolina cancer patients so their policies would be protected if they participated in clinical trials necessary to save lives in the future. Hutto also worked to fast-track state permitting for repairs to the Morris Island Lighthouse. And she accomplished both tasks by working behind the scenes.

An advocate for public schools, Hutto is prepared to fight another attempt to spend tax dollars on private school tuitions, and she’ll protect teachers and classrooms from continued budget cuts. Hutto will continue to press for innovative charter schools, while ensuring the state closely monitors these programs for success.

Hutto is also strongly against proposed tax hikes on essentials like groceries and utilities. There is a path for tax reform, but it should not be through the pockets of the least fortunate among us.

Other candidates:

District 119

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Leon Stavrinakis (Democrat)

As a former County Council chairman, Stavrinakis is used to helming a group with more Republicans than Democrats. He’s now ready to lead a bipartisan charge for the state reforms he’s championed for years — particularly a zero-based budgeting approach that requires state agencies to not just justify new spending, but to defend the effectiveness of existing programs.

Many candidates this election season have called for increased incentives for small businesses, but Stavrinakis has walked the walk, opposing tax breaks that favored corporations over the state’s many small business owners. He’s also supported insurance reforms that cut the bottom-line costs for business owners, even voting for things like tort reform that were opposed by many Democrats.

The biggest difference between the two candidates in this race may be their philosophy on taxes. Stavrinakis has run his campaign largely on opposition to the efforts of conservatives to put a new tax on groceries and utilities, as well as his opposition to state tax dollars paying for private school tuitions.

Other candidates:

Charleston County Council

District 8

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Thomas Legare (Republican)

This is the first time that voters will have a chance to vote for Thomas Legare on the ballot, but he has been a leader in the Johns Island community for decades, railing against the kind of developments that will harm the nature of the island. That perspective will make Legare a leader in addressing growth and development in the rural parts of the county, but he also has a sharp understanding of the types of development that should be encouraged — namely more growth along the Interstate 26 corridor.

A successful farmer, Legare will also support the county’s rural agribusinesses, noting the economic development inherent in bringing homegrown products from local farms to your plate. LeGare is a little too weary of accepting federal money for local projects, but he recognizes it’s a necessary evil to improve services in lieu of a local tax increase.

Of all the issues that Legare is likely to tackle with vigor on County Council, the extension of 526 may be at the top. Charleston County Council recently punted on a proposed change to the $489 million plan, kicking it to the curb for the council to consider again in the next 18 months. Legare has forcefully opposed bringing the road onto Johns Island, encouraging further study of other alternatives, like running a light rail train along 26 and improving existing roads to divert some traffic from the busy highways.

Other candidates:

District 9

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Amy Fabri (Democrat, Working Families)

We’re typically hesitant to support activists who run for elected office — the two are very different roles that are best left on separate sides of council chambers. But Fabri is anything but a kooky contrarian — she’s the epitome of a grassroots consensus builder who believes in fully educating herself on an issue before hitting the panic button. That kind of strong leadership has made Fabri and the other organizers of the Islanders for Responsible Expansion the go-to community members on questions about proposed development on James Island and Folly Beach.

Fabri and the IRE-led resident opposition to Walmart’s expansion plans on James Island were some of the most vocal skeptics of the planned 526 extension from Savannah Highway to the James Island Connector. It’s no coincidence that these folks leave every community meeting with more supporters. Fabri says she’s giving a voice to residents and we’re excited to see her bring that voice to County Council.

The Democrat will also bring her enthusiasm for job creation, recognizing an untapped opportunity to draw international businesses with the port, Boeing, and a new focus on rail shipping. We’re anxious to see Fabri exceed our high expectations.

Other candidates:

Charleston County School Board

East Cooper

Two Seats: Craig Ascue, Everett Wilcox

West Ashley

One Seat: Michael Miller

All of the candidates on the ballot this year have proven their intentions to improve Charleston’s public schools. These candidates stood out for their focus on supporting progress and cooperation on the board. All of these candidates support successful charter schools, but none of them are prepared to write a blank check for an ineffective alternative to neighborhood schools.

Craig Ascue is a longtime constituent school board member who has proven his commitment to Charleston’s students and his pledge to be an advocate for parents will provide a perspective that seems to have been marginalized on the board in the past, particularly as it relates to shuffling students around during school construction.

Everett Wilcox brings a career in business and a pragmatic approach that reminds us of emerging board leader and consensus builder Chris Fraser. Wilcox also brings a corporate mindset to addressing budget cuts while maintaining quality — an asset in tough economic times.

Michael Miller has volunteered his time, talent, and resources to students in the West Ashley community for years and would be able to bring his experience on the grassroots level to the board while also bridging a gap between the district and the neighborhoods it serves. He’ll also reach out to business owners and community leaders to step up as mentors and role models when parents fail to deliver.

Other candidates:

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