City Paper endorsements for November 2014 election 

Slender Pickin's

Governor: Tom J. Ervin (Independent, DROPPED OUT) (Our profile)

We wanted to vote for Vincent Sheheen, the Democrat in this race. We really did. Replacing our incumbent Republican governor with a Democrat would be the easiest way to break up the near-unstoppable Republican trifecta (a Republican governor plus Republican majorities in the state House and Senate). But we can't bring ourselves to do it.

Be ready to go to the polls, read our endorsements, profiles, and more in the 2014 Charleston City Paper Election Guide.

You see, Sheheen has consistency issues. Here's a man who campaigns at gay pride rallies while simultaneously opposing marriage equality. One day he defends South Carolina's right-to-work laws, which have neutered most labor unions in the state, and the next day he stumps at an International Longshoremen's Association hall. The S.C. Democratic Party haven't put up a compelling candidate for governor in the last two elections.

So, instead of voting Democratic on Nov. 4, we're going to pull for Tom J. Ervin, an independent candidate. He's no liberal firebrand either, but we think he could satisfy another need in state government: the need for a thoughtful moderate.

Although Ervin considers himself a Republican today, he previously served as a Democrat in the state legislature, and his platform represents a healthy mix of good ideas from both sides of the aisle. He favors ethics reform that would close the revolving door of lobbyists who become legislators and vice versa. He has a balanced view of economic incentives and would push to use them judiciously to attract industry, but never to attract national retailers at the expense of local stores (ahem, Bass Pro Shops). And while he has his reservations about some details of the Affordable Care Act, he has the right perspective on it: The Supreme Court deemed it constitutional, so we shouldn't put up roadblocks to provisions like expanded Medicaid coverage for uninsured South Carolinians.

We know Ervin is a long shot, but he seems to be taking the race every bit as seriously as his major-party opponents, as evidenced by his $3.4 million investment in the campaign. By campaigning hard and releasing a highly detailed platform, Ervin is single-handedly doing what the newfound American Party has largely failed to do up to this point: present an intellectually sound, politically effective case for an end to partisan bickering.

State Superintendent of Education: Molly Mitchell Spearman (Republican) (Our profile)

We hesitate to endorse a Republican for superintendent after four years of Mick Zais' regressive ideas and near-total disconnect from teachers and administrators. But unlike Zais, whose military experience proved about as useful to the Education Department as a rake in a snowstorm, Molly Mitchell Spearman has a solid background as a teacher, school administrator, and head of the S.C. Association of School Administrators.

Democratic candidate Tom Thompson has equally impressive education credentials, but we found his platform too broad and lacking in specifics. He wants to revise the state's "minimally adequate" standard for education, and while it's a great rhetorical point, we struggle to see what good it would do in practical terms.

Spearman, on the other hand, brings to the table some innovative strategies from schools with low-income students. We also like her attitude on Zais' sweeping reforms, and we think she's the right person to pump the brakes on the simultaneous overhaul of education standards, new student assessments, and a still-controversial teacher assessment program.

Lieutenant Governor: Bakari Sellers (Democratic) (Our profile)

Rep. Bakari Sellers seems genuinely excited about the lite-guv post, which is unusual. In one sense, it's actually a step down from his House seat, where he wields some power as a high-profile Democrat. But when we talked to him about running the largely ceremonial office of lieutenant governor, he had some great ideas for the state Office on Aging, which would be his biggest responsibility in office. His opponent in the race, Henry McMaster, seems unenthusiastic in contrast and might just see the office as a consolation prize after losing the gubernatorial primary in 2010 and getting passed over in the appointment to replace Jim DeMint in the Senate.

Secretary of State: Ginny Deerin (Democratic) (Our profile)

Incumbent Secretary of State Mark Hammond has let his office's online presence languish with early-2000s web design, and he doesn't seem to take his post seriously. He still hasn't moved to Columbia, opting instead to drive back and forth from Spartanburg on the taxpayers' dime, and a recent report in The State showed that he only shows up to work at the office an average of 2.9 days out of the week.

In contrast, we like the cut of Ginny Deerin's jib. Her goals for modernizing the SoS website seem realistic, and we agree with her that the office shouldn't be picking winners and losers when it comes to charity ratings. We also admire her chutzpah for riding a bicycle from Spartanburg to Columbia in protest of Hammond's pricey commute.

Attorney General: Parnell Diggs (Democratic) (Our profile)

As marriage equality swept the nation this year, incumbent S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson dug his heels in to defend the state same-sex marriage ban, making us one of just three states to put up a fight — and the last state in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals with an intact marriage ban.

Parnell Diggs would bring a breath of fresh air to the attorney general's office. He favors dropping the state's defense of the ban, and he opposes some of the hallmark embarrassments of Wilson's administration, including Wilson's defense of discriminatory voter ID laws and his stance against the expansion of Medicaid.

Commissioner of Agriculture: Hugh E. Weathers (Republican)

Agriculture remains one of South Carolina's biggest industries, and we think at least part of the success of locally grown produce here is owed to the Certified S.C. Grown branding effort, which Weathers spearheaded. We think he'll continue to do a fine job in office, and we disagree with American Party candidate Emile DeFelice's stance that the Agriculture Department should be drastically reduced or eliminated.

U.S. Senate: Jill Bossi (American) (Our profile)

Incumbent Sen. Tim Scott has impressed no one since being appointed to Jim DeMint's old post in the U.S. Senate. He votes the party line, keeps quiet, and doesn't make waves.

We know it's a long shot, but we would love to see a moderate like Jill Bossi restore a little sanity to the legislative process in Washington D.C. We think her leadership positions with Bank of America and the American Red Cross prepare her to get things done in office, and we anticipate that she would talk a little sense into a national GOP that's gone mad with partisanship.

U.S. Senate: Brad Hutto (Democratic) (Our profile)

We wish state Sen. Brad Hutto were running for governor. He sticks to his guns, as evidenced by his last-ditch veto effort to stop a funding cut at the College of Charleston after state Republicans took umbrage with a freshman reading assignment that had gay themes. And unlike incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham, we think he would dial back the war-hawk talk and bring a renewed focus on at-home issues like fixing crumbling infrastructure and creating a livable minimum wage.

U.S. House District 01: None (Our profile)

We were dismayed to see the S.C. Democratic Party wasn't even putting up a candidate against incumbent Rep. Mark Sanford, whose personal indiscretions have surely made him a vulnerable target. And while we appreciate the fact that write-in candidate Dimitri Cherny is at least giving voters a choice in the election, we find his economic theories too far-fetched to do any practical good in Congress.

U.S. House District 06: James F. "Jim" Clyburn (Democratic) (Our profile)

Rep. Jim Clyburn is our man behind the scenes in Washington. While he doesn't often make headlines, as a high-ranking Democrat, he helps get work done. A prime example is the central role he has played in getting the Charleston harbor deepened to accommodate bigger cargo ships. If you want South Carolina to continue to wield real influence in Congress, re-elect Clyburn.

S.C. House District 109: David Mack III (Democratic) (Our profile)

David Mack has stood the test of time as a legislator since 1996. His efforts in that time have ranged from compromise with the Republican majority to why-the-hell-not proposals like single-payer healthcare. We admire his pluck, and we think he's the right man to keep a focus on low-income and rural schools.

S.C. House District 114: None (Our profile)

Incumbent Bobby Harrell is out of the picture following an admission of guilt to campaign ethics violations, and that means the Democrat in this race, Mary Tinkler, will probably win it. And while we're glad there's someone to take Harrell's place, we were unimpressed by Tinkler's platform. When asked for specifics on topics like education funding and infrastructure repair, she floundered, unable to say much beyond simple platitudes. We hope she shapes up before going to Columbia, or else the Republicans will eat her alive.

S.C. House District 119: Leon Stavrinakis (Democratic) (Our profile)

There are times when we've wished Rep. Leon Stavrinakis were more outspoken on the Statehouse floor, advocating for his district rather than sniping at his foes on Twitter (as he is sometimes wont to do). But for whatever reason — whether he's angling to be mayor of Charleston or just genuinely trying to make a difference — he's taken a more active stance on home-district issues this term, as highlighted by his remarkably fast turnaround on getting the Boland Act gun control bill passed. This is the Stavrinakis we'd like to see more of.

Charleston County Register Mesne Conveyance: Charlie Lybrand (Republican) (Our profile)

Democrats have been going after incumbent RMC Charlie Lybrand hard this election, accusing him of keeping a secret slush fund of overage payments. The accusations proved to be a nothing burger, based on what appears to have been a simple mistake made by a county auditor. We think it's silly that the office of RMC is partisan in the first place. What makes Lybrand a Republican RMC? We're not sure, but we think he's done a fine job.

Charleston County School District Board of Trustees, East Cooper (2 open seats): Kate Darby, Sarah Shad Johnson (Our profile)

As a parent and School Improvement Council chair at Wando High School, the state's biggest school, Kate Darby brings a good understanding of the overcrowding problem in East Cooper schools. We also think her business background is much needed in discussions about funding of capital programs, and we think she's the right candidate to set the district on a path to long-term financial stability.

Sarah Shad Johnson brings a different, equally needed skill-set to the school board: evidence-based critique of school programs. She's been an outspoken opponent of the Value-Added Model, which incorporates student test scores in teacher evaluations, and we think she'll bring some sound research to the table as the district considers what to keep and what to throw away from its experimental BRIDGE program.

CCSD Board, North Area (1 open seat): Cindy Bohn Coats (Our profile)

We were torn on this one. We think candidate Shanté Ellis' close connections to parents and teachers could make her an effective sounding board for grassroots ideas in the district. But ultimately, we couldn't vote out sitting school board chair Cindy Bohn Coats, who has helped bring a reprieve from the once-acrimonious tone of school board meetings. We also like that Coats is taking a stand for something that North Area parents really want: improved access to alternative and magnet schools in North Charleston.

CCSD Board, West Ashley (1 open seat): None

During interviews with both of the West Ashley candidates, we saw big red flags that keep us from endorsing either one. Edward Fennell's opposition to the penny sales tax extension does not bode well for the future of school building improvements and repairs, and his ideas for improving literacy were half-baked at best. The other candidate, Eric L. Mack, would bring a distracting emphasis on the racial makeup of teaching staff in minority-majority schools, and while his push to get parents more involved in education sounds nice on the surface, it's a task better left to teachers and administrators than to school board members.

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