After a solid win in the June primaries, Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, is back on the campaign trail in advance of a general election challenge from Republican newcomer Scotty Sheriff. Both say they're running to help district residents — with Ford pointing to his experience and Sheriff pointing largely to his enthusiasm.
Sheriff is a local real estate lawyer and Citadel graduate who says he decided to run for the Statehouse because it provides an opportunity to help a lot of people.
"It's about looking at the community and seeing what has been done and what should be done and getting in there to help out a little bit more," he says.
Much of Sheriff's campaign is about opportunities he says Ford has wasted.
"His experience hasn't done anything for us," Sheriff says. "He should be out there with ideas to help us out. His experience doesn't do us any good if he doesn't use it."
Those opportunities include adding jobs and improving schools. Tax incentives for emerging small businesses would grow the tax base and eventually pay for itself, Sheriff says.
"We have so many things we can do aside from the service industry and real estate," he says. "You have to get out there and create those opportunities."
Sheriff would support initiatives that provide high quality jobs for young people who want to stay in Charleston after they get their diplomas.
"Students who graduate high school and college here should have jobs here so they don't have to move out of Charleston," he says.
Sheriff would foster college preparatory and after-school programs and encourage college students to reinvest in public education by volunteering in primary schools through reading programs or mentorships.
"We have bright students in Charleston who want to succeed," he says. "They're just not receiving the extra help they need."
The inevitable energy debate in the Statehouse should include an eye on developing innovative solutions and using expert analysis, not rhetoric, to sift through energy options, Sheriff says.
As the economy wobbles and crime increases, Sheriff supports increased state funding for law enforcement training, an important issue for local police officials struggling with a backlog at the state training facility.
Sen. Ford did not return calls seeking an interview for this story, but he told the Charleston City Paper earlier this year that he has focused on constituent service over his 14 years in the Statehouse, sending out five letters a year to update voters on legislative action.
He also says his seniority in the Statehouse is key to bringing home state assistance for local projects. In recent years, Ford has worked to get more minority judges on the bench and supported efforts to reduce property taxes for homeowners. He proposed legislation earlier this year to prevent landlords from throwing the belongings of evicted tenants on the street.
Ford has been a strong advocate for the state's lottery, which underfunds education programs. He said that he'll work to reform the state's education funding formula that sends Charleston dollars to other school systems. One proposal he made to shore up dwindling state coffers was to legalize gambling.
Throughout his career, Ford has been a civil rights pioneer. He had a hand in establishing the African-American monument on the Statehouse grounds and a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday, and he fought to remove the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse. He has also taken on a nearly one-man mission in the Senate for gay rights, introducing bills that would create a statewide hate crimes law, authoring civil union legislation, and proposing laws that would protect gays and lesbians from housing or workplace discrimination.
Over the summer, Ford interjected himself in two high-profile debates, saying he would happily introduce a bill in the Senate to ban baggy pants statewide, and he made the call for oil exploration of the South Carolina coast, citing constituents who are struggling with gas prices.
"All I know is, if there's oil out there, we want to find it," he told the City Paper in August. "And if we find it, we're going to drill for it. And if we drill for it, we're going to make it right for everybody."