SC State House District 99 candidates face off at forum in advance of Jan. 16 election
(Editor's Note: This article was modified on 1/15/18 to include additional reporting by Elizabeth Bush on the forum and the candidates' positions on guns in schools.)
For the first time during the campaign for the South Carolina State House District 99 seat, Democratic candidate Cindy Boatwright and Republican candidate Nancy Mace went head-to-head in a forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area and The Daniel Island News on Jan. 8 at the Church of the Holy Cross on Daniel Island.
While the candidates both agreed that there is a need for a change to the “good old boy network” in Columbia, the 75-plus voters in attendance posed a wide variety of questions for the candidates to answer. Responses to many of the questions from Boatwright and Mace seemed to dovetail—both candidates oppose offshore drilling, favor ethics reform and increased transparency, see a need to improve education and support small businesses. They did, however, differ on their views on abortion and gun control. Mace explained that she is pro-life, with exceptions of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger; and Boatwright is pro-choice, emphasizing that she wants the government “out of her personal business.” On gun control, Mace stated that she supports the Second Amendment as written, while Boatwright favored some gun regulations, including the addition of extensive background checks and the removal of the “Charleston Loophole.”
During closing statements, a heated disagreement erupted between the candidates about whether Mace supports arming teachers in schools. Boatwright alleged that in 2015 Mace shared a post from the Breitbart News Network on a social media account in which she stated she supported the addition of guns in schools. Mace quickly denied these claims, stating, “that’s a lie.” The article in question can be found at this link: http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2015/12/04/washington-post-gun-violence-declining-except-gun-free-zones/. According to a screenshot of the post provided to The Daniel Island News, Mace wrote “This is just too much logic and common sense for liberals! We should be armed.” During the exchange, the forum was briefly interrupted by a few hecklers from the audience. The democratic candidate later said the disruptions forced her to cut her closing statement short.
After the forum, Mace had this to say regarding the allegation: “My opponent said that I supported school officials having guns in schools and I clearly did not say that and that position would be inconsistent with state law. Years ago I commented on social media about an article citing gun violence in gun free zones on military bases and have personally questioned why a member of our military can not carry his/her weapon that was issued to them by the Department of Defense while on a military base. That doesn't make sense to me when the federal government issues a member of our military with a firearm, trains that person in all aspects of that firearm, yet they cannot carry a firearm while on base.”
Boatwright stands by her interpretation of the social media post: “Her Breitbart post has been widely interpreted as pro guns in schools. She called me a liar to distract from what I was saying. This is Trump-like behavior.”
Mace later clarified her position further.
“Let me be perfectly clear, I do not support guns in schools unless by a trained police officer which many of the schools in the district currently have in place.”
If you were unable to make the forum, below are the candidates’ responses to three specific questions posed at the event. To see a video of the forum in its entirely, visit The Daniel Island News Facebook page. The State House District 99 special election will be held on Jan. 16.
Act 388 - funding of education. Should it stay or be replaced?
Mace: “Act 388 is not a popular bill for a lot of folks. Commercial property owners, industrial property owners, owners who have second homes here are paying a greater percentage on their millage rate—6 percent versus 4…I would argue that we don’t have a funding problem, we have a spending problem here in SC…I would actually like to see taxes reduced in some form or fashion here in South Carolina. We don’t spend our money wisely. When we have our balanced budget every year we have money left over. And you know what these good ol’ boys and lawmakers do in Columbia? They earmark it for pet projects instead of putting it back into our schools or fixing our roads or, God forbid, giving it back to the tax payers who earned it, they’re recklessly spending those dollars.”
Boatwright: “I do not think that’s a good bill either. I’ve heard from a lot of realtors who really object to it. It’s not really common sense for second homeowners to bear the brunt of our education system. What I think we really need to do in this state is sort of figure out a comprehensive plan that’s going to allocate dollars in a smart way—in a way that meets the needs of the people of South Carolina, of the students of South Carolina—and that has not been done. I think that’s really one of the issues—there’s no comprehensive plan. I would agree with Nancy that we don’t have a budget issue, it’s where those dollars are being spent that is the problem. Why don’t we have a comprehensive plan to address education? Why do we have crumbling schools in rural and poor districts? Why haven’t we done anything about Abbeville? I just think that we need to better allocate our resources and really address the needs of our students.”
Should teachers should have guns in the classroom? Have you accepted money from pro-gun groups? What change to gun laws, including guns in the classroom, would you support or oppose and why?
Boatwright: “My family is a South Carolina family of hunters, especially bird hunters. I have no issue with guns in particular…but I feel like things have really gotten out of hand. Some things in particular that need to be done are we need background checks. We need to close the Charleston loophole. Private gun sales need to be monitored. We certainly need more databases of threatening people who are trying to get guns. As far as guns in the school, that is, to me, a crazy idea. Arming our teachers, I don’t think is really anything anybody wants. I think also, this Constitutional Carry Bill that passed in the House and is going before the Senate, that is a bill that should not be passed. That allows people to carry guns into our state without a proper permit. Most of the South Carolina police departments have pleaded with the House not to pass that bill because that lets criminals or potentially threatening people come into our state without a permit or a background check necessarily. That’s just not right. I think that the NRA and the gun lobby have really bought people’s votes. They certainly don’t have mine.”
Mace: “I have not received any money from any gun groups…I learned how to shoot a gun when I was 9-years-old and my son recently turned 11, so I look forward to the day when I can teach him how to handle his first firearm. I believe the Second Amendment, as written, is good enough. I support folks who own firearms, regardless. I don’t believe regulating or over-regulating firearms is going to solve issues. People who are mentally ill or who are criminals, they are not here to follow our laws. If they don’t have a gun, they’re going to steal it. Just ask people who live in Chicago, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. You can’t buy a gun bigger than a 9mm in Chicago yet. We have so many crimes with guns in the city of Chicago. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m not going to support that. Open-carry, closed-carry—I’m going to support our Second Amendment.” (Note: a forum attendee later questioned on social media Mace’s statement that she had not taken money from pro-gun groups by sharing what appeared to be a page from the Federal Election Commission, which indicated that a group by the name of “Friends of Nancy Mace” had accepted $2000 from the National Association for Gun Rights PAC” during Mace’s 2014 run for the U.S. Senate. Mace responded with the following post: “I wasn’t asked about money received during my run for the US Senate. And quite frankly, THOUSANDS contributed to me in my run for US Senate YEARS ago. I can’t possibly remember every single one of them. If you wanted to ask about contributions from a US Senate run in 2013-2014, then perhaps that should have been the question. It wasn’t. We are running for a state house seat and it is 2018. Big difference here.”
What is the most important issue that you believe you differ with your opponent on?
Boatwright: “I think we are probably pretty much polar opposite in terms of what we would see as priorities in the government. Probably education would be paramount. I would be very committed to education in this state in a different way, in a more encompassing way than my opponent. I think the environment as well. I’m definitely an environmentalist who cares really deeply and is committed to coastal conservation issues. I think that would be another place that we would probably differ. Certainly, as well as common sense gun laws. There are a number of issues that we would be directly opposed on.”
Mace: “I would say our biggest differences are that I’m a fiscal conservative, whereas my opponent flies a democratic banner on taxes and increasing spending. Like I’ve said before, we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. I’m going to go up there and fight for the folks in our district and bring back our fair share for our infrastructure and our roads and try to fight for much greater accountability and oversight at the state house because right now it’s running rampant. They’re going hog wild with our tax dollars and something has got to give.”
Health care has been a continuous issue in South Carolina for decades. How are you going to address this issue for those who can and those who cannot afford health insurance?
Mace: “A lot of this issue is going to be at the federal level and is out of our control…We have Medicaid that offers healthcare to the poor where the state can come in and have some influence on how those dollars are spent. We have 4 million people residing in SC. 1.1 million people are on Medicaid right now. Expanding Medicaid is unaffordable. We are in this healthcare crisis because government got involved…In terms of what the state’s influence can be, there are some federal laws that were proposed last year about block-granting the Medicaid down to the states to give the state more control over those dollars. I would support anything that allows the state to have more influence on the money and healthcare provided to folks here in the state.”
Boatwright: “I don’t believe American citizens should go bankrupt paying for healthcare or medical bills. I think the ACA could have been fixed. I do agree that at a state level, there’s not a heck of a lot we can do. They did not accept the Medicaid expansion and I think that wrong. I believe we should have accepted it. I think there is one thing that state lawmakers can do that could benefit the people of South Carolina. That is expanding the requirements for Medicaid. For example, I have a friend who has a bipolar daughter. She’s in and out of the hospital, so it is really hard for her to get a job that could pay for her healthcare. She cannot get Medicaid because she is not pregnant nor does she have a child. That seems pretty ridiculous…I also think we need to expand it to include more elderly…We need more Medicaid beds in our nursing homes and senior care facilities. That’s a thing state lawmakers can work on.”