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Education reform emerged as a key issue at a candidates forum in Rock Hill Thursday one state Sen. Wes Hayes first challenger since 1992 used to challenge his opponent.
Joe Thompson of York, manager of a Clover store that sells racing fuels, is on the ballot as a petition candidate against the 28-year legislator in the race for S.C. Senate District 15 representing Rock Hill and much of central York County.
About 100 people came to the forum at St. Marys Catholic Church on Crawford Road, where Thompson criticized the Senate for holding up a ton of bills that passed the House including one that would have created a new multi-million dollar program aimed at helping students pursue other educational choices.
Im not going to let school choice die, Thompson said.
The program, Thompson said later, wouldnt harm public schools it would make them more competitive by helping them realize whats holding them back so they can address those problems.
Hayes stance on school choice has made him the target of interest groups pushing school choice measures.
He told the audience he has championed public charter schools, virtual schools and initiatives to change how schools are paid for. Early childhood education is another place in need of help, he said.
Thats really where you can have the biggest effect on children, he said.
Hayes said he supports working within the public school system to find more choices for students and parents. After the forum, he said hes still wary of passing a the program Thompson touted, saying it would cost $37 million and give tax money to private schools.
James Lindsay Sr., a school bus driver from Edgemoor, came with several questions for the candidates, but the questions didnt make it in the lineup, he said. He left frustrated with a question about school choice, too.
They say everybody has a choice of what school to attend, he said. How?
Thompson characterized Hayes and other state leaders as being part of the good ol boy system of self-policing ethics which he calls corruption.
Hayes pointed out that he was on the ethics committee that helped craft reforms after Operation Lost Trust, a federal corruption investigation of state lawmakers and lobbyists in the 1990s.
Now, as chairman of that committee, Hayes said he wants full disclosure of lawmakers income and wants to prevent the states primary debacle where more than 200 challengers were removed from the ballot on a technicality from happening again.
The most important vote senators will take next year, he said, will be on changing Senate rules so lawmakers can accomplish more.
As it stands now, any one senator can kill a bill in South Carolina and that needs to change.
Candidates from other races also were at the forum Thursday night.
5th Congressional District
Includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties and all or part of 11 others
• In a brief opening statement, Eric Bedingfield, U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaneys district director, called the Indian Land Republican a consistent conservative.
"Without fail, his ideas and his knowledge of economics and the system that is in place in our country has been beneficial to his service in Washington, Bedingfield said. It's been his pleasure to take the time to serve...and we look forward to the coming election, and we thank Ms. Knott for offering herself in that regard."
• The public is starting to see some good come from President Barack Obamas health care law, Democrat Joyce Knott of Rock Hill said. Young people are now able to stay on their parents health insurance longer and people with pre-existing medical conditions can now get coverage, she said.
Americas foreign policy, Knott said, needs to change course when we sit down with people and they eat our dinner, but continue attacks on our nation. She said the U.S. needs to bring its troops home from Afghanistan soon.
S.C. Senate District 17
Includes part of Western York County, including York and McConnells, and Fairfield and Chester counties
• Republican challenger Bob Carrison of Winnsboro said throughout the forum that he is a candidate who can fix things.
Public schools should consider implementing apprenticeship programs, he said, to better prepare students who are not going to four-year colleges. He said he also supports school choice and public charter and vocational schools.
All businesses not just small businesses are over-taxed, Carrison said, but small businesses are the only ones being considered for a 3 percent tax cut in S.C. Why not cut taxes for everybody?
Carrison said he supports the states voter ID law which the U.S. Department of Justice has held up claiming it will keep some poor and elderly voters from casting a ballot.
• Democratic incumbent Creighton Coleman of Winnsboro said South Carolina taxes industries at 10 percent. That doesnt need to happen.
Both candidates said they support S.C.s new voter ID law, which hasnt been implemented because it has been challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Coleman, too, supports the new voter ID law, but he worries about restrictions that limit the type of ID a voter could show at the polls.
York County Council District 6
Includes Northern Rock Hill and Newport
• Incumbent Republican Britt Blackwell said he has championed creating a business-friendly environment in York County. Commercial building permits are up by 90 percent, he said, despite a decline in surrounding counties.
The creation of more than 1,400 new jobs have been announced in York County so far this year, he said, with another 1,000 jobs expected to be confirmed in the next few months.
• Gary Williams, a Republican on the ballot as a petition candidate, said the County Council has been paralyzed by inaction. Job creation should be the number one priority, he said.
Cities should also be working together, he said, on responding to positive trends like restaurants serving locally-sourced foods.
York County Council District 4
Includes much of southern Rock Hill
• Incumbent Democrat Bump Roddey did not attend the forum.
• Roy Blake, a Democrat on the ballot as a petition candidate, said he would continue the work he started during the six years he served before Roddey unseated him in 2010.
That included, he said, stopping a landfill from opening too close to a church in his district, allowing people to pay property taxes in installments, and getting water service to Blackmon Road.
More action in the impoverished Blackmon Road community is needed, Blake said, including demolishing some of the homes and rebuilding them through programs like Habitat for Humanity.