By Cassie Floss
South Carolina's success hinges on creating financing and support for small businesses and improving the state's public school system, gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said during a fundraiser Sunday night on Hilton Head Island.
Sheheen, who spoke to about 125 supporters during an annual fundraiser at the Sea Pines home of Lynne and Blaine Lotz, Beaufort County's Democratic Party chairman, said if elected, he will focus on creating jobs by providing opportunities for small businesses to get financing through state contracts and recruiting new businesses and industry to the state.
"Just a little over 10 years ago we had one of the best employment rates in the country. We need to focus on improving the economy," he said. "We need to look at what's worked in other states and create a place in the chamber for the small business community."
With less than six weeks until the Nov. 2 general election, Sheheen, a Democratic senator from Camden, will face Republican Nikki Haley, a Bamberg native who has represented Lexington County in the state House since 2004, to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. Sheheen said that Haley, who championed comprehensive tax reform during a $500-a-couple fundraiser Thursday night in Bluffton, promises "four more years of the same policies."
"I understand state government and I know we have to change the way government is organized," said Sheheen, who has been endorsed by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. "We need a leader who actually cares."
The crowd applauded when Sheheen said he would be the first governor in the state's history to have attended integrated public schools from kindergarten to graduation. His mother was an elementary school teacher and his children also attend public schools, he said.
As a representative of a district whose largest city has less than 7,000 people, Sheheen said he also understands the crisis facing rural counties' public school systems. He said the way South Carolina's public schools are funded should be reformed so education dollars are tied more closely to students, rather than districts. The solution, he said, is to move to a more equitable state funding formula that would distribute state resources based on need rather than an area's property values.
"Money isn't going to solve all the problems with the schools, but it matters if you're a district with little funding," he said. "At the end of the day, what matters is having a good teacher in the classroom. We also need to focus on shrinking class sizes."
This was the first election fundraiser Cecilia Coly, a senior at Bluffton High School who will turn 18 just a few weeks before Nov. 2, has attended. The youngest of the event's attendees, Coly who posed for pictures with Sheheen, said she wanted to decide who she was going to vote for.
"I wanted to educate myself about the candidates and find out what they stand for," she said.
Also undecided before the event was attendee Vic Arrington, who works as an independent consultant on climate change and other environmental issues.
Now, he said, he knows he will support Sheheen on election day.
"His speech was very cogent. It was a good combination of leadership, vision, experience and very specific fact," Arrington said. "Hand's down, I think he's the best candidate."