By Kate Cerve
South Carolina is in crisis, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen told a crowd of supporters in Beaufort on Tuesday.
Unemployment is high, public schools are laying off teachers and a lack of accountability has led to ethics violations and criminal charges against elected officials. He said legislators in the General Assembly are divided -- between Republicans and Democrats, the Upstate and the Lowcountry and even within their own political parties.
But South Carolina and its politics haven't always been that way, said Sheheen, who represents Chesterfield, Kershaw and Lancaster counties in the state senate.
He pointed to two Beaufort County residents as proof --former state Rep. Harriet Keyserling and former Lieutenant Governor W. Brantley Harvey Jr.
"These two people represent a time in South Carolina when we respected our leaders," Sheheen said. "We can be that way again."
He said elected officials must return to putting the good of the state ahead of what's good for individuals, one region or themselves.
"We're at this crossroads," he said. "And this time, we're going to choose the better path."
Sheheen 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.
On Tuesday, Beaufort County residents snacked on appetizers and desserts -- including blue-frosted cookies with a "Vote Sheheen" message -- while Sheheen discussed his priorities at a fundraiser at Keyserling's Beaufort home.
He said his top priorities include:
- Job creation and growing the state's economy.
- Restoring trust in state government.
- Ensuring public schools are adequately funded.
The crowd applauded when Sheheen said he is proud to be a public school graduate, the father of children in public schools and the son of an elementary school teacher.
He said the way South Carolina's public schools are funded should be reformed so that education dollars are tied more closely to students, rather than districts. He also said he opposes voucher programs, or efforts to use public money for private school tuition.
Jane Frederick, a Beaufort architect, is one of three local women who organized the fundraiser. She said supporters want Sheheen to be elected in November and will help him raise the money needed to achieve that goal.
"He has the ideas that can move the state forward," Frederick said. "And he knows how to work with the legislature to get those ideas in place."