State Politics

Want to fix SC problems? ‘Join us,’ Democrat tells Gov. McMaster after annual speech

‘South Carolina is red hot,’ Gov. McMaster says

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster touts economic strengths in his 2019 State of the State address.
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S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster touts economic strengths in his 2019 State of the State address.

Speaking for S.C. Democrats on Wednesday, state Sen. John Scott said he was not interested in blaming anyone for South Carolina’s problems, including Gov. Henry McMaster, who just had delivered his State of the State speech.

But in his roughly 10-minute prerecorded, televised response Wednesday, the Richland Democrat did just that, laying out areas he thinks the state — controlled by Republicans in “both the House, the Senate and the Governor’s Office for a generation” — has fallen behind, from health care access to public education.

“Yes, I could spend my time debating with the governor and his party and blame them for the hard times our families are facing here in South Carolina,” Scott said. “But I’m not interested in blaming someone for our problems. I’m interested in solving them.”

For two decades, Palmetto State Democrats have delivered their response to the Republican governor’s annual State of the State address, attempting to sell their party’s platform and highlight issues where the two parties can work together.

In 2017, it was the state’s crumbling bridges and roads. Last year, it was the state’s response to the failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant construction project.

This two-year session, the GOP-controlled Legislature and McMaster are pledging to fix the state’s K-12 public education system, invest in rural schools and raise teacher pay, an attempt to address a statewide teacher shortage.

“The governor conceptually gets a lot right,” said state Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington. “He appreciates the urgency of dramatic reform in South Carolina. Like so often, the challenge of the real work will be left to the General Assembly.”

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said Wednesday House Democrats plan to work with McMaster.

“If he wants to give teachers a raise, we’re there, and in fact, we’ve been in front of that issue for years,” he said. “I’m glad to see he finally got there. … We’re glad to see a governor finally catch up to us.”

Other Democratic lawmakers said they were happy to hear the governor push for education reform and teacher raises. However, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she wished McMaster would have gone one step farther.

“I would like to have heard that he supports pay raises across the board” for state workers,” she said. “It’s time for us to stop pitting state employees against each other.”

Scott said fixing education, among the state’s other problems, will take a vow from the governor, not “another empty promise or political pledges.”

“I invite the governor and his party to join us, not next week or after the next election, but right now,” Scott said, “Because it’s time for a change and if we won’t come together, then none of us deserves to be here.”

Avery G. Wilks contributed to this report.
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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.