By Barney Blakeney
Columbia Rep. James Smith told S.C. National Newspaper Publishers Association newspaper publishers he’s best qualified to win the Democratic nomination as a candidate for South Carolina governor in the November 6 general election. For the past 22 years Smith has represented Richland County House Dist. 72. A small business owner and practicing attorney, Smith currently serves on the house Judiciary and Legislative Oversight committees.
His investment in people is part of the message Smith says he hopes resonates with voters in the June 12 Democratic primary election. In addition to his service in the state legislature, the Columbia native and University of South Carolina graduate also has served more than 20 years in the Army. He is a major in the S.C. Army National Guard. Smith served eight years as a JAG officer in the South Carolina Army National Guard when a 2001 visit to Ground Zero in New York stirred something inside of him. It motivated him to resign his commission and enlist as an infantryman. At age 37, he began basic training.
In 2007 as an infantry officer Smith deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He served as a combat advisor to Afghan security forces operating in remote areas in southern Afghanistan. Smith worked side by side with Afghans to enforce the rule of law. For his service he received the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Purple Heart.
In his various aspects of service Smith, always committed to make South Carolina a better place for all to live and work has fought to shake things up. He hopes to become South Carolina’s first ‘Education Governor’ since Richard Riley.
Smith proposes some strategies to impact public education that include ‘arming’ teachers with better pay. “We can’t be committee to (bringing in) jobs and not be committed to education. Every child deserves a high quality education that prepares them for the future,” he said. As for arming citizens, Smith advocates legislation that closes loopholes, requires universal background checks and restricts retail sales of military-style weapons. Gun violence in many South Carolina communities has become a health issue, he said.
Diversity is one of the state’s greatest strengths, Smith believes. That strength should be enhanced through more equitable funding for children’s health, schools and early childhood education, especially in rural areas, he said. As governor Smith said he would expand Medicaid and resources for mental health.
Economic development is another area where Smith says the strength of the state’s diversity can be enhanced. Small business centers, apprenticeship programs and aligning our public education system to meet the needs of industry while insuring state agencies ‘do the right thing’ with respect to the procurement process are steps that can be taken to do that.
Despite the dysfunction and corruption that prevails in state government, Smith thinks his experience can help him lead a legislature that is ready for change. Over the past 22 years he’s learned how to do things. His confidence wasn’t wasted on the newspaper owners.
“Out of all of the candidates we have talked to during our editorial meetings with candidates running for Governor of South Carolina in the Democratic Primary, James Smith seems to be one that can build support across party lines – a key component to making sure that all of the citizens of South Carolina’s voices are heard as we deal with the underfunding of education and healthcare. But the question remaining is can James Smith or anyone of the candidates address these issues without a tax increase for the citizens of South Carolina?” said Community Times/Upstate Times Publisher Larry Smith.
Carolina Panorama Publisher Nate Abraham said, “James Smith said that his 22 years in the State House gives him a unique insight into the issues affecting the Black community. He said that he is proud to run on his record in the South Carolina House of Representatives.”
And Charleston Chronicle Editor Damion Smalls, added, “In normal times, a politician with two decades of experience in the state legislature would be an overwhelming favorite against two gubernatorial opponents who have never served in office. But these are not normal times. Voters need to be assured that when it comes to James Smith, his political experience is necessary in this race. Also, his claim to be the “education governor” should be backed up with strategies to rectify the “Corridor of Shame”, the education gap between racial groups and the often misused disturbing schools law that disproportionately harms South Carolina’s Black students.”