By Larry D. Smith
Change has come slowly to South Carolina, but each day, we witness another example of progress. For example, we have more African-American elected officials than any time in the last 150 years. We also have a growing African-American middle-class. But for those trapped in the cycle of low wages, poor access to healthcare, failing public education, environmental racism and a “good ole boy” system that relies on nepotism, those traditions seem to die hard.
Last week, Rep. James Smith (D) Richland Country, the Democratic Party nomination for South Carolina Governor, visited Florence and sat down with community leaders to share his vision for a South Carolina that respects state traditions while also respecting its citizens. He will face Republican candidate and present Governor Henry McMaster in the November 6, 2018, general election. The race could define the future of South Carolina politics, business, education, healthcare and progress for the next 25 years.
After the community meeting, I sat down with Smith to find out how he plans to make South Carolina more inclusive and tear down the walls that have divided our state and limited opportunities to a few citizens. Like previous candidates, there is always a great deal of talk about changing how resources are shared in South Carolina. But Smith believes that he has created a team of people from all walks of life in the state who can make South Carolina a model for the South and the entire nation. With the backing of South Carolina Congressman James E. Clyburn (D) Sixth District, former Vice President Joe Biden and local leaders like Rep. Terry Alexander (D-Florence), Smith seems to be building a diverse team to address the many challenges that South Carolina face each day. “I want to start with the people who need government the most, and many of those people live in rural areas. They need access to jobs, and the only way to make that happen is to expand infrastructure, and I will start with expanding rural airport runways,” stated Smith.
He goes on to say that his first action as Governor of South Carolina will be to accept the over two billion dollars in Medicaid that the state has rejected since Obamacare was voted into law. He says that South Carolina needs those funds to provide for citizens not only in rural communities, but also for those who live in our largest cities. Smith says he believes that if South Carolina Governors Nikki Haley and Henry McMaster had accepted the Medicaid earlier, some hospitals, like Fairfield Memorial, would not be closing their doors. Medicaid is just one of the many resources that we have underused in South Carolina.
Smith wants to address education in South Carolina so that each child can have the opportunity to achieve their goals by providing the resources each school district needs to fund programs that will allow students to research the career that would best fit their skill levels and life goals. To do this, he supports a statewide millage that will make sure that all school districts in South Carolina are funded equally. He says that he will also work with each district to see that students understand the clear choice between liberal arts colleges and technical colleges as they make their higher education selections. “While I support college education for all of our students coming out of high school, I also know that those who choose to can make a great living with training at our technical college. They can earn $60, 000.00, $70,000.00 or $80,000.00 a year,” said Smith.
As African-American business ownership in South Carolina continues to decline, Smith says that he will work with HBCUs, the Governor’s Office of Small and Minority Business and major universities to help address the needs of these businesses. Smith would also work with state agencies to increase access for African-American and small business by encouraging them to contract these businesses. He also says that he wants to see African-American business owners get a fair share of South Carolina’s tourism. Over 40 percent of the state’s tourism business is based on African-American history.
Today, South Carolina communities from Upstate to the Lowcountry face the challenges of environmental racism. Places like Spartanburg, Greenville, Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Myrtle Beach and rural communities where polluting organizations thrive, causing health issues and fewer jobs. But there are also places like the Southside of Spartanburg, where the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Arkwright were surrounded by two Superfund sites, six Brownfields and an active chemical plant. In Spartanburg, the soil that children played in, and that their homes were built on, were contaminated with toxic chemicals in 1997. It took a $270 million investment by city, county, state and federal agencies to replace unsafe housing stock and train residents in asbestos abatement.
Recently, the issue of environmental racism has been on the front page of one newspaper. And though it’s an issue that has not gotten much coverage over the last few years, it’s an issue that continues to challenge African-American residents across our state. It is also an issue Smith says that he will deal with as South Carolina’s Governor. “I believe that all of the citizens of our state deserve clean air and clean water no matter where they live in South Carolina. And I will make sure that state agencies support clean water and air quality in our state,” Smith said.
But before Smith can change the traditions of South Carolina that reflect badly on African-Americans and others living in our state, he has to be elected. Before he can build infrastructure that works to address education, healthcare, business opportunities, criminal justice reform, environmental racism, fair wages, new jobs and respect for all citizens, Smith has to be elected as governor in South Carolina. To make sure that he wins in November, Smith is leaving no stone unturned. He is visiting churches, community meetings, working with the “Devine Nine” and traveling across South Carolina to show voters the difference between him and Gov. Henry McMaster. A difference that is now starting to show up in the political polls, with Smith holding a 51 to 46 percent edge with voters as of last week.
Larry Smith is the publisher of The Community Times Newspaper in Florence