Chronicle Staff Report
2020 Presidential Candidate Senator Kamala Harris made her ninth campaign trip to South Carolina July 7-8 as she visited the Pee Dee area. The California Democrat held a Darlington County Meet & Greet in Hartsville and town halls in Florence and Myrtle Beach. At the Florence town hall, Sen. Harris granted South Carolina Black newspaper leadership members an exclusive interview.
Several 2020 Democratic hopefuls have made a concerted effort to make an impact in South Carolina, a state that has voted in favor of the Republican presidential candidate in every election since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory. With over twenty officially declared Democratic presidential candidates vying for the party’s nomination, the race has tournament-like feel ahead of South Carolina’s February 29, 2020 primary vote. The Palmetto State’s sizable African American population has seemingly given the candidates confidence that the party’s primary winner will have a realistic shot of defeating the Republican presidential opposition in November 2020.
The Florence town hall took place at the New Ebenezer Baptist Church Strive Hard Educational, Recreational and Enrichment Center (SHEREC) July 7. Florence County Democratic Party Chair LaShonda NeSmith-Jackson, Florence County Democratic Party Executive Committeewoman Mattie Thomas, and former SC House of Rep. Bakari Sellers riled up the crowd of several hundred citizens with words of praise for the visiting presidential candidate. 2018 SC gubernatorial candidate Marguerite Willis introduced Sen. Harris to the audience and remained on stage for the remainder of the town hall.
Sen. Harris lent her support for teachers and students during her speech. Student loan debt forgiveness for middle and working class families is a priority to Harris, as well as increasing teacher pay. “I believe that you should judge a society based on how it treats its children,” she said.
Focusing on the economy led Harris to a miserable aspect to a lifestyle that many citizens have gotten used to. “In our America, nobody should have to work more than one job just to keep a roof over their heads,” she declared. Harris vowed to repeal the controversial 2017 Republican-led tax cut act, much to the widespread acclaim from the audience.
Crowdgoers asked the Howard University graduate several questions after her speech. When asked about her policies involving American senior citizens and veterans, Harris admitted that the country has not done right by either group. She would like to make improvements to senior care facilities and services offered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Carolina Panorama Publisher Nate Abraham, Charleston Chronicle Editor Damion Smalls, and Community Times Publisher Larry Smith took part in the Florence discussion after the town hall with Sen. Harris. “The role of the Black press is so important. We cannot let our papers die,” Sen. Harris said. “When we talk about the Black press, it is a very specific institution and has always carried a voice that was about access, trust, and being unencumbered by commercialism or popularity, about what needs to be said at any time.”
When asked about her economic plan and how it includes rural South Carolina, Harris points to her purposed bump in teacher pay in an effort for rural communities to retain and recruit teachers, a tax credit of up to $6,000 to aid families that earn less than $100,000 annually, investment in trade skills development and infrastructure, and improved rural broadband internet access. She also is in favor of net neutrality, saying that money shouldn’t separate people from having fair and equal internet access.
The Oakland native explained her push for debt-free college, saying that people who have money should pay for education and families that can’t pay shouldn’t go into debt just to go to college. She does supports free community college. The term ‘higher education’ being colloquially synonymous with ‘college’ doesn’t sit well with Harris. “There are really good, important, valuable jobs that require education after high school, but it may not require a college education.” Education after high school for Harris incorporates investment in HBCUs, “which are pipelines for our students to the majority of professions.” The value of early education was described by Harris. “If a Black child by the end of third grade has had a [one] Black teacher, they are 13% more likely to go to college. If they’ve had two Black teachers, 32% more likely to go to college,” she stated.
Harris stands to oppose the NRA’s influence on gun laws and put pressure on gun manufacturers to be held more accountable in the results of their business dealings. “Gun violence is real in America. It’s the leading cause of death for young Black men in America, by multiples as compared to every other cause of death,” Harris laments. She would use executive action if necessary if Congress fails to author a bill on sensible gun control once elected. “It’s one thing to talk about where you stand on policy. It’s another thing to talk about how you’re going to act on it.”
The topic of healthcare revealed an attempt of empathy through policy from Sen. Harris. “We’ve got to get to a place where we agree that it is immoral that people in our country cannot have access to healthcare simply because they can’t afford it,” she said. Reigning in the power of pharmaceutical companies, easing mental health aid access, reinforcing the Affordable Care Act, and providing Medicare for all are just a few efforts Harris plans to enact upon if elected.
According to her South Carolina communications team, Sen. Harris has raised more than $23 million since her January 2019 campaign launch. During the second quarter of the year, her team also notes that the average contribution was $39, along with a $24 average from online donors. With the team attributing a campaign pledge from Sen. Harris to “reject money from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists,” the money raised by her campaign lags behind fellow contenders Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden.
Another obstacle for Harris will be questions of her past legal actions as San Francisco District Attorney and California Attorney General. Since challenging Biden on his checkered past involving cozy relationships with known segregation-supporting legislators at the first Democratic debate June 27, Harris has enjoyed a renewed wave of momentum. Her sterling performance raised $2 million online the day after the debate, the campaign’s best online fundraising day yet, confirmed by the Harris communications team.
The eclectic lineup of Democratic contenders have one thing in common: unanimous disapproval of the current Head of State, Donald Trump. His callous attitude towards minorities, women, people who disagree with him, and facts have made Trump easy fodder for popular soundbites and social media hashtags in his two-plus years in office. Many candidates are supremely confident that they, and only them, have what it takes to defeat Trump head to head. However, many SC Black voters will require more information and dedication than creative criticisms of Trump to put their faith in potential 2020 candidates. How candidates react and respond to questions directly pertaining to the Black community specifically will leave a lasting mark on the voting public as a whole.