State Senate candidates spar in York over ethics reform, school choice legislation

adouglas@heraldonline.comOctober 23, 2012 

— In their first official debate Tuesday night, S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, and his challenger Joe Thompson, a tea party activist, drew clear lines on how they differ on ethics reform and school choice legislation.

During his campaign, Hayes has touted his plan for ethics reform in South Carolina.

He said legislators should have to declare all sources of income, including money taken from lobbyists while in office. He also supports allocating more money and staff for the state Ethics Commission to investigate and prosecute those who violate state ethics laws.

Hayes spoke out on Tuesday about the “shadow group” responsible for sending political fliers to people in District 15 that stated “Wes Hayes hit the jackpot with our tax dollars.”

He said the state needs a clearer definition for political action committees such as the group called Conservative GOP PAC which distributed the mailers targeting Hayes.

“We don’t know who they are, what they’re spending, where they’re getting their money,” he said. “They really don’t exist – you can’t find them. That’s cowardly. We need to put a stop to that.”

Thompson said Hayes’ plan to create more ethics enforcement through the state House and Senate ethics committees is not the answer.

“The difference between Wes and I on ethics is the fact that he thinks that the self-policing policy at the state level is going to correct these problems,” he said. “And it’s not going to do it.

“Look at where we are – 20 years ago we had ‘Operation Lost Trust,’ 20 years later we have ‘Operation Lost Vote.’ Now what has changed? Nothing has changed. We’re still self-policing.”

Operation Lost Trust was a federal undercover investigation into public corruption that led to the arrests in 1990 of more than two dozen lawmakers, lobbyists and others.

Different political groups, including the Columbia Tea Party, initiated Operation Lost Vote in May after more than 200 candidates were tossed from June primary ballots in South Carolina because of confusion over electronically filing statements of economic interest forms to the S.C. Ethics Commission.

The two candidates also clashed over school-choice options

Hayes said he would not support taking funding from public schools for to create private school options.

“I like choices but I like my choices, the way I support choices, within the public school system,” Hayes said.

Thompson said he supports the public school system but said, “I want them better.”

His solution: implement school choice by allowing state money to follow children who attend private schools.

“If the schools have to compete for the children and for the money, they will do a better job,” he said.

Senate 17 debate

In District 17, S.C. Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro, and Republican challenger Bob Carrison of Winnsboro, also faced off in Tuesday’s debate, finding common ground on ethics reform, abolishing the state budget and control board and changing the position of superintendent of education to a governor-appointed job.

District 17 includes Chester County and part of York County.

The two sparred over a suggested education-funding policy that Carrison called a method of “redistributing wealth.”

Coleman said public schools are struggling under Act 388 that eliminated property tax on owner-occupied homes. He said he would at least support considering “some sort of comprehensive state plan” to pool all tax revenue gained from industrial companies statewide and use that money to support public schools.

“I like that concept, but I think we need to walk real slow with that,” Coleman said.

Carrison said that plan would not treat everyone fairly.

“Some of us have moved to specific areas for specific reasons and they may have to do with the economics of an area,” he said. “I am not particularly fond of what you would call a comprehensive plan that would adopt some kind of wealth sharing.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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