Senate 17 candidates face off in new territory of Western York County

Coleman, Carrison clash over business, spending

Special to the Enquirer-HeraldOctober 24, 2012 

  • The candidates Bob Carrison (R) Age: 63 Resides: Winnsboro Education: Associates degree, College of Lake County (Ill.) Political experience: Winnsboro Town Council 1998-2002; volunteered for Mick Mulvaney’s U.S. House campaign Career: Current Fairfield County information technology technician; former owner News & Herald Tavern Restaurant in Winnsboro; former field engineer for industrial companies; enlisted U.S. Air Force 1967-1971, serving two tours in southeast Asia. Family: Wife, Kathy; 3 adult children; 8 grandchildren Why seeking office: “I have grandchildren. I know that sounds trite. But we’re running such large deficits and debts that will be passed on to them. And I can’t go to Washington. But I see some things in Columbia that I think I can help fix.” Creighton Coleman (D) Age: 56 Resides: Winnsboro Education: Bachelors degree, The Citadel; law degree, University of South Carolina Political experience: S.C. Senate 2008-present; S.C. House of Representatives 1998-2006; Chairman, Fairfield County Democratic Party 1998. Career: Attorney/partner at Coleman & Tolen; former prosecutor Fifth Judicial Circuit (Fairfield County); former prosecutor Sixth Circuit (Columbia). Family: Wife, Marion; 3 children, Buchanan, McNair and Marion Walker Why seeking office: “I enjoy it and enjoy helping people. I’m good at getting things done. I’ve done good things for my district and want to continue doing it.” The issues Education: What changes would you make in the way the state funds or manages local education? Carrison supports expanding the number of charter schools in South Carolina and allowing parents to move children to a school of their choice. He also supports more emphasis on modern career training and curriculum tailored to jobs available for students that aren’t seeking a four-year college degree. Coleman says the state’s school system needs to become more efficient and send more money into classrooms. He supports measures to cap administrative spending, devote more dollars to instruction and raise teacher salaries. He supports the existing framework for charter schools. Transportation: South Carolina has one of the lowest gasoline taxes and some of the most poorly maintained roads. What changes should be made to better maintain state roads. Carrison opposes any tax increases. He believes road improvements can be financed by eliminating waste elsewhere. Coleman says the economy is too weak to support a tax hike. He says South Carolina should look for funds in other places. He would “maybe” consider a gas tax increase to pay for roads if the economy is stronger and the price of fuel per gallon is reduced. Ethics: From candidate filings to how campaign money is collected and spent, ethics has been a issue in this election. What changes would you make in the state's ethics law and enforcement? Carrison says the entire system should be overhauled. He would abolish the separate ethics panels that oversee the House and Senate and seek to replace them with a panel that promotes “honesty and integrity” for all branches of state government. Coleman says lawmakers should be held to higher standards and he supports an examination of the system. While he isn’t ready to prescribe specific changes, he says the House ethics panel in its current state often resembles “the fox watching the hen house.”

Voters in western York County are still getting to know state Senate District 17 candidates Bob Carrison and Creighton Coleman. But their choice is a familiar one: A Blue-dog Democrat with a long record of public service or a Tea Party challenger with an eye on reforms.

Voters in western York County are still getting to know state Senate District 17 candidates Bob Carrison and Creighton Coleman.

But their choice is a familiar one: A Blue-dog Democrat with a long record of public service or a Tea Party challenger with an eye on reforms.

Coleman, who is seeking a second term, is running on a record of helping recruit business to Chester County with tax rebates and decades of experience as a lawyer in Winnsboro.

Carrison, the Republican challenger, is a former Winnsboro town councilman and Tea Party affiliate who wants to cut government spending, give parents more choice in student education and eliminate the state’s Budget and Control Board.

The two candidates to represent District 17 — which historically included Fairfield, Union and Chester counties — are well-known in Winnsboro, located about 50 miles south of York on U.S. 321. However, when 2010 Census findings resulted in new district lines for Senate 17, the results lumped a portion of Western York County — including the city of York and towns of McConnells and Sharon — into the district instead of Union County.

And the more populous 18 precincts in York County change the dynamics of the race, because they makes up about 50 percent of the population in District 17. So voters in Western York County will help decide the election.

Coleman, in a recent interview, described himself as an “old-fashioned, conservative Southern Democrat” who has earned a second term. He points to his ability to get things accomplished for the district as proof.

He voted to approve tax rebates that brought the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety to Chester County. The $40 million project employs less than 20 people full-time, but it has brought exposure from national media and industry executives to the economically depressed area, Coleman said.

The institute tests structures in a lab that simulates hurricane force winds. It’s financed by the insurance industry. “Those rebates are a big reason they came here,” he said.

Coleman said he also helped resolve a dispute between Chester Wood Products and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “They wanted to shut that place down,” he said, adding that 400 people work there.

Additionally, Coleman said he supported efforts to create the $45 million Rural Infrastructure Bank, which will help rural municipalities tap a pool of state money to pay for water and sewer projects to aid economic development.

Coleman said his priority during a second term will be to make sure Fairfield, Chester and York counties are prepared to recruit and secure economic development projects. “The I-77 corridor is still so underdeveloped,” he said. “When the economy turns around, we have to be ready.”

Coleman is challenged by Carrison, the former owner of the landmark Herald News & Tavern restaurant in Winnsboro. Carrison, in an interview, said he’s a more conservative option in the Statehouse.

“My opponent says he’s a conservative guy,” Carrison says. “But he’s not. He votes with liberals and Democrats.”

Coleman says he “votes on the issues,” not strictly along party lines. When asked about the difference between himself and his Republican challenger, Coleman said, “I’m honest, experienced and homegrown.”

Carrison, a Vietnam veteran who works as an information technology technician for Fairfield County, said he’ll go to Columbia with the goal of making state government more efficient for taxpayers.

Among his goals, Carrison hopes to abolish the state’s Budget and Control Board, which presides over the state’s spending. Carrison wants the budget to come from the governor’s office instead.

“It’s senseless to have a governor that lacks the power to do things,” he said.

Carrison also said education needs to be reformed. He supports programs to give parents more choice in where their children attend school. And he wants to see the state promote more charter schools and expand curriculum and programs focused on training students for the modern day labor force, especially those who want a career and not a college degree.

“Our schools as they are just aren’t functioning well,” he said.

He also said his background in technology and engineering would be valuable in Columbia. “That’s a skill set we don’t have under the state dome.”

Carrison is on staff with Fairfield County as an IT technician. But he says he’ll retire, if elected, because state law would require him to step down and so he could focus on elected office.

Carrison said the best way to increase employment in South Carolina — and a district that has double-digit unemployment — is to recruit employers by offering low taxes, efficient government and schools that train workers for available jobs.

Laid off from a Goodyear service center in the late 1970s, Carrison said he empathizes with the unemployed. “I know what it’s like to lose a job during hard times,” he said.

Both men said getting to know western York County is a priority.

Coleman, a former prosecutor and now owner of a private law office in Winnsboro, said both York and his hometown of Winnsboro are alike in many ways. Both are historic communities, both rural and both grappling with the need for more infrastructure. He vows to write regular newspaper columns in York County to keep constituents informed, just as he’s done in Winnsboro.

Carrison, an Illinois native, moved to Winnsboro 28 years ago and served on its town council for four years and on the downtown development board. He said the same approach he held in those jobs — to attend community functions and make an effort to know citizen needs — will guide him as a state senator.

He’s traveled to York County about 25 times since throwing his hat in the ring in March, attending Rotary lunches, city and county council meetings and volunteer fire department gatherings.

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