Remarks As Delivered by Rep. James Smith: State of the State Democratic Response

January 24, 2018
Columbia, S.C. 

Good evening, my fellow South Carolinians. My name is James Smith, and I’m a father, husband, combat veteran, small business owner, and life-long South Carolinian.

I, like you, love South Carolina and because we love our state, we are committed to leaving an even better South Carolina for the next generation. Well, U.S. News and World Report ranked South Carolina dead last – 50th in education, 48th in opportunity for our citizens, 43rd in the condition of our infrastructure, and 39th in health care. And I’m tired of seeing South Carolina on the bottom of every list we want to be on the top of and on the top of every list we want to be on the bottom of. And I know you are, too.

There is absolutely nothing, nothing you just heard from the Governor’s version of the State of the State that will change that. The State of the State should be about our future, not the Governor’s political future. My fellow South Carolinians, we know that the potential in South Carolina is much more than the statistics would suggest, but the facts are the facts, and we need leaders who are willing to talk straight with us, the people of South Carolina, tell us the truth, then work with us on a way to a better place.

We, as South Carolinians, are a proud people and the rankings do not reflect the love and pride we have in our state. Look, leaders should lead, focus on challenges that matter. Leaders should rise above partisan politics, and bring people together around a common cause.

Our thirty-fifth president, John F. Kennedy, said it best: “let us not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”

And I, along with members of the Democratic caucus in the House and Senate, are ready to tackle the important issues facing our state. We are ready to work with our Republican colleagues to find the right answers to the real challenges.

First, clear and transparent action must be taken to restore public trust in the state house. Ethics reform should be on the legislature’s agenda every year. We must begin by strengthening income disclosure for public officials, provide additional limits on the use of campaign funds, improve the rules governing lobbying of our public bodies, and prohibit campaign donations from utilities to those responsible for their regulation. When we are working on behalf of the people of South Carolina, there can be no doubt that we are serving their interest.

When I think of the V.C. Summer failure, I think of people like Mrs. Richardson, whom I met recently, living in North Columbia. She’s retired and living on a fixed income, caring for an adult disabled child, her roof leaks, medical and prescription costs are rising, and she is often faced with having to choose whether to pay for food or prescriptions, or the power bill or the mortgage. And she is not alone. To think that she and generations to come are now compelled to pay for a nuclear power plant that will never generate a kilowatt of power – that is an injustice that must be corrected. Mrs. Richardson and all affected deserve better. Individual rate-payers and businesses must be paid back the money taken from them. I know this can be done and the Governor’s plan must deliver.

But that is not enough. We have to reform a broken system that failed South Carolina. We must have an independent, accountable consumer advocate to protect the interest of rate-payers. And we cannot consider energy reform complete if we do not make advancement in solar power and efficiency programs. We remain more than a decade behind our neighboring states and our citizens deserve more access to these important, lower cost alternatives. That is essential to building new economic opportunities in our state.

Our success in attracting new jobs to South Carolina has brought focus on the challenges we have in preserving our natural resources, fixing our broken infrastructure, and in providing the educated workforce. We know that protecting our natural resources and expanding economic opportunity go hand in hand, and nowhere is that more clear than in protecting our coastline. All of the legislature should speak with one voice and say: “there will be no drilling off South Carolina’s coast.” The billions of dollars and thousands of jobs generated from tourism should not be placed at such a risk.

And the bipartisan override of the Governor’s veto of the desperately needed infrastructure plan has set South Carolina on a course paving our way for new economic opportunities. And at the same time, we must prove to be good stewards of tax payers’ dollars.

And we face a challenge in providing an educated workforce. And while some efforts, like our apprenticeship program, have helped connect some with opportunities, our economy is not working for everyone and too many hard-working South Carolinians are finding it harder to make ends meet. Improving our education and training is the way to bridge the gap.

Public education is the most important job of state government. I know of no parent who aspires for their child to receive a minimally adequate education. South Carolina only succeeds if we all succeed. Our students deserve and have a right to a high-quality education, regardless of where they live. So how do we get there?

Support our teachers. They are on the front lines, educating our children. We can and should increase their pay to the southeastern average, support their professionalism, and improve recruitment and retention. We can and should reduce class size in elementary years and provide more high-quality care and education. It can’t happen overnight, but we must begin down the path of school funding equity. We know what to do, we know how to do it, we need only the will to get it done.

And we are failing our best and brightest when they seek higher education and are then saddled with huge debt and no opportunities after graduation. If leveraged properly, our higher education institutions are engines for economic development. We can and must make higher education more affordable for our own citizens. And we have to align our education system, pre-K, K-12, technical colleges, and universities with business and industry to insure we are setting our young people up for success.

And too many hardworking families in South Carolina do not have access to health care simply because they live here. Look, every South Carolinian should know that by not accepting our Federal funding – your tax dollars – we are only paying for the health care in other states. So, it’s not about bigger or smaller government, it’s about smarter government. South Carolina should write our own plan to expand health care coverage, bring billions in new revenue to our state, 40,000 new jobs without raising one cent in taxes. It is the common sense thing to do. It is the fiscally responsible thing to do. And, it is the morally right thing to do.

And we must insist that we are one South Carolina and not two. Some say that there is a forgotten South Carolina. But in our South Carolina, no one and no place can be forgotten. We need a deliberate focus on rural economic development to ensure the building blocks for economic opportunity are present: a high-quality education, infrastructure, availability of health care, and our natural resources preserved.

We can do these things, for example, we must throw our support behind efforts to expand high-speed internet. Every child must be able to access the world, whether in Allendale or Anderson, Greenville or Greelyville.

And our state is blessed with talented and courageous women who make up more than half of South Carolina’s population. They bring home part or all of the income of two-thirds of the families in our state. Yet, working women, full-time, earn 74 cents on the dollar compared to their men in the same job. African-American women just earn 53 cents on the dollar compared to men. In other words, women work for South Carolina, but South Carolina does not yet work for women. South Carolina is just one of only four states without an equal pay law and it is past time the legislature act and pass equal pay for equal work.

Look, no one likes to pay taxes. But taxes in South Carolina should be balanced, fair and competitive. If the Governor was serious about providing tax relief, he would tackle real comprehensive tax reform and pursue changes in our system that over-burden businesses and families. So why then did the Governor veto the tax relief that allowed low-income families to keep more of their hard-earned dollars?

In the end, if we really want to fulfill our greatest economic potential and build an economy that works for everyone, we can only achieve that by providing a high-quality education, access to health care, investing in our infrastructure, and we must protect our natural resources, and foster a strong arts and creative community. It is the quality of life that we all seek that keeps home-grown talent here, and brings talent from out of state that will help build opportunity for all.

I know we can do these things if we all work together. Look, one party absolute power has not served South Carolina well. I believe that the people of our state are tired of the partisan trench warfare. I believe you are tuned in tonight for the same reasons I stand here tonight: we deserve better.

The future is ours, but we have to be willing to fight for it. I want to speak to each South Carolinian within the sound of my voice: it is when we understand our shared aspirations for ourselves and our families, we then focus on common challenges, because in the end, South Carolina cannot succeed if we are willing to leave some behind.

We cannot succeed if we just accept “that’s the way things are, so that’s the way things will be.” We are all in this together and we share this time, and I know our past does not have to be our future.

Whether or not the Governor and the House and Senate take actions to meet the real challenges facing our state –is up to you. We cannot wait on their will to bring about the change we all know is needed.

I tell my children that the most important job in our democracy belongs to you, the citizen. South Carolina does not have to be 50th in education, or at the bottom on any list.

I, and the members of the Democratic caucus, believe in the people of South Carolina and we believe it is your will to see South Carolina move forward, and if the Governor and the Legislature cannot move South Carolina in the right direction, the people will.

This is our South Carolina. It is up to us. Now, let’s go do this.

God bless you and God bless the great state of South Carolina. Thank you.

remarksGeoff Yost