James Smith: We can do better, and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer

This column by James Smith appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier today:


I have a vision for South Carolina. I see a future in which our children enjoy better lives than we have.

We can get there if we can set aside the bitterness that has characterized our politics in recent years — if we can stop pushing away from each other, and work together on the many things we all want.

I know we can do this. I’ve seen it. When I served with the National Guard in Afghanistan, no one asked me whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. We were all Americans, and we were there to fight a real enemy, not each other.

It wasn’t easy for me to get there. I was told that, as a JAG officer – a military lawyer – I could not transfer to the infantry to fight the people who had attacked our country on 9/11.

But I wouldn’t accept that “no.” I resigned my officer’s commission and started over at the bottom. I went through basic training at age 37, alongside recruits young enough to be my kids. I made it through, and had the privilege of leading troops in battle.

Thanks to the men I served with, heroes all, I came home with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and resumed serving the people of my House district. Not just the Democrats or the Republicans, but all of the people of my district.

When I decided to run for governor, there were those who said I couldn’t do it. I had a “D” after my name, so I didn’t have a chance. I didn’t accept that “no,” either.

I’ve spent my entire legislative career in the minority — a Democrat in a House full of Republicans. That’s all right; I wasn’t there to serve a party. I was there to work for the people of South Carolina, and I’d do that with whoever would join me in making our state a better place.

And that’s the kind of governor I’ll be. The things I want to do have nothing to do with ideology. My running mate, Mandy Powers Norrell, and I would address the real challenges facing our state, with pragmatic solutions:

• Too many children in our state don’t even get the “minimally adequate” education that our state constitution requires. I’d transform the “corridor of shame” into a corridor of opportunity. And I’d start by raising teacher pay above the Southeastern average without raising taxes.

• Too many of our neighbors lack any sort of health care coverage. I would immediately accept the federal funds — our own tax money — to cover 150,000 people now doing without medical care, bring more than a billion dollars a year into our economy, and create 44,000 good new jobs.

• Too many good jobs in South Carolina are threatened by the looming trade war. Our state is repeatedly named as one of those likely to be most harmed by job-killing tariffs. I will stand up against these destructive federal policies, rather than urging everyone to “be patient” with them.

It’s not about big government or small government; it’s about smart government.

My record shows what I would do. For instance, I was the prime sponsor of a bill this year that would have lifted the arbitrary cap on solar power in our state — thereby helping free South Carolina from the iron grip of the big utilities that have saddled us with billions in debt for nuclear plants that will never produce a single watt of power.

What was Henry McMaster’s top legislative priority in the same session? Fighting “sanctuary cities.” But there are no sanctuary cities in South Carolina. It was a pose, meant to play to people’s resentments and show that he shared them. It had nothing to do with the needs of our state.

My bill to lift the solar cap enjoyed broad support among Republicans as well as Democrats, so it easily passed on first and second reading. But then the big utilities, which have given McMaster more than $100,000, got the rules changed for the third and final reading.

Once again, the interests of South Carolinians were not served, while our governor tries to distract us with divisive national issues.

We can do better than this. I know it. I see a better future for all of us. And I won’t take “no” for an answer. Neither should you.

James Smith is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, and the Democratic nominee for governor.