The incumbent Democrat Herb Kirsh and Republican Tommy Pope for District 47 in the state House turned into a folksy exchange between veteran politicians Thursday.
Kirsh, who has represented the district for 32 years, relaxed in an office chair, answering questions with simple sentences or by reading from prepared text. Asked about school vouchers, Kirsh's simply said, "No way, sir."
Pope, the former 16th Circuit solicitor, stood for his off-the-cuff answers.
Their answers often resulted in chuckles from the crowd, especially when they gently sparred over personal decisions that affected their political ambitions.
When Pope said he was perfectly satisfied to never leave his first job with the State Law Enforcement Division because he "had a blue light, siren and a gun," Kirsch replied, "You should have stayed there."
Their 50-minute debate capped an evening of political conversation sponsored by the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce at York Middle School.
About 100 people attended, listening to Kirsh and Pope as well as Shirley Harris and Austin Dawkins, candidates for the York school board District 1 seat, and Eric Winstead and Nancy Cornwell-Daves, candidates for the York County Council's District 3 seat.
Election Day is Nov. 2.
The recurring theme of all of Thursday's debates was education and the economy, especially Act 388, which moved the school funding burden from residential property owners and placed it on shoppers and business owners via a 1-cent sales tax.
Kirsh and Pope agreed the act needs to be changed and that the school districts need more flexibility in deciding how the money is spent.
Pope said he has spoken with people in Columbia who assure him the state is providing the money for education. He said he has spoken with local educators, and they say they are not getting the needed funds. He suggested someone hire a pipe cleaner to get the money flowing.
Pope said once public education funding returns "to where it needs to be," educators need to look at how they teach. "You can't start teaching too early. If our job is to start teaching from the womb, we need to start."
Kirsh said the local school districts are getting the money and each has a significant rainy-day fund.
"They need to use them," Kirsh said. "They don't need to save that money, use it."
Kirsh and Pope agreed that Act 388 must be considered as part of any comprehensive tax reform package.
Kirsh noted the state has had numerous reform commissions during his 16 terms and that the latest commission "won't be successful."
Kirsh said the state needs to change its ethics laws to improve South Carolina's image and stop a string of embarrassments by state politicians.
One change he suggested was banning campaign contributions by people from out of state, he said.
Pope said the climate in Columbia will change when people remember to bring their integrity with them.
"You can't live in Columbia and represent the folks back home," he said.