April 24, 2008

No room for personal attacks, Statehouse hopefuls vow

Three candidates have made an unusual pact in this era of slash-and-burn politics: Not to criticize each other personally.

Democrats John King and Montrio Belton and Republican Marvin Rogers are sparring plenty on the issues in their race for the state House of Representatives, but it appears they'll leave the personal attacks aside.

"We just all agreed that politics had gotten so nasty and so personal," said Belton, 35. "Winning this campaign is not more important than protecting another man's dignity."

Said King: "We, as educated, professional men, feel the citizens deserve better than to be pushed into anything personal. It's not about us. It's about the people of District 49."

The candidates disagree on a number of issues, a fact that became evident on Monday night when they exchanged arguments during a Weed & Seed forum at the Emmett Scott Center. About 60 people attended.

"If you walk down Saluda Street, people are concerned about jobs, education, health care," said Rogers, 32. "Instead of expending energy attacking each other, we can expend it attacking the problems. We can disagree respectfully."

No topic generated more heat than school vouchers. Belton and King fiercely oppose the concept, which gives tax credits to families whose children attend private schools. Rogers stands alone in wanting to explore the idea.

"Let's just be smart about it," Rogers said, explaining that he favors a pilot program.

"You can put that pilot system in any part of the state," said King, 31, looking at his Republican opponent. "But it will not happen in District 49."

Belton and King will face off in the Democratic primary on June 10, with Rogers awaiting in the general election. The winner will succeed Democrat Bessie Moody-Lawrence, who is retiring.

The district covers southern York County, including parts of Rock Hill and York.

Hoping to make inroads in a traditionally Democratic stronghold, Rogers pitches himself as a Republican with access to the state's top-ranking power players.

"I'm the results candidate," said Rogers, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis. "I'm connected with the party in power. I can present to you a bridge (to) the powers that be."

King, director of King Funeral Home in downtown Rock Hill, renewed his call for a complete elimination of the predatory lending industry in South Carolina. "It's doing nothing but tearing up families and communities," he said.

Belton thinks pursuing a compromise is more realistic. The middle school principal warned the audience to be leery of "emotional rhetoric" and said hourly wage-earners rely on lenders to help them in between paychecks.

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