May 15, 2008

3 Democrats vying for Short's seat in primary

Economic growth and education are the main issues for Democrats vying to replace state Sen. Linda Short, D-Chester.

Short has said she will retire when her term expires this year. The three Democrats running for her seat in the June 10 primary offer different plans -- some detailed, some not -- for District 17, which includes all of Chester and Fairfield counties as well as parts of York and Union counties.

Here's a snapshot of the candidates: Creighton Coleman, Leah Moody and Michael Squirewell.

Creighton Coleman

The only District 17 candidate, Republican or Democrat, who has held an elected public office is Creighton Coleman. And the Winnsboro attorney points to his eight years in the state House of Representatives as a reason to keep him in public service.

"I've been doing it for eight years," he said. "It would be a shame for that knowledge and that experience not to be used anymore. ... Somebody else new and elected, they've got a learning curve. And it's a learning curve in Columbia."

The central premise of Coleman's economic policy is keeping taxes low. He said he was instrumental in state legislation that replaced school operations property taxes on most homes with a 1-cent sales tax.

"There's only so much I think a state legislator can do with the economy," he said. "I just think we need to watch taxes. And when industry does come in, that we're positioning ourselves to bring 'em in and to create jobs."

Coleman, who is involved in a lawsuit against the payday lending industry, wants to increase regulations for those lenders and for credit card companies that double interest rates when payments are late or missed.

"I think the less government, the better government," he said. "But I think the government needs to step up and protect people who can't protect themselves."

Education funding, Coleman said, must be simplified and better controlled. Coleman advocates funding schools on a per-student basis to avoid a disparity between schools in poorer counties and those in wealthier ones. He also wants to change funding priorities, spending more money on classroom needs and less on administrative ones.

"In some districts, there's more money going for administration than in the classroom, which is wrong," he said. "And we need to get a handle on it. I mean, we keep putting money in it and that helps, but at the same time we've got to be spending smarter."

Leah Moody

Leah Moody calls some of her goals for District 17 "lofty," but she said a starting point is mandatory for success.

The Rock Hill attorney's goals include improving education funding, health care and job creation, pursuits she said are in many ways connected.

She's an advocate of changing public education funding to a fair per-pupil system, a move she said will require extensive budget analysis.

"I can't say that I know all the answers by any stretch of the imagination," she said. "It's going to be tough to figure out how to address the issue with making sure that we have adequate funding for our schools while not leaving some other program or other agency stranded."

But improving education will benefit the local economy, Moody said, because a skilled work force will be attractive to industrial companies eyeing the district.

"If we're not educating them (children) to the level that they would be able to step into these jobs with technology and all the different issues," she said, "we're going to have a problem."

If elected, Moody also said she would introduce legislation that would create after-school programs for rural students. She would suggest laws requiring fair wages for women.

Her long-term initiatives include developing a statewide court system for the mentally ill and universal health care.

But she doesn't know where the money would come from to pay for those projects.

"We've got to set a goal," she said. "If we don't set a goal, what are we working towards?"

Michael Squirewell

Four issues primarily concern Michael Squirewell: Education, employment, affordable housing and health care.

The Ridgeway developer said he's committed to bringing programs such as the Boys and Girls Club into public schools to create after school and summer programs. He said he's done similar work with Fairfield County schools.

"The kids need an outlet ... to keep them focused," he said.

Squirewell believes each child should have access to a computer at his or her desk. When asked how the state could afford so many computers, he said the answer lies, not in tax increases, but in partnerships with companies that can provide that technology.

Partnerships, Squirewell said, are key to economic development.

He hopes to foster agreements between local industry and career centers so vocational students can get the training and certification they need to land a job after high school.

"We need to make sure that our programs are actually geared to what our industry is asking for," he said.

Squirewell said he'd like to see a task force created to determine how to recruit new industry and how to keep the companies already here.

He also wants building codes relaxed. Houses can still be safe, he said, without stiff restrictions that drive up the cost.

As for health care, Squirewell said the state needs more primary care facilities and the cost of medication and insurance must be reduced, although he doesn't know how to accomplish those goals.

"Certainly, I don't have any answers for any of it as we speak," he said. "But those will be things that I'll certainly be a voice for."

State senators serve four-year terms and are paid $10,400 annually, plus $1,000 per month for expenses such as gasoline and office supplies.

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