Question after question, Sumter Democrat Archie Parnell attacked Republican foe Ralph Norman during a Rock Hill forum Friday evening on issues stretching from education to health care to immigration.
The twist: Norman wasn’t even in the building at the time.
The Rock Hill Republican running for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District announced earlier this week that he would not attend Friday’s American Values Forum at the AME Zion Transformation Center on Saluda Street.
Still, Norman received plenty of criticism from Parnell, Green Party candidate David Kulma, and American Party candidate Josh Thornton. The special election is June 20 for South Carolina’s 5th District, which spans 11 counties, including York, Lancaster and Chester.
“The candidate who did not attend this debate,” said Parnell of Norman, “the one person who did not want to look you in the eye, I think that says a lot. We’re at a tipping point. There are two special elections left, so let’s send a message to Washington by not electing a Republican.”
Parnell took time to mark out the “tremendous difference” between the Republican and himself on issues such as public education, health care, and local affairs.
Norman has said many times that he would like to repeal Obamacare, which Parnell said would be akin to “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”
Parnell, Kulma and Thornton all said they considered health care as a human right. Kulma touted his concept of universal health care, invoking names such as former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as an inspiration.
“Obamacare has helped me,” Kulma said. “But under this system, 45,000 people are dying each year because they can’t afford to be in it because of their income.”
Parnell, who said he was a product of public schools, said he did not support school vouchers. He said vouchers amount to taking public money to fund private corporations who run private schools.
Thornton took a more nuanced view, saying that parents of special needs children can get the chance for better care through vouchers to move outside of the public school system.
“If it’s proven that the local school district is unable to meet the needs of your child,” Thornton said, “don’t you think they should be able to go to a different school?”
The forum was hosted by NAACP chapters from Cherokee, Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, Lee, Newberry, Spartanburg, Sumter, Union and York counties, as well as the South Carolina State Conference, NAACP.
The Rock Hill forum had initally been promoted as a bout between Parnell, Norman, and Kulma, with fliers sent out last month advertising those candidates. However, Norman told Charlotte’s WFAE-FM radio on Tuesday that he would not participate, citing a schedule conflict.
“No, sir, I will not,” Norman said. “Look, I’ve had seven debates. Mr. Parnell, I think, was at three of them. We’ve been on the stage with Democrats for many times. We’re so different that people know where we stand. I’ll be in Gaffney campaigning for the district. We’ve had this set for the last three weeks on my role and where I’ll be.”
With the Republican away, Parnell seized on the opportunity to rail against the American Health Care Act narrowly passed last month by a Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
If the district elects a Democrat, Parnell said, his vote could help swing the future of health care in America.
“I think it will send a very clear signal on this and on so many other issues,” he said.
Parnell, Norman, Kulma and Thornton are all vying for the congressional seat left vacant when U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, resigned to become President Donald Trump’s budget director.
Thornton and Kulma earned positive responses for their answers on immigration. Kulma, a Winthrop University professor, said he was in favor of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while Thornton told the crowd of about 150 voters that he was opposed to a possible wall on the southern border with Mexico.
“If Mr. Norman was here, he’d say the reason that they’re crossing illegally is because there’s a huge welfare state, that we give them housing and health care,” said Thornton, of Rock Hill. “But when we talk about guest workers programs, they’re actually coming here because of a better life.”