The two candidates running in S.C. Senate District 17 race are in strong agreement on one thing: A fresh approach is needed to combat the inaction of state government Columbia.
Mike Fanning, a former educator who is executive director of the Olde English Consortium, unseated 16-year incumbent Sen. Creigton Coleman in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff, according to unofficial results. Fanning got about 56 percent of the vote, with 44 percent for Coleman.
Fanning, 49, who lives near Great Falls in Chester County, will face Republican Mark Palmer, 57, of York in the November election. Palmer, an Iraq war veteran, works as a system administrator for United Refrigeration Inc. in Rock Hill.
The Senate District 17 includes part of York County, including southern Rock Hill and the area around York, and all of Chester and Fairfield counties.
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Fanning said Wednesday he wants to build relationships with constituents, whom he believes are wanting a stronger bond with the people who represent them.
“The reason I’m running is for too long we have waited on Columbia to provide leadership,” Fanning said. “And the South Carolina Senate has been arguing on tax reform for decades, ethics reform for decades, public education for decades, and still nothing has happened.”
Palmer said he has been active in South Carolina politics since 1993. He has helped other candidates get elected, attended state hearings and written letters about issues.
“I have witnessed the general sense that Columbia is broken,” Palmer said Wednesday. “They’re not accomplishing anything of substance. It’s just the same old thing.”
Palmer said he decided to run for the Senate seat because he realized “it doesn’t get any better as long as you keep putting the same people in.”
Palmer was in the National Guard in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he worked with Iraqi contractors to negotiate prices for the services they provided.
He said he gained a reputation there as a man who is tight-fisted with taxpayer money. “I will be equally frugal in defending the earnings of South Carolinians,” he said.
“That is what concerns me, taxpayer money being used inefficiently,” Palmer said. He said he is “opposed to raising taxes when current funding is going to waste.”
Fanning referred to the state’s failure to make progress on comprehensive tax reform and road work, despite public support for those issues, saying they are examples of “a government that’s not responsive to people.”
“We really haven’t talked issues,” he said, referring to his conversations with voters. “We’ve talked relationships, building relationships for change, bringing people together and nurturing and sustaining relationships for change in our communities, because that’s what’s going to change the culture in Columbia.”
Fanning argued against piecemeal tax reform, saying broader change is needed. He said the state has more than 400 tax exemptions that total more than $4 billion in lost revenue.
“If we removed half the exemptions, those ludicrous ones that we could all agree on, you’d have $2 billion to fund core services like roads and reduce tax rates that are too high, business and industry included,” he said.
Fanning, a former teacher who now leads a nonprofit educational collaborative that aims to promote excellence, said the state needs to fully fund the base student cost, an amount it promises to pay school districts annually for each student who enrolls, though it has rarely delivered on that promise.
He also talked about the need for greater local control of education, saying state leaders don’t fully understand the impact of some of the education measures they enact.
“We need to quit dumping on teachers,” Fanning said. “We need to give the schools what the General Assembly has promised to give the schools back in 1976, with the Education Finance Act, and then we need to back off and allow the teachers to teach and students to learn.”
Palmer supports ethics reform for the General Assembly, saying lawmakers need to empower independent review panels to examine ethics and potential criminal violations.
He also supports shorter legislative sessions and government restructuring, especially the S.C. Department of Transportation, to make state government more accountable.
Palmer said he also supports efforts to repair South Carolina’s roads, bridges and infrastructure, but he believes that work should take place through the process of prioritizing projects rather than increasing taxes.
Fanning, who studied at Wofford College, Benedict College and the University of South Carolina, is married to Stephanie, and they have one son, Markell, 21.
Palmer is married to Holly, and they have a daughter, Savannah, 17. Palmer, a Winthrop University graduate, is commander of the American Legion Post 66 in York and co-chair of the York County Veterans Association.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077