Six 2018 gubernatorial candidates took on issues that matter to students and young people in a debate hosted by Winthrop University and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina Thursday night.
Republicans Yancey McGill and current Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and Democrats Phil Noble and Marguerite Willis attended the debate as well as Martin Barry of the American Party and Independent Philip Mathews Cheney.
Neither incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster nor candidates James Smith, Catherine Templeton and John Warren attended the debate.
The debate focused on many issues especially relevant to young people, including abortion and protection for students facing a wave of mass shootings in schools. Some questions were pre-selected, but most were asked by members of the audience.
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So what do South Carolina's gubernatorial candidates think about issues that matter to you?
Balance of power
While candidates disagreed on many issues, one thing most of them agreed on was that the governor's position is a weak one.
Willis said the South Carolina constitution gave the governor limited power, because at the time, South Carolinians didn't want a black man to take power and it was a hedge against the possibility of a black man getting elected to the office. She said there needs to be a better balance of power in the state.
Lt. Gov. Bryant agreed and admitted the current constitution is "based on racism."
Bryant said he would strengthen the role of the governor by moving the Department of Transportation under his control. He said he would focus on fixing roads as governor.
Independent Cheney said he would want to change several state norms as governor — the way South Carolina selects judges and adding routes for citizens to recall elected officials and introduce laws.
The legislature selects judges now, which Cheney said could give an edge to practicing attorneys in the legislature — who then try cases before judges they selected.
Noble and Willis both said South Carolina needs leaders who aren't afraid to stand up to the National Rifle Association, a wealthy and powerful pro-gun lobby that bankrolls the campaigns of candidates who oppose new gun regulations.
"The NRA is a scourge," Noble said. "What they're doing is evil."
He said the NRA stands in the way of making "common-sense" changes to gun laws.
"If you have to have a test and get a license to drive a car, don't you think it makes sense to do a test and get a license to have a gun?" Noble said. "It's just common sense."
Bryant disagreed with the two Democrats, and said most mass shootings happen in gun-free zones.
"The best way to stop an active shooter is to shoot back."
American Party candidate Barry said he grew up when guns were much more commonplace and much less threatening, but the laws should be tightened.
"Kids deserve a place to learn that's safe," he said. "And they deserve to come home safe as well."
Noble says before South Carolina can fix the education system, residents must accept it is broken.
"We have to reinvent our system and not just patch the holes in a system that's failing our kids," Noble said.
He said he would like to double the pay of teachers and rework a failed system.
But Willis said the state needs to focus on practical, immediate fixes first.
Willis said she doesn't believe in using state money to fund private schools through school choice.
Bryant however, said Columbia has a "bad habit" of micromanaging the classroom, and needs to give space for local school districts to make decisions.
In another audience question, candidates were quizzed on the "Personhood Act," a bill that would effectively ban all abortions.
Bryant, a sponsor of the bill, said he believes the Constitution declares everyone has the right to life, including when in the womb.
But Cheney, a former public librarian who needs 10,000 voter signatures to make the ballot, was adamantly against the bill, as were Noble, Willis and Barry.
"The Personhood Bill would make the state of South Carolina a no-woman's land for every woman of a child-bearing age," Cheney said.
McGill said he grew up as a Christian and supports the bill based on his faith in God.
Barry of the American Party said he didn't believe moral or personal issues should be debated in the legislature.
"If men could have abortions, not only would they be free, they'd be way legal," he said.