Familiar face, mystery man compete in S.C. House 48 election

Voters in S.C. House District 48 have a choice this fall between an incumbent and a leap into the unknown.

State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, is running for a fourth term in the S.C. House of Representatives. His opponent on the ballot this fall is Democrat Barry McGrew, who filed back in March for the seat, faced no opposition in the primary, and has done little campaigning since.

The Herald’s attempts to contact McGrew were unsuccessful.

Norman has represented District 48 since 2009. The district covers the area around Lake Wylie up to the North Carolina border and reaches down into Rock Hill north of Celanese Road and east of Anderson Road.

Ralph W. Norman

Age: 61

Occupation: Real estate developer, owner of Warren Norman Co.

Family: Wife, Elaine; adult children, Warren, Caroline Williamson, Anne Beckham and Mary Catherine Norman, and 12 grandchildren.

Background: Norman graduated from Rock Hill High School in 1971 and Presbyterian College in 1975. He is the past president of the Rotary Club, Salvation Army, York County Board of Realtors, York County Homebuilders Association and Piedmont Hospital. He was originally elected to the S.C. House in 2004, left after one term to run for Congress in 2006, then returned to Columbia in a special election in 2009.

You’re on the new committee on ethics reform, and you’ve been an outspoken critic of suspended House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who was indicted on ethics charges. Do you think stronger ethics reform has a chance of passing in next year’s session?

That will happen, because what’s happened is unprecedented. There’s never been a speaker of the House who has basically been thrown out of office. He’ll have his day in court, but what he’s been accused of is directly related to a loose ethics law. One of the things I’m going to be pushing for will be stiffer penalties, getting it out of the Legislature. I shouldn’t have to decide if the person next to me is guilty of an ethics violation. Get it out of the House. Get an outside body to rule on that.

Speaker Harrell was just the tip of the iceberg, and now you’re going to see other legislators who have to face the music. With Harrell gone, they’re looking into where the money’s being spent, have they used it properly or not. And that’s the right thing to do.

To address the state’s crumbling roads and infrastructure, do you think we need to raise the gas tax?

The gas tax is just a small part of the question. Where is the money going to be spent if the tax is raised? If you look at the history, 33 percent of the money raised by the State Infrastructure Bank has gone to Charleston. Ninety-five percent of all the money in my memory has gone to six counties. Thirty-four counties have never seen a dime. That’s the kind of politics that’s not good for our state. That’s the kind of politics that having a new speaker will hopefully eliminate. I think it will be a combination of setting new priorities with the existing money we’ve got. The capital reserve fund was basically spent on pet projects. That could be allocated to roads. We have over 113 sales tax exemptions. Those need to be revisited. That’s where the money could come from, and that needs to be considered before the gas tax is even talked about.

How can the state better address education funding. Specifically, should Act 388, which set limits on how school districts can raise taxes, be revisited?

I’d like to see the dollars follow the child, and I’d like to see the funding mechanism reworked, and I think Gov. (Nikki) Haley is in the process of doing that now.

I think you’ll see a discussion on how teachers are evaluated. There will be discussion on the dollars school districts get, including schools that are underperforming. We’ve got successful schools in Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Clover, and we’ve basically been punished for being successful. And we’ve got the tax base and the millage rate to support it, but our teachers and classrooms rank high. We shouldn’t be penalized for that.

(On Act 388), I was one of the few legislators to oppose it. Now there may be an appetite to revisit that, because what wasn’t taken into account was that the penny sales tax, with the recession, didn’t fund what it was intended to fund. School districts as a result couldn’t meet their budgets and raised millage rates, raised taxes. That’s not fair to the people paying the tax, nor does it get the job done.