Fort Mill Times

SC’s House 47: Pope vs. Simmons on the issues

Voters will choose between S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope and challenger Diane Phelps Simmons for the winner of South Carolina’s House 47.

The state district covers parts of Lake Wylie, Clover and York in York County.

Pope, who won the seat in 2010 by defeating longtime Democrat Herb Kirsh, successfully won re-election bids unopposed in 2012 and 2014.

Pope has announced aspirations to be elected for eight terms to District 47, then run for governor in 2018.

“I will serve the house one more time, then run for governor,” he said. “But I have to work hard to take care of my folks here at home first.”

Simmons is running her first political campaign.

Tommy Pope, incumbent

Affiliation: Republican Party

Age: 54

Campaign website:;

Family: Wife, Kimberly; three sons, one daughter and a granddaughter

Hometown: York

Political experience: SC House of Representatives 2010-present; Speaker Pro Tempore since Dece,ber 2014; committees including Ethics Reform; Republican Causus Tax Study; Medical, Public and Municipal Affairs; Judiciary and Ethics; South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent; former Solicitor for the 16th Judicial Circuit.

Education: University of South Carolina School of Business; USC School of Law

Occupation: Attorney and managing partner at the Elrod Pope Law Firm in Rock Hill.

Community involvement: Boy Scouts in York County, Boys & Girls Club of York County and York County At Risk Youth Task Force.

Diane Phelps Simmons

Age: 55

Campaign website:

Family: Husband, Curt; daughter in Charleston area and two stepchildren in Atlanta area

Hometown: Clover

Political experience: First venture into politics

Education: B.S. Political Science Central Michigan University

Occupation: Homemaker and caregiver for my parents

Community involvement: Church choir, Divine Saviour, York

What are the top issues the state needs to address, and how would it impact District 47?

Pope: “The big one is infrastructure. We have taken some initial shots at it in Columbia, but we need a long-term funding plan. Along with our roads here in our communities, a far-reaching one is access to the ports in Charleston. To prosper, we must catch up on infrastructure.”

Another is education; improving our poorer school districts. “We’re very fortunate to have quality schools, so whatever we do, we don’t want to hamstring positive results we’ve seen in York and Clover school districts.”

Taxes are another issue. “We need to look at ways to share the load on taxes so that it’s lower, flatter and fairer, so we don’t have the haves and have-nots in the tax system.”

Perhaps a hidden issue to address is the state pension system. State employees are promised this retirement. “Unfortunately, it is woefully underfunded. While it may not be a top-shelf issue to some, it’s a significant debt of the state we’re going to have to address. We’ve got to treat it like a check already written out and the state has to make it good.”

Simmons: “We need to address job growth. The federal numbers say our average unemployment rate for this year is 5.3 percent here in South Carolina. I don't believe this includes the underemployed and those who have given up looking.

Another issue is roads and bridges. “I think there are current bills in committees concerning Act 98, and it also looks like the 2016-2017 forecasted expenditures are larger than the forecasted revenues, which is unsettling.”

Schools also are a top issue. “I believe there needs to be more local control of education, and we need to get rid of Common Core.”

The safety of South Carolina citizens is crucial. “Depending on who wins the presidential bid, we may have to double down on refusing to allow unvetted refugees into our state. Clinton wants to bring in thousands more. I believe this is a serious threat to our safety.”

“I hope anything I do to address these and any other issues would have a positive impact on my district.”

The state is considering a bill to increase the gas tax and motorist-related fees to raise an estimated $800 million a year for the state’s roads. Do you agree with this as the best route to improve roadways?

Pope: “Before we reach that issue I believe we’ve got to restore people’s trust in Department of Transportation.” He referenced York County’s Pennies for Progress campaign as an example, where citizens can see where the money is going. “Then we must get to a consistent means of funding our infrastructure. From a tax view, he said with one-third of gas sales coming from travelers, he’s “definitely in support” of letting those motorists help pay for it. “It’s foolish to take it from the same funds that pay our teachers and law enforcement rather than let out of staters help to pay.”

Simmons: “No, I don't agree this is the best way to improve roadways. I think first everything should be examined for waste and that fiscal responsibility should be imperative before taxes are increased.”

What can the state do to thrive economically, and bring more business to York County, especially the western part of the county?

Pope: He said when many in the Legislature looks toward York County, “they see Charlotte, not South Carolina.” But along with state representatives like Gary Simrill(Ways & Means), Raye Felder(Education) and other members of the York County Delegation, “we’re bringing attention to York County to get a fair seat at the table.” Whether in York County or across the state, he said the problem is the state spends significantly to attract large businesses like Volvo and Boeing. “We must make opportunities for small businesses in downtown York, Clover and Lake Wylie, which are not provided those same incentives. We need a better tax policy, and removing the burden from these small businesses could make a significant difference for our communities.”

Simmons: “We can give incentives to companies to relocate here, but at the same time have some stipulations regarding the percentage of employees that must be South Carolinians, and not just employees they move here from out of state. I would like to see manufacturing companies recruited if possible.”

Catherine Muccigrosso: 803-831-8166, @LakeWyliePilot