At a forum in Sun City Carolina Lakes Monday night, local candidates had a chance to do something many have said they were hoping to do for a long time: Sit down and have a long conversation about the issues.
S.C. House District 45 candidates Deborah Long and Fred Thomas and S.C. Senate District 16 candidates Mick Mulvaney and Mandy Powers-Norrell were asked a series of questions submitted by Sun City residents. Most responses weren't limited by time and discussions flowed between the candidates during the hour allotted for each race.
Campaign funding was a major issue between Thomas and Long with Thomas, a Democrat and member of the Lancaster County Council, accusing Long, a Republican, of taking nearly 40 percent of her campaign finance funds from New York millionaire Howard Rich, a known proponent of school vouchers.
Long, an optometrist who owns Fort Mill Vision Center, said although she did take the money - after being assured by her campaign managers that it was legal and ethical - she returned it last weekend because she wanted to make Rich a "non issue" in her campaign. When pressed by Thomas, she said that the total was $12,000 written to 12 different organizations supposedly connected to Rich.
More than 80 percent of Thomas' campaign funds have come from people and businesses within Lancaster County and Fort Mill, he said, while Long raised money from optometrists across the state.
"They know me, they support me, and I think they'd like to see me represent South Carolina," Long said. "I don't think there is a problem with that. There's a lot of people that wanted to support me and I have no problem with that."
When asked about reducing state income taxes for senior citizens, Long explained that she favors decreasing income taxes for all residents, not just senior citizens. Thomas admitted that reducing state income taxes for seniors isn't a top issue of his campaign.
"I too would like to cut taxes for everyone. That's an easy thing to say," Thomas said. "Cutting taxes is wonderful but when we start cutting we need to replace it with another source of revenue or we're cutting services and cutting people."
Both Thomas and fellow Democrat Norrell decried the loss of Springs Industries in Lancaster County and agreed on the importance of job retraining. Norrell, a bankruptcy lawyer in Lancaster, also touted the need for better incentives for small businesses, which she said are frequently locally owned and operated and hire local employees.
Mulvaney, a Republican, agreed but said that big businesses should also be lured to the area.
"I'll take bigger business as much as I'll take small businesses," Mulvaney said. "I think we should try to lure both big businesses and small businesses simply by cutting taxes."
As has become customary among Mulvaney and Norrell, private school vouchers was a hot topic of debate. Norrell pointed out Mulvaney's ties to Rich in his campaign for the House in 2006. Mulvaney currently serves as the District 45 representative.
Mulvaney took $9,000 from Rich during his House campaign but has vowed not to do so during the current Senate campaign in order to focus on more important issues, he said.
Mulvaney voted last year for an amendment to a bill that would allow tax credits for private schools, to parents of children in failing school districts and said on Monday evening that if given a chance, he would do it again.
"Let me ask you this question," Mulvaney said. "If you had the ability to help children, poor child in failing schools and you could do it without taking money from the public school system and you could do it in a way that would not hurt local schools, would you do it?"
Norrell opposes vouchers, saying they take money away from public schools.
Both Mulvaney and Norrell acknowledged that "green" industries are an important part of South Carolina's future. Norrell mentioned high offshore wind potential off South Carolina's coast as a possibility for future investments in wind technology, but Mulvaney disagreed, saying that wind technology on South Carolina's coast is not cost effective.
Instead, he supports clean coal plants and investing in alternative energy sources.
"I'm for anything that truly is clean, that truly is renewable," Norrell said. "Anything that burns clean and is renewable should be on the table but I'll remind you South Carolina doesn't produce coal or uranium so we'll have to export some of the profits."
More than 100 Sun City residents attended the forum, but all residents were able to tune into the event on Sun City's local TV channel. This was the first live event at Sun City's Lake House to be broadcast to Sun City homes.
Bob Engel, head of the Lifelong Learning Club that sponsored the forum, said many Sun City residents are new to the area and not well informed on local politics. It was important to give as many residents as possible an opportunity to hear from the candidates, he said.