By Gregg Bragg, Island Eye News Sr. Staff Writer
Joe Cunningham is on the ballot for South Carolina’s first congressional district (SC-1). He says; “We need common sense, not chaos. We have to put people over politics, and country before party.”
Cunningham prefers making himself available in person, and has been busy with “Meet & Greets,” going where voters are, as opposed to asking them attend rallies. However, he made time for a phone call with The Island Eye News at high noon on Monday, August 20 and dove straight into the topic of offshore drilling/seismic testing.
“It has become the hot button issue in the Lowcountry, especially considering my opponent’s support of it. When I first jumped into this race, I didn’t plan on talking much about my background as an ocean engineer because Sanford was pretty good on the issue. But now there’s a stark contrast between where she stands and where we stand. Important people know that she supports the [White House’s] decision to lift the ban on offshore drilling [and seismic testing]. And she said that on video, so that’s out there. It’s important to know that ban was put in place through the hard work of coastal mayors; Democrats, Republicans, independents and that’s one of the reasons so many of those mayors endorse our campaign,” Cunningham said with resolve.
“If we send the wrong person to congress, that puts our whole coastal environment in jeopardy. It’s a big issue for me personally. I want my son to be able to enjoy the beaches, and I want the next generation to have the same quality of beaches we enjoy without residue washing ashore. The position she’s taken betrays our values in the Lowcountry. We value clean beaches, and clean water, not to mention our reliance on tourism,” said Cunningham.
Infrastructure is also an important issue for him.
“The secret’s out about the Lowcountry. It’s a great place to live, we have a good economy, and people are flocking in here. The problem is; our infrastructure hasn’t received adequate funds to accommodate our growth, and it’s created a strain on our resources. Nobody’s been paying attention to it. Nobody’s been getting the federal grants needed to improve our infrastructure. We pay a lot in taxes down here and the bare minimum we should request from the government is to take care of the things they funded [i.e. bridges]. I-26, and 526, I think we need to finish that. We’re growing and need to be able to accommodate the load. There’s also the tax of ‘time,’ to be considered,” he added.
“Trips across town that used to take 40 minutes now take twice as long, and that’s time you’ll never get back. You could be at the breakfast table with your family instead of sitting in traffic. From a business perspective you can quantify it in actual dollars. A buddy of mine lost $800,000 while sitting in traffic last year, when he could have been working. Time is money for a small business,” Cunningham recounted.
Cunningham said he was thrilled so many local islands had taken action on plastic pollution. “I think these mayors being able to determine what’s best for their own cities and towns is exactly what the founding fathers intended. I have a lot of common ground on the environment with Patrick O’Neil [Sullivan’s Island], James Carroll [Isle of Palms], and Tim Goodwin [Folly Beach]; Republicans/independents alike, and that’s why they’ve endorsed my campaign. I don’t want my son or my kids to see a ‘beach closed’ sign for oil or plastic. I don’t want us to look like the coasts of Louisiana or Alabama,” he added.
Cunningham says he was disappointed with the White House’s recent performance in Helsinki/NATO. “I support law enforcement, and I support them 100%. You can’t do that part of the time. You can’t say you stand with the intelligence community or law enforcement only when it’s convenient for you. You have to stand with them completely, which is another statement from my opponent that paints the difference between our campaigns. And NATO isn’t perfect but the differences we have should be worked out with our allies, not working against them. Right now we have an administration that is more interested in working with Russia than some of our closer allies, and that’s a bit concerning to me. But I’m happy to work with them when we agree, and I’ll look for those opportunities,” he said pragmatically.
“Healthcare’s been a big issue for everyone in the Lowcountry,” said Cunningham. “My wife Amanda was on the ACA when she was pregnant with our son, [Boone, 7 months old now], and we’re feeling the pinch like everybody else. The fact is it’s gotten more and more expensive, and it’s going to get worse – we’re expecting another bump in October. Neither party wants to cede ground to the other for fear they might be able to claim a victory on this issue. I tell people, ‘the ACA wasn’t perfect, but it had some good things in there.’ I think everybody should come to the table and recognize what’s working and what’s not working. Take away what’s not working and repair what needs to be fixed. ‘Single payer’ is not a one stop solution, and not what we’ve been advocating for,” said the candidate.
“What we need to circle around is reducing costs. We pay more for prescription drugs in this country than anywhere in the world. So we’re subsidizing low costs in other countries with high prices here. We need to be able to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for Medicare like the VA does. Have a bi-partisan effort to bring down those costs, and it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We’re all in this together.”
Cunningham said he is the product of public schools and that Boone would also receive a public education, but doesn’t think vouchers/ charter schools necessarily undermine our system. “I have a great amount of respect for teachers and the work they do. The fact they are tasked with the most important job, and often times we cut their resources is just shameful. The federal government allocates 10-12% for schools in SC, but I think we should allow them some flexibility instead of having them teach to a standardized test. Give them more resources and more flexibility. Charter schools do a good job of that and I don’t think we should demonize them. Maybe we can learn something from them that improves the entire system.”
Student loans are something Cunningham would like to call attention to. He says it’s no wonder teachers leave the profession after a couple of years, and that is another issue Cunningham has personally experienced. “I’m in the same boat. Between my wife and I, we’re paying the equivalent of a mortgage. What people need to realize is; if they weren’t paying that, the money would be going back into the system. They’d be opening businesses, buying cars, and etc. Maybe they wouldn’t be living with their parents and in the case of teachers, maybe staying in the profession longer. Being able to write off more of your payment is something we need to be exploring. You’re allowed to write off the interest but it’s thousands of dollars that isn’t really income. But we also need to address the costs of education, especially these for-profit institutions,” he said.
Cunningham’s headquarters is a tightly managed affair and the interview was already over its time limit. Asked about guns, Cunningham counts himself as an advocate with a concealed carry permit, but wants the Charleston loophole closed and bump stocks banned. Asked about tariffs, he said he opposed them from the start and called them a “tax,” and isn’t sure the damage to local employers like Boeing, Volvo, and BMW can be replaced.
Cunningham’s website opens by saying, “Politics has simply become a game of ‘us versus them’ and I’m running because I’m tired of that game. I’ve learned that if you want to get things done, you have to work with, not against one another.”
For more information on the issues or to locate the next “Meet & Greet,” visit JoeCunninghamForCongress.com/