By Gregg Bragg, Senior Staff Writer for The Island Eye News
James Smith wants to be the next governor of South Carolina. The Columbia, South Carolina native graduated from USC and later, the USC School of Law. No stranger to public service, he has served in the SC House of Representatives for the past 22 years while also serving in the SC Army National Guard. He was working in the Judge Advocate General’s office, and was due for promotion to Captain when 9/11 occurred. He already had a family trip to NY planned, and visited ground zero in his capacity as liaison for the JAG office. Smith told this reporter he had a “moment of conscience,” while visiting the site and felt compelled “to serve a more active role in our nation’s defense.” He subsequently resigned his NG commission and enlisted in the infantry at the age of 37. This meant basic training and three years of classes before being deployed to a combat role in Afghanistan.
SC law permits house members to continue serving while in the military or in combat and Smith qualified on both counts. The house was in recess when he was deployed, but he voted by proxy when it was in session, and maintained a robust constituent service office. Richland County voters elected him to 11 consecutive terms.
Smith supports public education 100%, and was among a handful of people who voted against Act 388. The measure was enacted in 2006 under the guise of easing the tax burden on older SC residents by shifting school funding from property taxes to sales taxes.
“I warned that the temporary perception of [tax] relief would create a lopsided, inefficient, and unreliable system of revenue for our schools, and it has. It’s a difficult problem to fix, but we have to get back to a more stable tax structure so we can fulfill our constitutional obligation to public education. The road out of the poor house runs straight through the schoolhouse.
“We have a plan that will establish a statewide millage phased in over time that will spread out both the burden and the resources statewide. All the major challenges facing the state right now are things we should have seen coming. Failed bridges? We’re not doing the basic fundamentals of government well, and this happens because of years of neglect, and one party rule for nearly 30 years.”
Asked about private schools/vouchers Smith said, “I have a 22 year record of opposing state funds going to private schools. Public dollars are being sent to schools that don’t have the same performance standards. It just doesn’t work, and it’s not like everyone wins a ticket to PorterGaud, but we need to clear out some of the bureaucracy, and let our teachers do their jobs. Most teachers didn’t get into it for the money, but we also need to raise their pay at least to the average for our region.”
Smith had plenty to say about SC being a “home rule” state, a moniker for the idea that local governments should be allowed to determine their own best interests. For example, Smith says he would veto any version of H.3529 (ban on local municipalities banning plastics), that landed on his desk. “That’s why I have the endorsement of so many conservation voters in the state. There is sometimes an antagonistic relationship between local governments and the state. There are a lot of innovations happening in our cities and towns, and the governor needs to be part of that process. It needs to be a partnership, and if we work together, we can build greater opportunities.”
He also opposes offshore drilling and seismic testing.
“It’s not just about drilling. You can’t give a ‘wink and nod’ to testing without paving the way to drilling. It’s wholly inconsistent with the way we’ve developed our 100 miles of beaches across SC. There’s no place for [drilling] or the onshore infrastructure and factories it would require,” said Smith.
Smith’s website details his position on an array of issues not covered here. For more information, visit JamesSmith.com.