By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Managing Editor
Joe Bustos is a 70-year-old Republican, a former member of the Mount Pleasant Town Council who is making his second run for a seat in the South Carolina Legislature.
Except for the 24 years he spent in the U.S. Army, he has lived his entire life in the Lowcountry.
Democrat Daniel Brownstein, just 39, is stepping into the political arena for the first time. He grew up and went to college in Ohio.
His newspaper and marketing career took him from the Buckeye State to Mount Pleasant, by way of the Hilton Head area. He is currently the marketing director at local law firm Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman.
Despite their differences, they have much in common, not the least of which is that they both would like the voters of House District 112 to send them to Columbia in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.
They even agree on many of the issues that affect the residents of Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms and parts of the Southern section of Mount Pleasant.
Take, for instance, the subject of education, which is at the top of both their lists of priorities.
They agreed that there’s room for Democrats and Republicans to work together to nurture a better future for the children of District 112 and the entire state of South Carolina.
“We’re not setting up the next generation for success,” said Brownstein, who graduated from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and earned his MBA at the University of South Carolina. “We must pay and support our teachers.”
Bustos, who earned his undergraduate degree at Columbia College in Missouri and his master’s at Central Michigan University, all while in the Army, had good things to say about the local school system.
He warned, however, about complacency.
“The schools have been good here for years, but, because of
growth, that can slip away if we’re not careful. We need to take care of education, here and across the state,” he said.
The environment also appears to be a nonpartisan issue, at least in District 112.
Both candidates agree that oil exploration should never be considered along the Carolina coast.
“I can’t imagine that anyone would say ‘let’s start drilling offshore,’” Bustos said, adding that clean and renewable energy alternatives such as wind, solar and nuclear are important.
Brownstein, meanwhile, said that issues such as climate change, overdevelopment and plastic pollution are vital to all residents who live along the coast.
Bustos and Brownstein have a similar opinion on a subject that has been as controversial as any this year in the Lowcountry: parking for beach-goers on the barrier islands. The Isle of Palms City Council has reduced the number of available parking spots on Palm Boulevard this year and plans to charge for virtually all parking for visitors starting in 2021.
Members of the Sullivan’s Island Town Council are mulling a similar plan.
Though both candidates seemed to sympathize with the plight of the area’s beach towns, they agreed that people who don’t live on Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach should have easy access to the beaches.
“The beaches have always been public, but Mount Pleasant used to be 3,000 people,” Bustos said. “There’s traffic. I get that, but I don’t know how they are ever going to have enough parking for all the people who want to go to the beach.”
“I’d rather that parking be free,” he added. “I think by charging for parking they are working to find a revenue stream to pay for things such as beach maintenance.”
“I understand the burden of maintaining order in the beach communities,” Brownstein said.
“But the beach is central to our way of life. Everybody should have access to the beach.”
Both candidates proposed the same plan to help solve this problem: Give local municipalities more leeway in the way accommodations and hospitality taxes are spent. For example, instead of mandating that all these funds go to attract tourists, allow towns and cities to use them to help maintain the beach and other areas used by visitors to the area.
Brownstein cited another issue that is important to the people of District 112: the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the state needs a consistent policy on wearing masks and should provide the necessary resources for widespread testing and contact tracing. He added that the area’s businesses, hardhit by the pandemic, need help as well, both financially and in terms of loosening regulations.
“We must make sure we are not holding back our businesses from innovating,” he said. “We’re going to lose lots of small family businesses that make our community great. The clock is ticking. Without more help from the government, lots of small businesses will be gone.”
Bustos cited other issues that should interest the voters of District 112, including law and order, flooding, drainage and infrastructure.
“We have millions in gas tax money. We should be able to do something with that,” he said.
With their opinions on the issues so similar, how should voters choose between the two candidates?
In Bustos’ words: “The state and country are in a difficult time. We need experienced people in those positions, people who understand the political process. In one word: experience. I have that. You have to work with people to get things done.”
And in Brownstein’s opinion: “I want to listen to and work with everybody. There’s an opportunity for us to work together. We need a young and energetic representative in Columbia.”