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Candidates face off at forum

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By Jenny Hartley

Candidates shook hands with voters and then got down to business at a political forum sponsored by Carolina Gateway, the Indian Land Action Council and the Indian Land Council of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night.

The forum, held at Indian Land Middle School, started off with a meet-and-greet with candidates. Candidates and their campaign volunteers lined the school driveway with signs and set up tables in the school lobby.

Each candidate had one minute to respond to questions, with a 30-second rebuttal period.

State House District 45 candidates answered questions first.

Candidates for the race are Democrat Fred Thomas of Lancaster and Republican Deborah Long of Indian Land.

Here are some highlights from their session:

QUESTION: In light of the 12.2 percent unemployment rate in Lancaster County, the seventh worst in the state, what will you do to promote job growth and bring more business and industry to the state and our area?

Long: Create access to Indian Land via the Dave Lyle Boulevard extension from York County. The county needs to make itself as attractive as possible to potential companies. The area must also not forget about its existing businesses.

Thomas: Offer incentives and prepare workers for high-tech jobs moving into the county through retraining programs.

QUESTION: South Carolina has the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation – 7 cents per pack. Do you support or oppose a tobacco user fee of 50 cents per pack, the current Southeastern average, and how would you use the revenue that would generate?

Thomas: He said he'd probably would support additional tax on cigarettes. He said studies have shown that the "more cigarettes cost, the less likely young folk, students, will begin smoking."

Long: Said she has a "dim view" of an increase. Any revenue from an increase should not go to Medicaid.

QUESTION: Do you support changing the law to allow impact fees as a funding method to build new schools in Lancaster County, as done in Fort Mill?

Thomas: "New growth needs to pay for new growth."

Long: "Growth is going to happen, but an impact fee is another name for a tax."

DISTRICT 16 RACE

Senate District 16 candidates Mick Mulvaney, a Republican who is now the state District 45 House representative and Democrat Mandy Powers Norrell, a Lancaster attorney.

QUESTION: In light of the 12.2 percent unemployment rate in Lancaster County, the seventh worst in the state, what will you do to promote job growth and bring more business and industry to the state and our area?

Norrell: The state needs to focus on new businesses like "green-collar," energy jobs. It's better than offering incentives for a company, which may take the incentives and then leave the state once it's received them.

Mulvaney: Cut taxes on businesses and give businesses an excuse to come to South Carolina.

QUESTION: The business community pays 45 percent of all taxes collected in South Carolina, more than either North Carolina or Georgia. How do we correct this problem and become more competitive in attracting and retaining businesses?

Mulvaney: "We must cut taxes for small business."

Norrell: "I think we need to protect small businesses and not put all our eggs in the big business basket.'

QUESTION: Do you support school vouchers or school choice for elementary through secondary education?

Norrell: "My children are getting a very good education in the public schools in this district. It's (voucher program) not being fiscally conservative. We can't afford to start servicing two separate school systems."

Mulvaney: He said he voted for a school-choice plan last year that didn't take "a dime" from public education. Some students in the state this year will graduate not having ever attended a school that met state standards. "I'm open for all suggestions, folks."

U.S. HOUSE RACE

Candidates for U.S. House District 5 ended the forum. Candidates are Frank Waggoner, Constitution Party, Republican Albert Spencer and incumbent Democrat John Spratt, who has held the seat for 26 years.

QUESTION: With U.S. troops in many countries around the globe, what do you consider the greatest threat to us and what approach should we take to address it?

Spencer: "We all know what happened on 9/11. We don't want to see that happen again."

Spratt: The U.S. needs to focus efforts in Afghanistan, but also does not need an immediate pull-out from Iraq. "Afghanistan – that's where the real enemy is, where Osama bin Laden lives and hides."

Waggoner: "We need to get out. What we need to do is follow the Constitution. We don't need politics played when our troops are in harm's way."

QUESTION: With energy costs rising, what should our nation's comprehensive energy plan look like? Would you consider drilling off the coast of South Carolina as part of that plan?

Spratt: Nuclear power is part of the answer. "We need to be investing far more than we are. We've got to have energy independence. We've got to have energy we can afford."

Spencer: "I'm definitely for offshore drilling."

QUESTION: Congressional earmarks have come under fire lately. Do you believe that earmark legislation has been good for this area and would you support their continued use?

Spratt: The Lancaster County Sheriff's Office has benefited from earmarks. There has been some abuse, but efforts are being made for more transparency for earmarks, Spratt said.

Waggoner: "We need to take control of our lives and reduce the footprint of national government."

Spencer: "We need to have accountability – that should be the key. Not earmarks, but accountability."