Winner of District 45 House contest will make history

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By Jenny Hartley

Both candidates for the District 45 House seat have education and jobs on their minds.

Republican candidate and political newcomer Deborah Long and Lancaster County Council vice chairman and Democrat Fred Thomas are both running for the seat, now held by Mick Mulvaney, a Republican. Sen. Greg Gregory of Lancaster opted not to run for reelection this year, and Mulvaney decided to run for state Senate District 16 seat.

District 45 includes the northern part of Lancaster County, roughly from the city of Lancaster to the North Carolina line. It also includes the Fort Mill area in York County.

Whoever wins the seat will make history.

Thomas would be the first black to win the seat.

Long would be the first woman to win the seat.

Deborah Long

Long, 52, lives in Indian Land and owns Fort Mill Vision Center, where she is an optometrist. She's positive about the campaign.

"I feel pretty good about it," she said. "I had so much support in the primary. The primary gave me a boost of confidence."

At the same time, she realizes there's still much work to be done as the countdown to Nov. 4 has begun.

Long said one of the issues she has outlined in her campaign is wasteful spending. The state should not be spending $50,000 of taxpayers' money on a balloon festival for a local community, she said.

"That's ridiculous. It's out of whack," she said. "I'm not an economist, but I know how to balance a checkbook."

She's concerned about education, although she said the district has good schools. The district needs to work on maintaining its excellent schools, but the Legislature may also need to look into pilot programs to boost improvement.

That could include a voucher program or tax credits in areas with underperforming schools or with children with special needs, Long said. But she also said a statewide voucher program isn't the answer.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," she said. "An overall voucher program "I'm not seeing it."

She supports vocational training in high schools to prepare students who may not go to college for the workplace.

Long said she would like to see Dave Lyle Boulevard extended from York County into Lancaster County. This would spur development and bring new industry to the area if the project has good planning.

Long said she would also continue the state's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. She said she doesn't want the state to continue spending $187 million on education and health care for illegals.

Long and her husband, Jim, have two children and eight grandchildren. She is a graduate of University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn. She is a member of Doby's Bridge Presbyterian Church.

Long is a past president of the Fort Mill Lions Club and a member of the state and national optometric associations. She was the first woman president of the state association.

Fred Thomas

Thomas, 44, said he believes the major issues facing the Legislature are the economy, unemployment and education, and they're all interwoven.

One of the toughest issues hurting education in South Carolina is the recruitment and retention of teachers. The state is in need of math and science teachers now.

"How do you attract and retain qualified educators?" Thomas said. "The master plan must include cutting other programs so that we can educate our young people, which is most important in this global economy."

Thomas said he would like for the state to be aggressive in the recruitment of industry. The state Department of Commerce has virtually stopped offering incentives to Charlotte-area companies looking to relocate in the Panhandle.

"This is killing us," Thomas said. "It's very telling when one of your expanding businesses in your community is the employment office. It needs new space to handle the influx of Lancaster County residents who find themselves unemployed or underemployed."

Thomas is on staff at the Lancaster Golf Club and McMullen Funeral Home, and he taught U.S. history at Lancaster High School last semester. He is in his second term on Lancaster County Council. He is a member of Mount Zion AME Zion Church and serves on the boards of the United Way of Lancaster County, Lancaster County Economic Development Corp., Clemson Extension, Closing the Achievement Gap and Diabetes Education.

A Lancaster County native, Thomas received a political science degree from University of South Carolina, and worked as state House Rep. Tom Mangum's chief page while in college. It was then that he decided he would run for the House one day.

"I thought about who could represent Lancaster County in Columbia," Thomas said, and was advised earlier in the year by friend Alston DeVenny to run for the seat. DeVenny, a former County Council member, ran for the seat two years ago and was defeated by Mulvaney.

"I have put in the work and preparation over the years," Thomas said. "I'll be able to draw on the relationships I've developed the past 25 years in Columbia in my experience of public service."

Funding issue

One issue in the campaign that Thomas is concerned about is the source of funding for Long.

Long has received contributions from conservative New York millionaire Howard Rich, who is known to support candidates who support school voucher programs.

Thomas said half of Long's funding for the primary came from Rich, and 90 percent of the remaining half has come from optometrists across the state.

"Eighty-five percent of my money came from within Lancaster County," Thomas said. "I'm looking at the trail of money and I think it's obvious who we're going to be representing in Columbia if elected. My opponent says she's never met or spoken with the person who donated half of her campaign money. I would never allow a stranger to hijack my campaign. I think it's un-American."

Long said she didn't know who Howard Rich was until a month ago, when the campaign funding became an issue. She said she's never met him or spoken to him.

"I took that money,"Long said. "As far as I'm concerned, there is no strings attached. And if there are strings attached, I'll send that money back."

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151