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Lexington Chamber of Commerce facilitates debate between candidates for SC House District 69

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – The five Republican candidates for SC House District 69 met again last night at the Greater Lexington Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center. This was the second opportunity to discuss the issues facing the district that includes a portion of West Columbia, Lexington, and even a small part of Irmo. The candidates included businessmen Chris Wooten and Allen Ray, attorneys Michael Weaver and Joel Deason, and mother and serving schoolboard member Anne Marie Green. The debate was moderated by the chamber’s executive director Otis Rawls.

Most of the questions posed to the candidates were about businesses and how the decisions made at the Statehouse affect them. Topics included things like the problem of Act 388 limiting funding sources for services in Lexington County and piling much of our school’s operational expenses on the backs of businesses. There were also questions on transportation and traffic problems, infrastructure, and what are the core functions of the state’s government. The candidates were also asked what they would first tackle if elected, what departments and service the state could and should cut, and what if any response the state should have toward SCANA’s failure at the two new reactors they were building and have now been abandoned in Jenkinsville, SC.

In many cases, the candidates answered in similar manners and seemed to agree on many things. For the most part, they all seemed very supportive of small businesses which many of them are either running now or have worked in and with over the past. Their attitude toward each other was cordial and there was little opportunity to openly disagree since there were no rebuttals allowed. There were times when you did notice one or another shake their heads in either a negative or affirmative response when another answered, and occasionally, there was a chuckle or two elicited in response to another candidate’s answer.

The first question regarded the controversial Act 388. For the most part, all agreed that Act 388 needed work. Wooten said that it solved one problem but created another. He said he pays approximately $50,000 per year in property taxes alone on his business in Lexington and knows that other small businesses are feeling the same pinch from taxes he does. He would like to see education funded by getting rid of waste in other parts of the state’s budget and transferring the savings over to schools.

Deason said he would like to try and find another form of funding for education that would lift the burden from businesses, while Green said that Act 388 should be gutted, and the general assembly should go back to the drawing board to help find relief for owner occupied homes while still funding education.

Ray was a bit confusing here saying he’d let the people decide by referendum. It wasn’t abundantly clear whether he meant that we should all vote on Act 388, a very complex issue, or vote on how to fund education. He did say he would like to see property taxes done away with altogether and thought that lawmakers should better prioritize their spending. Finally, Weaver said that he felt that the Education Finance Act should be revisited, and that the per student funding should be fully funded, especially in fast growing areas like Lexington County.

When transportation was discussed, Ray said he thought the solution was focusing on small business rather than large conglomerates, a theme and term he returned to several times throughout the night. He spoke of our country being built on small businesses, although it wasn’t quite clear how that would help with repairing roads, alleviating traffic, and funding transportation fixes according to several people interviewed at the end of the debate.

Green said she felt it was time for impact fees in our state, and especially in fast growing areas. These would be paid by people developing the areas that are contributing to our problems.

Deason and Wooten seemed to have the most creative solutions in mind. Deason suggested things like dedicated HOV and freight lanes. HOV lanes are for vehicles where drivers are carpooling and carrying more than one or two passengers and freight lanes would be for larger trucks and commercial vehicles. These are already used in other large metropolitan areas. Wooten felt like most that the SCDOT is a “mess” and needs more restructuring to help fix our roads. His most interesting suggestion seemed to be working with the larger employers of the area to stagger work times so that their workforce doesn’t all report to or leave work at the same times.

The remainder of the debate seemed to stay on this type of track. Each had what seemed to be feasible ideas, and when a question was posed that they seemed unfamiliar with or unready to address, they admitted that and said they’d have to consider the issue or do further study rather than simply trying to fake their way through

Each had their own quirks. Ray seemed to struggle the most to stay on point. At one juncture, the moderator had to remind him that he wasn’t answering the question that was asked and even asked that he, “Keep on point.” Occasionally, Rawls also restated his questions in another way after some of the candidates seemed to have misunderstood the core point of the query.

In the end, there really didn’t seem to be any clear-cut winner. Each made good points and Rawls pointed out that the slate of candidates appeared to be well qualified for the job. You can actually see the entire debate on The Lexington Ledger’s Facebook videos by clicking this LINK.

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