The questions posed to 1st Congressional District candidates Monday covered some obvious bases: health care, foreign policy, spending and gun restrictions, but it was a question about gay marriage that might have revealed the most.
Eleven candidates appeared on the Sottile Theatre’s stage for the College of Charleston’s forum, just a week before their primary election.
Asked what is the biggest issue, Daniel Island lawyer Shawn Pinkston cited unemployment and Washington’s inability to cut spending, topics mentioned by most candidates.
The three-hour forum also revealed how Republicans may be changing on the social issue of gay marriage.
Several expressed varying degrees of support for civil unions; none staked out ground as the most conservative on the issue.
However, some candidates supported by Christian conservatives in the past, such as former Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash, weren’t there.
Charleston teacher Teddy Turner said churches should have the right to decide who they marry, and added, “I don’t think social issues should be a federal issue.”
Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly said she didn’t think Congress should legislate morality or what goes on behind closed doors.
Engineer Tim Larkin went the farthest: “For the folks with cameras over here, this is a South Carolina Republican telling you the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. It’s wrong.”
Former Gov. Mark Sanford said you have to differentiate between gay rights and gay marriage.
He defended the traditional definition of marriage, but added, “We need to offer grace to people who come from all different perspectives from our own, this being one of them.”
Keith Blandford, a businessman hoping to run as both a Republican and Libertarian, said marriage shouldn’t involve government, only churches. He said dissolving the Internal Revenue Service would solve the issue.
State Rep. Peter McCoy said, “When it comes down to the government telling somebody how to get married ... I think the government has zero role in it.”
All talked about their motivation for getting in the race. Systems engineer Jeff King said he wanted to represent the common man and noted he wasn’t one raising and spending more than $100,000.
“That is what our political system has devolved into: which wealthy citizens are we going to get to elect to go to Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Asked about Obamacare, Engineer Ric Bryant said he favors repealing it. “Individual businesses drive anything like that so much better,” he said.
Green party candidate Eugene Platt, who won his party’s nomination a few days ago, was the only candidate to say Obamacare didn’t go far enough — the nation needs a single-payer system “to eliminate the insurance industry.”
The GOP no-shows included some of the party’s better-known names: state Sen. Larry Grooms, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, former state Sen. John Kuhn, state Rep. Andy Patrick, and former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic.
Democrat and perennial candidate Ben Frasier attended the forum and began by talking about how prominent party leaders were backing his opponent.
“We’re going up against the Democratic party and officials from the state,” he said.
His Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, did not appear but got a boost from the S.C. Democratic Women’s Council, which endorsed her Monday.
Council president Susan Smith said its unprecedented primary endorsement was made because the state ranks so low in terms of women in elective office.