Most candidates seeking the Senate District 42 seat shared a stage at Burke High School on Thursday night to explain to a predominately black crowd of voters why they’re the best choice to succeed Robert Ford.
The Senate 42 race through the eyes of residents in one of its most distinctive neighborhoods.
Five of six Democrats showed up, including Charleston lawyers Emmanuel Ferguson and Marlon Kimpson, retired veterans counselor Herbert Fielding, North Charleston businesswoman Margaret Rush and Charleston contractor Bob Thompson.
Aug. 6: Democratic candidate forum from 7-8:30 p.m. at Trident Technical College in North Charleston
Aug. 13: Democratic primary election
Aug. 27: Democratic primary runoff, if needed
Oct. 1: Special election.
The forum attracted about 200 people and provided a high-profile chance for those candidates to separate themselves just weeks before their Aug. 13 primary.
They agreed on a lot, such as the need to support public education; repeal at least part of the state’s Stand Your Ground law; and increase gender and racial diversity on the Medical University of South Carolina’s board.
Libertarian candidate Rodney Travis, the sole white candidate on stage, often said the political opposite, drawing repeated boos when he criticized President Obama. He also was the sole voice supporting the state’s Stand Your Ground law — a law getting new scrutiny in the wake of the recent George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin verdict in Florida.
“You shoot a person when you are in danger,” Travis said, later adding: “If you don’t want to be profiled, you need to pull your pants up and look nice. And you will be left alone.”
Ferguson quickly jumped in. “You’re wrong,” he told Travis. “Just because my clothes aren’t how you like it doesn’t make me a thug.”
The Rev. Joseph Darby of the Charleston NAACP moderated the debate. Since the NAACP is nonpartisan, Darby said Libertarian candidate Alex Thornton and Republican Billy Shuman also were invited but could not attend because they were out of town.
It was unclear why Democrat and former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington did not show. Organizers placed his placard on the table but removed it minutes into the forum.
The candidates are vying for the seat vacated when Ford resigned because of his health and because his colleagues found he had violated state ethics laws. Ford was popular in the district and had a reputation as an outspoken fighter, and several appeared to try to take up his mantle as a fighter for the African-American majority district.
“If we can spend time in the General Assembly passing a bill to expand the size of alcohol sold in a beer mug,” Kimpson said, “then we certainly can spend time clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and making sure people have health care.”
Fielding said he judges people by their character, not race. “I won’t let you be prejudiced around me. In the Senate, I’m not going to tolerate a rhetoric that has those undercurrent words. Those people can’t talk to me.”
Rush noted that all the male candidates expressed concern about a lack of women on the Medical University’s board but noted if she were elected, she would be the only woman on the Charleston County Legislative Delegation.
“You can’t lead where you haven’t been,” she said. “If you haven’t been there, you can’t tell anyone how to get there.”
Rush also talked about the need to hold industries accountable for illnesses in neighboring communities, particularly those in Charleston’s Neck Area.
“No one thought about the quality of health for the residents who live in the impacted area. I’m going to do something about that and we’re going to back it up 50 years,” she said. “I will be that voice, and I will be a strong voice.”
Thompson, 68, is the oldest candidate in the race, but he drew laughs when contrasting his soft-spoken ways with others on the stage. “I’m up here with a lot of great lawyers. Let me tell you, you’ve got the words,” he said to them, “but I’m the one you want to send to the state Senate, a man of few words but a lot of action.”
Kimpson also stressed the need to diversify the state’s judges, noting only five of 46 circuit judges are black. “We must elect African-American judges to the bench who can interpret the law in a fair and equitable manner,” he said.
Travis may have stood out most on the question of South Carolina’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Healthcare Act. All the Democrats said Gov. Nikki Haley and the Legislature made a mistake by blocking it, but not Travis.
“Government does a lot of things and most everything it does is bad,” he said. “As far as Nikki Haley rejecting the Medicaid expansion, we have to watch out. Who is the Medicaid expansion going to go for? Is it the illegal aliens? We have to watch out.”
The Senate race has been relatively low-key to date, with candidates walking door to door, placing yard signs and sending out mail. Radio or TV ads have been scarce so far, but that could change soon.
At least one more joint appearance is in the works. The South Carolina Democratic Party has scheduled a similar forum for 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at Trident Technical College’s North Charleston campus.