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Fact-checking South Carolina Democratic governor candidates in debate

SC Dem Hand Shake.jpg

Democrats Marguerite Willis, Phil Noble and James Smith participate in a debate for the governor's race at Clemson University in Clemson Thursday, May 24, 2018. Grace Beahm Alford/The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — As the three Democratic candidates for South Carolina governor debated a host of major policy issues Thursday night, they dove into the details of their opponents' records and previous statements.

Here's a look at the validity behind some of their key disputes:


As he has repeatedly done during the campaign, Charleston businessman Phil Noble criticized state Rep. James Smith of Columbia for his previously positive ratings from the National Rifle Association.

Noble accurately said Smith received positive ratings and endorsements from the NRA several times.

But Smith pushed back by noting that Moms Demand Action, one of the country's most prominent groups pushing for gun control measures, has approved of Smith as a gun sense candidate. He said he never sought positive legislative ratings from the NRA and doesn't know how they are determined.

Noble went on to claim that Moms Demand endorsed him "long before" they endorsed Smith. That is not true. The group offered the gun sense distinction to Smith in April and Noble in May.

Firing teachers

Marguerite Willis accused Noble of wanting to fire a third of the teachers in order to pay for his ambitious proposal to double teachers' salaries within five years. Noble claimed he never said that. 

According to The State newspaper, Noble did say in an interview that "a third of teachers need to be fired." 

But he told The Post and Courier after the debate he believes any teachers who do not meet a certain standard after five years should be fired. That could be a third, or it could be some other percentage.

He did not say that firing teachers would be directly connected to paying for doubling the salaries of others.

To pay for that massive spending increase, Noble said he would eliminate many sales tax exemptions and Act 388, which shifted the property tax burden for many South Carolina homeowners to business property and vacation or rental homes.

Doing so, however, would need cooperation and approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature responsible for the tax exemption.

Santee Cooper, SCANA

Noble said he would fire the entire Santee Cooper board, a move that some Republican candidates also suggested the night before that poses some potential legal challenges.

He went even further, claiming he would force SCANA, a private company, to remove its executives and board members.

"I will find a way to force out the management, the board of SCANA," Noble said.

That is a power the governor's office definitely doesn't have. There is little leverage the governor can hold over a private company in order to force them to replace their board of directors.

Noble told The Post and Courier he would use the bully pulpit and any other gubernatorial power to try to hold SCANA's feet to the fire until they do what he says.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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