Public assistance, port are issues

Republican candidate for governor Andre Bauer

Wade Spees

Andre Bauer works the crowd just moments before the debate at the Propeller Club begins, as at least two of his GOP gubernatorial opponents chat at the dais.

Bauer comes across as an old-style Southern politician, smiling and shaking hands -- a people person, even compared with other politicians.

But he can turn serious when talking about the issues, as he does this night when asked whether he supports Arizona's new law allowing police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

Bauer sidesteps the immigration question and talks instead about the economic reasons why so many people are pouring into this country to seek work. He said that too many in the state don't want to do the existing jobs.

"We don't have a labor force that wants to do these jobs because we've made sitting on your duff more financially rewarding than doing these jobs," he said, drawing applause that's rare on this evening. "Laziness is not a disability. You can make that the headlines tomorrow. We've got to address these giveaway programs to able-bodied people who should be working and don't feel like doing it."

Bauer is making a point that he made in a different way earlier this year, causing the first big dust-up of the campaign. In the Upstate, he made national news with a remark comparing the act of assisting poor children in schools to feeding stray animals. While Bauer has backed away from comparing poor children to stray animals, he is standing behind his point of fighting what he sees as a government-created culture of dependency.

He is unique among the four Republican candidates -- who agree on many issues -- by emphasizing that point, but Bauer appears also to score points during the Propeller Club debate when answering questions about the port.

Bauer said as lieutenant governor, he has traveled the world trying to bring business to the state. "I've done things for many years now that others (seeking the governor's mansion) would have to learn fairly quickly."

Steve Kicklighter, vice president of McAlister Towing, says Bauer probably was his third choice before the debate began, "but he's certainly on the top now."

"I was impressed, quite frankly," he says. "He was probably one of the most knowledgeable people as far as the issues on the port go. ... You can tell by his comments that he gets it. He knows what's happening, why we're having our problems."

Born in Charleston, Bauer went to college in Columbia and represented a suburban Columbia area as a state lawmaker. As lieutenant governor, he moved back to Charleston before recently relocating to Greenville.

While Bauer has served in elective office since he won a seat as a state representative in 1996, all have been part-time positions -- a point he makes clear.

"I'm still running my (real estate) business every day," he said. "I'm not a full-time politician. I think that makes a vast difference.

As lieutenant governor, Bauer has connected with the state's elderly population because his responsibilities were expanded to include overseeing the state Office on Aging. The top issue on his website is "fighting for South Carolina seniors."

When asked about diversity among the state's higher education institutions, Bauer re-framed the question, adding, "I think the bigger question ought to be: Are we going to educate the world's students or South Carolina's students?"

Bauer also said he supports offshore drilling, "but we should make sure they're far enough off that they can't be seen from our beaches."

And Bauer is one of the few Republican candidates who isn't as eager to have the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket, like president and vice president. Bauer said that when they run as a pair in other states, governors pick their running mates largely based on who can write a big check for their campaign.

Some might have written off Bauer following his controversial and widely reported speeding incidents early in his lieutenant governor tenure, including an incident where a Columbia police officer drew a gun on Bauer after pulling him over near the Statehouse.

But voters were willing to look past that four years ago, when they re-elected him, and Bauer said people have watched him mature in office.

Kicklighter is one of them. "I can tell he's matured quite a bit in the last few years," he said. "He's learned a lot."

Robert New, who moderated the debate, agreed. "People underestimate Andre Bauer, and they should do so at their own peril."