Schools, roads, jobs key issues in state Dist. 116 race

Robert L. Brown - Age: 59 - Family: Wife, Alfreda; two children, Tremayne and Donell - Residence: Hollywood - Occupation: Owner of Brown's Barber and Beauty Supply; retired submarine electrical system inspector; state representative for District 1

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Development, roads, jobs and education all are cited as issues in what has become a lively race for the state House District 116 seat.

Two Democrats, including Robert L. Brown, who has held the seat for 10 years, and two Republicans are each hoping to represent the mostly rural district that stretches from western Charleston County to the Walterboro area in Colleton County. It also takes in Hollywood, Ravenel, Wadmalaw and Edisto islands and part of Johns Island.

Brown handily defeated two Democratic primary opponents in 2006 and faced no Republican opposition that November. There will be a Republican on the ballot this November, either family law attorney Anthony LaMantia or emergency management and counter-terrorism consultant Sean Pike.

The June 8 Democratic primary features a rematch between Brown and Benjamin Ward Jr., one of the two candidates Brown bested four years ago.

Many residents believe the district has become stagnant, Ward said. He said jobs have left and are not being replaced, roads and ditches go unattended, dirt roads don't get paved, promised sidewalks haven't materialized, the district's only middle school has closed and public school academics remain poor.

"Everything is closing, and if it's not closing, it's not here," Ward said. He said the district abounds in historic and beautiful properties but has no hotels to tap tourist money. He said Brown is rarely seen in the district. "We need a new team that's ready to work," Ward said.

Brown said it's ridiculous to say nothing is being done about problems. He said many projects he's long been working on are coming to fruition or soon will be. He said he's worked to bring in affordable housing, secured a liner to protect groundwater from a planned landfill, steered improvements and paving for S.C. Highway 162, and helped bring about the East Edisto project, with a planned industrial park.

Brown said he secured funding to pave New Road, which he has said will boost commercial and residential development, and said he is working to get funding for a new public library. He said that representing the district keeps him in Columbia about half the year. "I think I do a heck of a lot with all the issues I have to deal with," he said.

The Republican candidates agree that the major issue in the district is its declining economy, something they believe can be reversed by reducing taxes.

"Lowering taxes is the quickest way to jump-start the economy," LaMantia said. "Lowering taxes will stimulate the economy and get businesses going again," he said.

LaMantia stressed working closely with towns, schools and school districts to generate new vigor. "We need to refocus on the community, and try to foster a sense of community. We need to reinvigorate our public schools," LaMantia said.

LaMantia said he believes he has skills needed to work with others, and he questioned whether Pike, as a self- proclaimed tea party enthusiast, has such skills. "Winning and losing depends on your ability to work with other people," LaMantia said.

Pike said he's from the "libertarian wing of the Republican Party," but insists it's ludicrous to assume he can't work with others. He said that in his former posts as an Air Force Medical Service military officer and a Charleston police supervisor he's worked with people of all backgrounds and gotten them focused on the mission at hand.

Pike said he's campaigned a lot in the Colleton County part of the district, and said voters there say they never see Brown. "Half the district doesn't have a voice," Pike said.

He cited tax cuts and infrastructure improvements as vital to District 116. "We've got to get a good road system in place, and cut corporate taxes, and the businesses will start to come," Pike said.

He suggested expansion of the Walterboro Regional Airport and called it a good place to establish a foreign trade zone. "We've got to get some home-grown jobs going," he said.