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Jul 31 2020

South Carolina State House District 115 Special Election

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Senior Staff Writer

There’s still a lot of voting to be done in South Carolina’s House District 115. Peter McCoy left the seat to become U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina earlier this year, leaving an unexpired term, through November 2020, to be filled by a vote Aug. 11. The general election on Nov. 3 will decide who holds the seat for a full two-year term.

Despite an unusually busy primary season marked by a runoff on the Democrat side that was concluded June 23, the slate is set for both elections, starting with August’s special election. Voters in SC-115 will choose from among three candidates: Eugene Platt of the Green Party, Democrat Spencer Wetmore and Republican Josh Stokes.

The Island Connection emailed the same questions to all three candidates. Their responses, edited for space in some cases, follow.

 1 – Will you be able to claim Peter McCoy’s support?

Wetmore – I wouldn’t expect that. I’m sure Peter is very busy in his new position, but we’re friends, and he has been good enough to answer my questions about the district.

Platt – Although I hold Peter McCoy in high esteem and would value his support, it would seem likely that he is supporting – to the degree allowed by his new position as U.S. Attorney – his former law partner, Josh Stokes, whom I also hold in high esteem. While I am pursuing a serious campaign and hope to win, I must say that the good people of House District 115 would be well served by any of the three candidates.

Stokes – Peter is unable to endorse political candidates, at any level, due to his new position as the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina. That being said, I would like to give you some history regarding my relationship and involvement with Peter that I believe could be informative. Beginning even prior to Peter’s announcement of his inaugural campaign for S.C. House District 115, I was significantly involved as an advocate, financial donor, door knocker, sign holder and more. That support continued through all of Peter’s campaigns. Peter and I had been close friends for several years prior to his first political campaign, and Peter had also married one of my closest law school classmates. Shortly after Peter’s election as the District 115 representative, he and I became law partners, and we continued in that professional relationship for nearly a decade. During that span, Peter and I would talk politics on a regular basis and discuss issues like expansion of solar power, legislative reforms, infrastructure improvements, taxes that affected his service in the State Legislature, my service on Town Council for the town of James Island and both of us as residents of District 115. Peter and I worked together on issues that are important to the town of James Island.

From a personal standpoint, my family and Peter’s family have grown up together, celebrating births, birthdays, holidays and events as if we were one large family. We live less than two miles from each other, and I still see Peter on at least a weekly basis and talk to him even more frequently.

Considering all of the above, the time that Peter and I have spent together, and that we both identify as Republicans, I do not imagine it is shocking that Peter and I agree on a large variety of political and ideological issues. Peter was also the primary influence that helped me get into politics in 2014. Peter and I discussed several times my intention to run for the District 115 seat when he was no longer able or willing to serve.

2 – What makes you the best of the three candidates and what are the most important issues the district is facing?

Platt – As an octogenarian, I have more life experience. I am a veteran – having served in the 11th Airborne and 24th Infantry Divisions from 1957 to 1960. I am an elected member of the James Island Public Service District Commission, having served since 1993.

I am – as far as I know – the only candidate who has taken a public stand on controversial issues, among other things, calling for an end to the death penalty in South Carolina. I am a strong supporter of public education and, as long as public schools are underfunded, remain opposed to the use of public funds for scholarships to private schools.

Wetmore – As Folly Beach city administrator, I have a record of getting things done. My work protecting the environment and standing up to developers sets me apart. Runaway growth and offshore drilling are incredible threats to our community. The Lowcountry is an incredibly special place, and I believe we must do more to keep it that way. 

Stokes – There is a difference between the most important issues in the campaign and what separates me from my fellow candidates. For what separates me, I am a fiscal conservative who believes less government is better and that governmental intervention in the daily lives of citizens should be for limited, specific purposes. I am sure I do not have the answer to every question, and I am certainly not an expert on all subjects, but I have rarely found that more pervasive government interference is the answer to most issues.

As far as important issues for District 115, I think there are many including addressing and improving our aging infrastructure, bolstering our economy, supporting our public schools, protecting the hardearned tax dollars paid by our citizens and preserving the amazing natural resources that we are lucky enough to enjoy.

3 – Should South Carolina be doing more to control the spread of COVID19? Is a statewide face mask mandate a good or bad idea?

Platt – Yes, the state should be doing more. Among other things, it could empower individual counties to implement county-wide face mask requirements. A statewide mandate would be more difficult to enforce and, moreover, there may be communities where such a mandate is not needed. South Carolina probably would not suffer by taking this approach.

Wetmore – There’s no question the state should be doing more to stop the spread. We’ve already lost over 1,100 South Carolinians to COVID over the course of five months – that’s more people than we lose to suicide, guns or drug overdoses each year. Public health crises require leadership, and, unfortunately, we’re not seeing it from Gov. McMaster or President Trump. I believe we do need a statewide mask order, and, when it comes to opening schools, we need an actual plan that ensures the safety of our children and school employees.

Stokes – This question takes me back to the idea of limiting the government’s intervention in the daily lives of our citizens unless it serves a specific, limited purpose that is not already being addressed in another way. However, I am in favor of more local control for these issues. To the specific question, if our local municipalities are enacting mask mandates – and they are – then I believe a statewide mask mandate from the governor is unnecessary.

 I also believe local municipalities are better equipped to review all data for their exact location in the state and create a specific plan that fits that location and its current COVID-19 circumstances. Local municipalities can respond quicker to changing circumstances as they see what is working and what is not for their area.

Ultimately, if governmental restrictions are placed on our citizens, those governments should be prepared to act quickly to adjust or remove restrictions when they are no longer necessary.

4 – Georgia’s governor overrode any local face mask ordinances. Will South Carolina suffer as a result, and how does this play with you, given that South Carolina is a home rule state?

Platt – Yes, the state should be doing more. Among other things, it could empower individual counties to implement county-wide face mask requirements. A statewide mandate would be more difficult to enforce and, moreover, there may be communities where such a mandate is not needed. South Carolina probably would not suffer by taking this approach.

Wetmore – The Georgia governor’s actions are infuriating and baffling. To sue the mayor of his state’s largest city over actions to keep people safe is beyond the pale. The virus doesn’t see state lines, so, yes, this will hurt our efforts here as well. We are all in this together, and we have a responsibility to each other. 

Local governments are often the closest to an issue and do indeed have the right and responsibility to take common sense measures that protect the safety and health of their residents. This is particularly true when federal and state leadership are so clearly lacking. 

Stokes – There is a possibility of some limited repercussions for South Carolina, but I believe they would be extremely minimal. The actions of Georgia’s governor do not impact the ordinances passed in South Carolina. If a Georgia resident comes to a South Carolina business where the local municipality has passed a mask ordinance, they will still have to wear a mask. I am a strong supporter of home rule. However, Gov. McMaster has specifically stated the he would allow local municipalities to address mask ordinances and not overturn those decisions. This is directly opposite of the situation in Georgia and I believe the right way to handle these issues in South Carolina.

5 – Where are you on establishing an independent commission to redraw South Carolina’s legislative districts?

Platt – An independent commission to redraw the state’s legislative districts – Congress, State Senate and State House – is an excellent idea, the implementation of which is years overdue.

Wetmore – Yes, I absolutely support an independent commission to redraw the lines, and this is one of my priority issues. Voters deserve to pick their representatives, not the other way around. 

Stokes – In general, I am not opposed to the idea of establishing an independent commission focused on the redrawing of South Carolina’s legislative districts. I do, however, believe much more information would be necessary before a thorough discussion about establishing such a commission could reasonably be held. How is the commission established? How do you ensure independence? Who determines whether the commission is independent? These are just some of the questions that would need to be answered to allow for reasonable debate. There have been a number of recent attempts to pass legislation creating an independent commission for redistricting, and each of those has had different ways to address these issues. I do believe, however, the current process for addressing redistricting is fair, bipartisan and receives scrutiny and input from public and private resources. I also believe the recent removal of the Department of Justice’s preclearance requirement for South Carolina is evidence to support that we currently have a good system for redistricting.

To request an absentee ballot, visit scvotes.gov or call 843-744-8683.

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