From left, senatorial candidates John B. White, Richard McCraw, Lisa Scott and Scott Talley.
From left, Greenville County Council candidates, District 18 incumbent Joseph Baldwin with District 21 hopefuls Lance Byars, Stacy Kuper and Rick Roberts.
District 18 Councilman Joseph Baldwin, who represents Greer-Blue Ridge areas, was the only incumbent to attend the event. He is being challenged in the GOP June 14 primary election by Greer resident Mike Barnes, who was not in attendance due to an announced scheduling conflict.
Three hopefuls for the District 21 seat being vacated by three-term Councilman Jim Burns –Lance Byars, Stacy Kuper and Rick Roberts – participated in the forum.
Three challengers for Lee Bright's District 12 senate seat – David McGraw, Lisa C. Scott and Scott Talley – took part in the event as did District 5 challenger John B. White.
Neither Bright nor District 5 incumbent Tom Corbin attended the forum. Organizers said Corbin called to let them know he would not attend due to a family illness. Bright did not contact organizers, but senate committee and sub-committee meetings were held throughout the day on Thursday.
Candidates for both the local and state offices answered questions regarding taxes, long-range planning and infrastructure, while the senatorial candidates also addressed ethics reform, recent proposals to raise gasoline taxes to repair state roads and Bright's introduction of a so-called "bathroom bill" similar to the one passed in North Carolina.
The four senatorial candidates agreed vehemently on the subject of ethics reform, saying that legislation needs to go farther to keep lawmakers from unethical practices and called for transparency from legislators regarding funding and so-called "dark money" from political-action groups and other parties.
"I think it's very important that the voters get a chance to talk to these folks and hear their (answers to) the questions," said Jason Zacher, vice-president of business advocacy for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. "It's very telling to get them next to each other and hear the differences – hear what they agree on and what they disagree on – that's how you make your decision when you go to vote."
Here are notable comments from Thursday night's GOP forum:
Greenville County Council District 18
Greer attorney Joe Baldwin, who has served on council since 2009 and was a member of the Greer City Council before that, said his experience should be on the minds of voters when they cast their ballots.
"I have a proven record," he said. "I've been there, and I've made tough decisions. I put a lot of thought into the issues we face; I don't take the decisions I make lightly."
Baldwin said he was particularly proud of the council's ability to add 20 Greenville County Sheriff's Deputies to the force over the past few years without raising millage rates.
Greenville County Council District 21
Lance Byars is a commercial real-estate broker with Greenville-based Collett and Associates, which specializes in commercial real estate.
Byars, who received his master's in real estate development from Clemson, said his background in real estate will be an asset to county council as Greenville continues to grow and new industries continue to locate to the I-85 corridor.
"Every day, I get to work with developers and businesses coming to our market," Byars said. "I have to understand traffic patterns, growth patterns – things that are directly related to county council – on a regular basis. Meeting and understanding their needs can be very important to county council."
Byars pointed to local county and municipal governments being underfunded at the state level as a significant problem for Greenville County as it deals with road and growth issues.
Stacy Kuper said she wants her experience in the technology field to translate into growth and opportunity for Greenville County residents.
Kuper, director of sales for Net3 Technology, Inc., moved to the Upstate nearly a decade ago and has since graduated from Leadership Greenville and serves on several boards and committees, including the Greenville Police Foundation and the Greenville County Economic Development Council's advisory board.
"A lot of the things that we're facing and that we want and what we ask for as a community touch technology," Kuper said. "But we really don't have people asking the right questions – and you can't really fault anybody for not knowing what they don't know. I think I bring a very unique talent to the county because e-government is the way it's going, and we need the people in the meeting to ask the right questions from a technology standpoint."
Rick Roberts, president of KMC Benefits, said he would bring a businessman's mentality and work ethic to the seat if elected.
"I want to look at things from a business perspective," said Roberts, who graduated from Mauldin High and Clemson before joining the family business, Roberts Communication Construction, where he was vice-president of operations.
"I don't have any kind of interests that would stop me from fighting every day. We've got to rebuild trust; trust has been lost from the federal level all the way to the bottom … I want to rebuild trust."
Roberts said he wants to keep taxes down in the county and will vote to spend tax dollars wisely if elected.
State Senate District 5
John B. White is the lone challenger the District 5 seat occupied by Sen. Tom Corbin.
This is the first foray into politics for the Spartanburg attorney, who began practicing law in 1976. He said he is running now for his 22 grandchildren.
"I'm concerned about the future, the children's future," White said. "I want them to be able to worship without restriction; I want them to get a great education; and I want them to be able to get a good job."
White said he is a "problem solver" and slammed state senators for taking two years to bring bills addressing ethics reform and funding for state highways to the senate floor.
"I would like to go to Columbia with the idea of making change and being effective from day one.”
State Senate District 12
Greer businessman David McCraw, who owns Palmetto Restaurant and Ale House and a marketing company called Eyedea Brands, said the biggest issues facing the state are financial.
"Whether it's roads or infrastructure, it's all about money," McCraw said. "The county council candidates were talking just a while ago about local-government funding. All those issues surround finance. My experience is what brings me to this position, and I think I would be a good steward of the money in South Carolina."
McCraw, a U.S. Air Force veteran and graduate of USC Upstate, took swipes at Bright for Bright's suggestions of seceding from the U.S. and for the state to print its own currency.
Duncan Mayor Lisa Scott said there are three women in the state's senate. She wants to be the fourth.
"I've never been part of a good ol' boys system, so I don't care about that," she said.
Scott, a former social worker who runs her own property-management firm, became Duncan's mayor in 2013.
"I am running for this senate seat because we have an empty chair in Senate 12. I believe a change is needed; I believe a woman is needed. We look at things differently than men do."
Scott, who received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Clemson and a master's in social work from the University of South Carolina, said her experience in those fields has given her the ability to listen and reach across political lines to work with members of the senate.
Spartanburg attorney Scott Talley spent eight years in the S.C. House of Representatives, serving District 34 from 2000-08, made no bones about why he is running for a return to Columbia: Bright, calling the incumbent's two terms "lost years."
"We've lost eight years in District 12 already," Talley said, noting his previous experience in Columbia. "If you look at my time in the House, you'll see that I was able to work with people. I did something our current senator has not been very successful at -– get legislation through the general assembly and signed by the governor. I still took tough stands that sometimes got me criticized at times by the leaders of the house but I could work with those people."
Talley said it is imperative to elect officials at the state level who are able to "get the job done."