- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - In the first of two scheduled gubernatorial debates Tuesday, Gov. Nikki Haley touted the more than 50,000 jobs announced by her administration, while her challengers blasted her numbers as not real.

Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen said roughly half of the announced jobs have shown up and many of the planned openings already have fallen through. Haley countered that the promised jobs don’t happen overnight.

“It will take awhile,” she said.

Independent candidate Tom Ervin asked Haley to publicly post the incentives given to lure companies to South Carolina, so taxpayers can judge whether they’re worth it, saying the Republican governor has “given away the farm when it comes to economic incentives.”

Libertarian Steve French also criticized Haley on incentives, calling instead for elimination of more taxes.

“I look at jobs like I look at sex. You shouldn’t brag about it if you have to pay for it,” he said.

Haley insisted she has the right approach to increasing residents’ prosperity, with job announcements in 45 of the state’s 46 counties.

Sheheen said the state needs to expand Medicaid eligibility under the federal health care law and focus on small businesses owned by South Carolinians. Ervin said the state needs to increase the minimum wage to $10 over three years to help those struggling below the poverty limit.

“Folks who work hard deserve a living wage,” he said.

Ervin was the only candidate to support raising the state’s 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t changed since 1987, to improve the state’s roads and bridges. That ensures tourists and truckers help fund infrastructure improvements that support economic development, he said. The state Department of Transportation has said it needs an additional $1.5 billion yearly over 20 years just to bring roads to good condition.

United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves said the answer to the state’s economy is legalizing marijuana.

CONFEDERATE FLAG

Reiterating a call he made two weeks ago, Sheheen said it’s time to remove the Confederate flag from a memorial in front of the Statehouse, where it’s flown since a 2000 legislative compromise removed it from the dome.

“We’re tired of having an image that we’re stuck in the past and divided,” he said. “I think it’s time to retire it to a place of respect and all rally together under a flag that unites us all.”

Ervin said he’s surprised Sheheen raised such a divisive issue just before the election. Haley went further in calling Sheheen’s stance a campaign stunt. She noted Sheheen has been in the Legislature since 2001 but has never raised the issue until now.

As for whether it affects the state’s economy, she said the flag has never come up in her economic development discussions with company executives.

“Yes, the perception of South Carolina matters, but we really fixed all that” when voters elected her - an Indian-American - as the state’s first female and first minority governor, and when she appointed Republican Tim Scott in December 2012 to be South Carolina’s first black U.S. senator, she said.

French disagreed, saying the flag’s placement on Statehouse grounds contributes to people he knows still considering South Carolina “a backwoods, good ol’ boy network.” But as a supporter of individual liberties, he added, “if you want to paint your house in the Confederate flag, I’m fine with that.”

LEGALIZING MARIJUANA

Both Haley and Ervin said South Carolina lawmakers need to wait and see what happens in Colorado and Washington before moving to legalize marijuana here.

“Habitual users can lose IQ points. It concerns me. We’re in a world economy. Our young people need all the IQ points they can muster,” Ervin said.

But he did support making first-offense marijuana possession a civil penalty.

French said he fully supports legalizing marijuana, but the state at least needs to decriminalize it altogether, saying the state spends too much money arresting and incarcerating people for a victimless crime.

“I believe you have the right to do what you want with your own body in your own home,” French said.

Reeves’ entire economic policy centers on raising revenue by legalizing marijuana, saying the plant is part of God’s creation. He wants to give some of the revenue to churches to help the poor.

Noting his twin, 18-year-old sons might be watching, Sheheen said simply that legalizing marijuana is not the answer.

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