COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The women seeking to become South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor met in their only debate Monday, giving voters a chance to compare the ways in which they envision leading the redesigned office.
A week ahead of the election, Republican businesswoman Pamela Evette and Democratic state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell clashed on issues including health care and taxes.
If elected, Norrell said her running mate, state Rep. James Smith, would act swiftly to expand Medicaid, a move she said would create 44,000 jobs and insert $2 billion into the state’s economy and only necessitate funding from the state after several years.
“That’s like refusing your own federal tax refund, and nobody does that,” Norrell said, of Republicans’ decision not to accept federal expansion funds, repeating a line she’s used before on the campaign trail.
Evette countered that it’s irresponsible to expand the program without thinking through how to ultimately fund it at the state level, suggesting the implementation of other methods like telemedicine, instead.
“It’s something that James and Mandy haven’t wanted to say: that they’re going to have to raise your tax dollars,” Evette said, a point Norrell later refuted by saying her ticket had no plans to raise taxes.
This is the first year in which South Carolina voters select the state’s No. 2 officeholder along with their pick for governor on the same ticket, and either Evette or Norrell would become only the second woman in state history elected to the office.
Both gubernatorial hopefuls have laid out their plans for revamping the role, which up until now has held minimal, largely ceremonial power, such as presiding over the state Senate and Office on Aging.
In an interview earlier this year, Gov. Henry McMaster told The Associated Press that, if elected, he’ll task Evette, 51, with helping him achieve tax reform and navigating an array of other issues with lawmakers, who hold most of the power in state government.
Smith told AP in May he’d picked Norrell in part for the same reasons, as well as his confidence in her ability to govern, if needed, in his place. The 45-year-old attorney practices law in Lancaster, an area she has represented in the state House since 2013 and where she has also previously served as municipal attorney.
Both candidates were asked about the rancor and divisive language that has plagued the political landscape, with Evette saying, “I believe there’s enough of that on both sides that we could probably talk about.”
Norrell at first defended her party, stating emphatically that she disagreed with the premise that Democrats shared in such rancor. But when pressed, she said of her party, “There are factions that we happen to disagree with,” but refused to go further, adding only that the factions don’t “use dehumanizing speech toward others.”
Neither woman could name a policy issue on which she disagreed with the candidate at the top of each respective ticket. That’s in contrast to a previous interview in which Norrell told AP she sometimes finds herself “to the right” of her running mate.
To the same question, Evette said she and McMaster “have the same direction” and together make a solid, like-minded team.
The candidates also differed on the recruitment of out-of-state college students, with Evette echoing McMaster’s view that the state should limit such students, providing more opportunity for South Carolina students to attend the state’s public colleges and universities. Norrell countered that out-of-state students pay more in tuition, though The State newspaper reported last year that more than a third of out-of-state students at the University of South Carolina paid in-state tuition and half received special discounts.
There were two points on which the candidates agreed. When asked if they wanted to be governor, both responded instead that they were “prepared” to take on the role. Both were also quick to point out that neither view the other as the enemy.
“In no way do I look at Ms. Norrell as my enemy,” Evette said. “We’re just two people who have different ideas about how to run the state.”
Norrell echoed that sentiment, stating, “We all have an obligation to recognize that the people who are our opponents are not our enemies and they are not evil.”
Voters decide between the McMaster-Evette and Smith-Norrell tickets in the Nov. 6 general election.
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP .
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