Regardless of Gov. Mark Sanford’s push to put all of the statewide elected positions under gubernatorial appointment, the state’s powerful legislature doesn’t look poised to budge. But there’s an understanding that we aren’t getting our value out of the office of the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate and manages the state’s Office on Aging.
“If you look at the last few lieutenant governors, I agree,” says Ashley Cooper, a Democrat running for the seat left open by exiting two-term Republican André Bauer. “That doesn’t mean you do away with the office.”
Those in the legislature who aren’t looking to scrap the lite gov are trying to find something more for him to do. Cooper is still ironing out the details of his plans, expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks, but has several ideas. The elderly will still be a priority, along with economic development, education, healthcare, and energy.
“There’s plenty of work to be done,” Cooper says. “I’m not going to Columbia to cut a ribbon.”
In fact, he is already weary of getting too settled in the capital.
“I don’t believe our ideas or our solutions come out of the Statehouse,” he says. “We need to be pulling people together who are serious about solving problems.”
And that could be a business owner in Greenville, a teacher in Charleston, or an entrepreneur in Aiken. Cooper is taking time on the campaign trail to listen to these folks and their suggestions.
“It’s that idea of reaching out and encouraging ideas and challenging people to participate,” Cooper says. “What are they facing? What do they need to keep the lights on?”
Republicans hold the reins of the state’s powerful legislature, so any Democrat elected to statewide office (and they’re few and far between) would have to come to the job with an inherent desire for bipartisan solutions. Cooper is no different.
“We’ve got a state that needs help,” he says. “The fact is that no one party has all the right answers.”
And that doesn’t just include the legislature — Cooper is ready to work with the state’s attorney general and other leaders on issues like addressing the scams and fraud that target the elderly.
“Just because we have an attorney general doesn’t mean that my phone doesn’t work, too,” Cooper says. “It goes back to reaching out to others.”
He also wants to shine a spotlight on rural communities in desperate need of assistance with basic quality-of-life concerns.
“We can’t just focus on the hubs,” Cooper says. “Charleston is not going to achieve its fullest potential if we’ve got counties in our state with unemployment over 20 percent. We’re all in this together.”
Cooper says that he’ll be rolling out specific ideas in the coming weeks, including an aid package that will help expand the state’s infrastructure and technical college programs — improvements necessary for economic growth.
“There aren’t easy solutions, but isn’t that part of it?” Cooper asks. “You need someone who says it’s not going to be easy, but I know how to start the process.”
In other election news, the Lowcountry is starting to run out of gubernatorial candidates. Republican Larry Grooms exited earlier this year in response to fundraising challenges. Charleston Democrat Mullins McLeod had a decent pocket book in relation to his competitors, but he left the race last week over concerns about a scorched-earth primary battle.
“For the sake of our state and our party’s chances in November, I will not allow those seeking change to endure a divisive primary battle between candidates fighting for the same thing,” McLeod said, pledging to campaign for Sheheen. “There’s simply too much at risk.”
The other candidates in the Democratic primary include Dwight Drake, state Sen. Robert Ford, and State Education Superintendent Jim Rex.