[image-1] The three Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to lead the Palmetto State debated the issues in front of a crowd of less than 200 at the College of Charleston Tuesday night.

Richland state Rep. James Smith, Charleston businessman Phil Noble, and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis discussed the hot button issues affecting the state for an hour, with the exchanges heating up at times.

When Noble emphasized the need for political outsiders like himself to upend the established system, Willis fought back.

“He and his running mate have both run repeatedly for public office and lost, so they’re losers,” she said.

Willis, whose running mate is Columbia state Sen. John Scott, repeatedly took shots at Rep. Smith’s 22 year history in the statehouse.

“It’s really curious to see one of my colleagues choose a legislator who’s actually served more time than me,” Smith said at one point.

During a question about the NRA, Noble brought up Smith’s previous endorsements from the National Rifle Association. Smith used one of his rebuttals to defend himself, but stopped short of disavowing the endorsements, and Willis took steps to separate herself from the mudslinging by engaging in some herself.

“I never attacked Smith about the NRA, that’s what Phil does,” she said.

Smith, largely considered the favorite of the Democratic Party and endorsed by several of his colleagues, played to the moderate base by touting his experience in the military multiple times.

All three candidates took pains to stress their commitment to the Black community.

On keeping schools safe after Parkland, Fla.:

Willis: “I’ve spoken with students, I’ve also announced a policy to ban bump stocks, of making sure we raise age of purchase to 21, and we’ll never ever arm a teacher if I’m governor. In addition to potentially adding some metal detectors, we can have SROs more of them. Our school children are terrified, their teachers are terrified, and we’ve got to work to help them with both the anxiety they feel and threat.”

Noble: “Protection of our children is a moral issue. You can’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the NRA and be committed to protecting the lives of our children and our families. That’s not who we are.”

Smith: “I’m the only candidate who’s been endorsed by Moms Demand Action. Fact is, i’m the only candidate who has the endorsement of Our Revolution South Carolina. I’m the only one who has any record to speak of. Never been offered a cent from the NRA, never accepted a cent from the NRA.”

On the V.C. Summer $9 billion nuclear debacle:

Willis: “We’ve got to make the right parts whole. We’ve gotta get the citizens educated. We can’t simply say this is complicated and we’re just going to be victims. We have to step up. I want you to hold me accountable as governor. If I don’t do what I say I’m going to do then you vote me out of office.”

Noble: “This is a $9 billion robbery of the people of South Carolina by the utilities, that’s it. And they were aided and abetted by members of the legislature who took millions of dollars of consulting fees to allow this to happen. If any legislator stands before you, ask them two questions: Did you take their money, and did you give it back?”

Smith: “We passed legislation that will make sure that all of that rate is taken off. I’m gonna elevate the energy office. We’re going to carve our energy future. That’s going to include renewable energy. We’re going to make power more accessible for our citizens.

On the #MeToo movement:

Willis: “There’s no woman my age who’s been in my profession and hasn’t faced some sort of sexual harassment. This is an attitude pervasive in our culture and particularly in our legislature. Every woman is entitled to be treated as a person of dignity and respect. We need to add more laws but first lets start by enforcing the laws and making sure that woman are protected.”

Noble: “The system doesn’t care that much about women, let’s face it, it’s overwhelmingly male. They don’t take child and maternal health very seriously. We have a corrupt legislation that basically doesn’t care about the needs of this state.”

Smith: “We’re number five and on the top of the list when we should be at the bottom of it, so we need to make sure law enforcement have the resources they need to protect victims. We’re also gonna make sure we educate young people on what healthy relationships are about so they can empower themselves.”

On offshore drilling in South Carolina:

Willis: “Absolutely no to offshore drilling, it’s not only a threat to our environment, it’s a threat to our economy. Gov McMaster actually pled for an exemption with his friend, President Trump. Crickets from the White House. Don’t think Trump is any friend of Gov. McMaster. Why don’t we give Trump a golf course in the coast of South Carolina? Then he’ll give us an exemption.”

Noble: “Nowhere, no time, nobody, no how.”

On health care:

Noble: “If we don’t re-invent or re-think these problems we’ll never be where we need to be.”

Smith: “Over 145,000 [people] simply don’t have coverage. With a stroke of a pen as governor, I’ll expand Medicaid. We’re gonna make sure we move to a healthier SC that actually when you do this saves dollars. It won’t take a cent in taxes to deliver, but it’s 40,000 jobs. I will get it done as soon as I’m elected governor.”

On prison safety and the killings of seven inmates at a South Carolina prison riot last month:

Willis: “Our prisons are understaffed and the folks that are there as guards are underpaid. We have to deal with the contraband that is being thrown into our prisons. We must punish the people who are providing the contraband as much as we need to punish the people who are receiving it. This is an area where the governor can be very effective.”

Noble: “We need to jam the cell phones, we need to prevent the contraband being thrown over. The root problem is that we have a system in Columbia that doesn’t really care about the prisons. Lets face it. Most of the legislators are white, most of the people in the prisons are black. We can’t fix our health care system, our schools, until we’re at least honest about the issues of race that we’ve got to deal with.”

Smith: “All South Carolinians should be concerned about what’s happening in our prisons. There’s been one party with absolute control. Every time you count up the numbers it’s gonna be the same.”

On making higher education more affordable:

Willis: “Education is not a job that belongs to the governor. It belongs to the legislature, and again, Mr. Smith has been there for 22 years and I don’t buy the notion that he’s never gotten consensus on these issues. The lottery is one way. I’m also in favor of legalized gambling.”

Noble: “Higher education is like the rest of our education system. It’s a failure. We’re 50th in the country in education, and for our children to walk away with a diploma from high school and think they’re educated, it’s a problem. We need to equalize services. Every kid gets a laptop or an iPad. The reality is the plantation politics system we have right now has given us a continuation of the segregated school system.”

Smith: “We have among the highest tuition rates in the U.S. First, I’ll make sure we continue and re-invest in our higher education system. We’re not making sure that we advise our kids of the hope and opportunities available.”

On race relations after the Mother Emanuel shooting:

Willis: “I’m the only candidate who has called out Donald Trump as a racist. We need to call out racism wherever we find it. I find it in the White House, and that’s intolerable for me. What we can do to improve race relations is to love our neighbor. My running mate, Sen. John Scott, is African-American and when we stood on that stage at the Democratic convention, we locked arms and said this is what South Carolina looks like.”

Noble: “We’ve got work every day in race relations in the state and the last thing we need is a system of plantation politics that takes care of the people in the Statehouse and ignores Black folk, women — those who are left behind.”

Smith: [On working to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds.] “It was through that effort that we came together and saw a better future, and were able to remove the flag and improve race relations in our state.”