It’s not surprising that jobs have been center stage in this election season; the recession has left some South Carolinians without work and placed others in a paycheck-to-paycheck scenario that’s one injury or accident away from catastrophe. Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) tackles issues like education, energy, healthcare, and the environment — but he approaches each by relating it to the economy.

Before Sheheen can shake things up in Columbia, he’s got to get past Republican frontrunner Nikki Haley. The Lexington legislator is still ahead in the polls, so it’s not surprising that Sheheen is spending more time on the campaign trail talking about his opponent.

It’s a message that appears to have resonated with voters. A wide lead for Haley has narrowed to no more than nine points, according to a recent Winthrop University poll, with more than one in every four Haley supporters saying they’re keeping their options open.

The Haley campaign has ignored repeated requests seeking an interview.

Trust, Leadership: “The question voters need to ask themselves is, ‘Whom do they believe will tell them the truth?'” Sheheen says.

Haley can hardly find a news cycle that doesn’t have her name and “scandal” in the same headline. Personal accusations aside, the past few months have revealed a string of questionable decisions, including a non-disclosed $42,500 contract for her Statehouse connections, questions about her unusually high-paying job as a hospital fundraiser, and the slow trickle of tax records that have revealed years of chronic delinquent tax payments.

Most recently, voters learned that Haley lied about why she left her job at the Lexington Medical Center. Haley had suggested in April that it was an amicable split that would allow her to spend more time on the campaign trail, but newly released e-mails show the hospital was trying to force her out.

“We are not going to be successful unless we have leaders people can trust and respect,” says Sheheen.

Cooperation: Sheheen represents a mostly conservative district in a Statehouse led by Republicans, so it’s not surprising that he’s worked across the aisle to get legislation passed. He notes it’s a sharp contrast to the combative approach of Haley and her mentor, Gov. Mark Sanford, who rely on outrageous press conferences and back-room intimidation to get their way.

“After years of scandal and misdirection, we need a governor working with leaders in the legislature and the private sector,” says Sheheen. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves.”

Economic Development: Sheheen will focus his attention on the Commerce Department and its role in attracting new business — and he’s starting at the top. The candidate says he’ll hire a commerce secretary with professional experience in drawing business development, as opposed to a politically motivated appointment.

“I want my commerce secretary to be the recruiter, the relationship builder,” he says. “The secretary should not be involved in day-to-day operations.”

State Ports: Sheheen has been a strong advocate for the Port of Charleston on the campaign trail.

“The port is one of the most important assets the state has,” he says.

The candidate has been harshly critical of Sen. Jim DeMint, whose opposition to targeted congressional spending could endanger Charleston’s ability to compete with other ports.

“It’s a good example of how a narrow ideology can get in the way of jobs and economic development,” Sheheen says. “We have the opportunity to recapture the ranking as one of the top ports on the East Coast.”

Colleges: Sheheen has been ringing the alarm on the Republican leadership’s declining support for colleges and universities since announcing his campaign.

“I was amazed to see Gov. Sanford call attention to this on his way out the door,” he says, noting the governor has spent little time supporting colleges and universities in the past eight years.

The state will have to commit to restoring support for higher education when state revenues return, Sheheen says.

Technical colleges will also be a priority, he says. Schools should coordinate with local high schools and employers to match programs with local careers.

“High school students need to see a route to success,” he says.

That route includes a path toward the healthcare industry.

“We shouldn’t have to bring in nurses and medical professionals from other states to fill these good-paying jobs,” Sheheen says.

Energy, Environment: Energy innovation is already blossoming throughout the state, Sheheen points out, including wind energy projects in the Upstate and here in Charleston and other programs like Clemson’s ICAR initiative. This progress should be collected and branded.

“We ought to be known as a state on the cutting edge,” Sheheen says, bringing the conversation back to jobs. “We should have a clear plan linking new energy and job creation.”

Like colleges, Sheheen says that the state’s environmental programs should be restored when the economy improves. Losses in funding for the Conservation Bank, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control have made it difficult for the state to protect its biggest assets: the mountains, beaches, parks, forests, marshes, creeks, rivers, and open fields.

Education: “What really matters in public education is what goes on in the classroom,” Sheheen says.

He would reform the state’s current testing requirements, providing teachers with more time teaching and less time preparing for standardized tests. He would also increase teacher pay to be more competitive with neighboring states and reduce class sizes so teachers can spend more individual time with students.

Support for public schools is another issue where there is a sharp contrast between Sheheen and Haley. The Democrat notes his opponent has introduced legislation in the past to allow state tax dollars to be spent on private school tuitions.

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