Six Democratic contenders are vying to fill state Sen. Robert Ford’s seat in District 42 after Ford’s resignation forced the state to hold a special election. The Democratic Party will hold a primary on Aug. 13, along with the Libertarian Party, which will decide whether to put forward Alex Thornton or Rodney Travis as a candidate. Billy Shuman is the only Republican in the race.
District 42 includes Maryville and Ashleyville, parts of West Ashley and North Charleston, and peninsular Charleston north of Calhoun Street. To see if you live in the district, check the map here.
The City Paper caught up with the six Democrats to find out what makes them tick and where they stand on some hot-button legislative issues.
The Outsider: Emmanuel Ferguson
Emmanuel Ferguson, an assistant solicitor in the state’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, is making his first foray into politics with his run for the state Senate. “My advantage is I don’t have any toes that I need to worry about stepping on,” he says. “I don’t know anyone in the chambers, I don’t have an agenda, nobody in Columbia has contributed to my campaign, and I don’t have to worry about offending anyone.”
Ferguson says he will oppose Republican lawmakers’ plans to defund or nullify federal health care programs. “The first thing we need to do is do whatever we can to make sure the Medicaid expansion happens,” he says. “Our governor is certainly either out of touch or doesn’t care about the people in our state, and it shows by her refusal to accept those funds.” During his door-to-door campaigns in Wagener Terrace, Maryville-Ashleyville, and North Charleston, Ferguson says he’s met people cutting their monthly medication usage in half and skipping medication days to make ends meet.
Of the six candidates, Ferguson has been running one of the most connected social media campaigns, with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as his personal phone number printed on every flyer he hands out.
As a former public school teacher, Ferguson says he’s against placing any future freezes on teachers’ scheduled pay increases — because he felt the squeeze himself. And when it comes to education, he has other strong opinions: “I like charter schools. I absolutely hate vouchers. It’s a little controversial for a Democrat to say that they like charter schools, but I taught at a choice school, a magnet school. And I think charter schools need to have a lot of scrutiny to make sure that they’re not the backdoor vehicle to privatization with public dollars.”
As an attorney, Ferguson says he has met many young people who qualify for a public defender but cannot afford to pay the $350 fee to take a pre-trial drug intervention class and so end up with a “scarlet letter” on their criminal record. “What I want to do is say anybody who’s qualified for a public defender will get those pre-trial intervention programs available to them at little or no cost,” Ferguson says. “We need to either subsidize that cost or waive it for these people.”
The Tax Wonk: Herbert S. Fielding
Herbert S. Fielding wants to talk about taxes. Specifically, he says he wants the legislature to revisit Act 388 of 2006, which exempted owner-occupied homes from the property tax meant to pay for education. An accompanying increase in the state sales tax was supposed to make up for the property tax break, but decreased sales during the Great Recession led to an ever-widening revenue shortfall and an ever-tightening state budget.
“It took a lot of the tax base off ad valorem taxes and put it on user and food taxes, that kind of thing,” Fielding says.
Fielding, a board member at Fielding Funeral Home who worked as a South Carolina public servant for 28 years, also says he wants the legislature to reconsider the state’s $300 cap on vehicle taxes, which means that a person buying a 350-foot yacht pays the same vehicle tax as a family buying a new minivan. He also wants to revisit certain tax exemptions, create tax breaks for people who install solar panels on their homes, and reconsider the state’s above-average 10.5 percent industry tax. “We attract larger companies by giving them tax breaks and then giving them another $126 million to expand. Well, what happened to Joe Blow who’s been here for 20 years?” Fielding says. “You know, he’s still paying 10.5, and he’s not happy, and he’s not hiring because he’s paying a considerable amount of tax money.”
Fielding has more to say about taxes than any of the other Democratic hopefuls for District 42, but it’s not his only focus. A Vietnam War veteran who also worked as a veterans’ employment counselor for the Employment Security Commission, he is critical of decisions to cut veterans’ programs in rural areas. And when it comes to jobs for the general population, he says tech schools need to work closely with major employers that come to their area. “The workforce structure is going to have to pay attention to what the tech school is teaching. The education system needs to feed the employment system,” Fielding says.
And when it comes to governance style, he takes a lesson from his father, Herbert U. Fielding, who held the District 42 seat from 1985 to 1992. “You’re going to be a lot more successful if you can make coalitions and talk to people with a like mind and bring them around to your point of view,” the younger Fielding says.
The Party Favorite: Marlon Kimpson
The list of high-profile endorsements for attorney Marlon Kimpson seems to grow longer every day: Conservation Voters of South Carolina. State Rep. Wendell Gilliard. The International Longshoremen’s Association. Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon.
What’s all the fuss about? For one thing, Kimpson has served as first vice chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party and chairman of the State Election Commission. Kimpson’s fundraising campaign is also blowing all the other candidates out of the water, with nearly $80,000 in contributions as of July 10. His closest opponent, Maurice Washington, had raised just $24,700 at the time.
Kimpson is a partner at the Motley Rice law firm, where he represents victims in corporate malfeasance cases and has represented victims in a few high-profile cases, including the families of firefighters who died in the 2007 Sofa Super Store fire and Stratford High School students who were subject to a drug raid in 2003. “I’m the champion of the underdog,” Kimpson says.
Politically, Kimpson is aligned with popular positions in the state Democratic Party. He opposes school vouchers and “any plan to devote public money to private schools.” He says he wants to “fight for Medicaid expansion.” He says he’s pro-union.
When it comes to bringing big-time employers to the district, he says he’s not opposed to some of the tax breaks that have been used to lure big companies, including Boeing. “But we’ve got to make sure that the citizens of the district are included in those opportunities,” he says. One idea he says he’d like to borrow from other states is what he calls a Work It Up program, where technical college instructors work closely with industry leaders to design a 12-month job training program. “The technical college instructors go around to those companies and get input on the curriculum such that there’s no excuse for employers saying that, well, these applicants aren’t qualified,” Kimpson says.
Kimpson, who stood alongside NAACP leaders at a Trayvon Martin press conference on July 16, also says the state should revisit its version of the Stand Your Ground law, the Protection of Persons and Property Act. “We need to make it clear that people do have a right to defend themselves in their homes and defend their personal property and vehicles. But we have to look at seriously nullifying the language that pertains to ‘anywhere a person has a right to be,'” he says.
(Oh yeah, did we mention that Trayvon Martin’s family lawyer Benjamin Crump also endorses Kimpson?)
The Infrastructure Guru: Margaret Rush
Construction management consultant Margaret Rush brought a treasure trove of construction money to the Charleston area in her previous position as Ninth Judicial Circuit Highway Commissioner, which she held from 1979 to 1990. Among her claims to fame within transportation circles, she helped secure $370 million for construction of the Mark Clark Expressway, helped fund an $850,000 feasibility study for replacement of the Grace Memorial Bridge over the Cooper River, and led a delegation to Washington, D.C., that convinced federal authorities to restore $120 million in funding for the James Island Connector.
In her interview, Rush has a few strong words for Gov. Nikki Haley, saying that she will be “that voice to stand up to Nikki Haley and to stand up for the residents of Senate District 42.” She also calls out South Carolina banks, saying she will work to ensure compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law meant to encourage banks to lend to low-income residents of the communities they serve. “I’m going to help all of them understand what [the law] is and show them how they are all in violation of that law,” Rush says. “When I sit down with banks, all they have to do is just show me how they have reinvested.”
Rush says she supports expansion of Medicaid in South Carolina, a measure that some state Republicans adamantly opposed this legislative session. “When I’m talking to neighborhood teams and residents, health care is a priority for many of them because this really is an aging district,” Rush says.
If elected, Rush would be the only woman in the Charleston legislative delegation and the only black woman in state Senate. She might also be one of the most fiery opponents of the state’s Republican governor.
“See, I’m going to be a little different than Nikki Haley,” Rush says. “When I become a senator, I’m not going to be guided by party. I’m going to be guided by what is wrong and what is right.”
The Generalist: Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson doesn’t have much to report on his campaign finance disclosure: $80 from himself and $125 from two retired teachers, bringing his war chest total to a mere $205. He doesn’t have a campaign website, and he doesn’t have a lot of campaign signs.
“I’m trying to be a real person, a real legislator, not a paid legislator,” says Thompson, a self-employed contractor. Thompson previously served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2002 to 2004 and made a failed run for Charleston City Council in 2011. This time around, he’s running for the state Senate on a platform that includes preserving wetlands, implementing the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina, and allocating money to build industrial parks in District 42.
Thompson’s platform is lean on specifics, though. When asked how his job creation efforts would differ from those of state Republicans, he replied, “Basically, I would have to get me a body of people together to help me build this idea, this vision. I can’t just say off the top of my head that I would do this and do that. I don’t know how I’m going to approach it, but it’ll get done.” When asked what reforms needed to be made in the state education system, he said, “I would have to get me some educators to find out what it would take to get those kids up to speed, because I’m not in that field.”
Same goes for his plan to rebuild bridges and roads in the Charleston area. When asked how he would accomplish his goal from the state level, Thompson replied, “I don’t know, I’ve got to read and understand what my responsibilities would be at the state level. I figure that any time you’re a freshman senator, you’ve got to be taught, because you’ve never been a senator before.”
As a legislator, Thompson says his style would be more diplomatic than that of his predecessor Robert Ford — to a point. “I would be more inclined to be diplomatic — until I’m forced to get loud,” Thompson says. “If I’m forced to get loud, then so be it.”
The X-Factor: Maurice Washington
After financial consultant and former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington showed up at the Charleston County Democratic Party office to inquire about filing for the District 42 primary, party chairman Richard Hricik sent out a press release announcing that he would accept the filing, but only because he was “legally obligated to do so.”
“If and when Mr. Washington files, I ask that no Democrat in District 42 or otherwise support him in any way,” Hricik said. Why the acrimony? For starters, Washington has previously run for the state legislature as a Republican. Washington has also donated to the campaigns of Republicans Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Chip Limehouse, and Chip Campsen. And in an April letter of support for Washington’s re-election to the S.C. State University Board of Trustees, then-Sen. Robert Ford described Washington as “a faithful and dedicated Republican since 1984.”
Washington’s campaign website contains no information about his platform. In a phone interview, however, Washington says he’s not ashamed of working across the aisle with the GOP. “I’m very proud of my association and my friendship and my relationship with every Republican that I have partnered with to help deliver a real value to the people that I was elected to represent,” Washington says. For example, he says he could never have secured $45 million for the construction of new dormitories at S.C. State without the help of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and an all-Republican Budget and Control Board appointed by Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.
Asked for his stance on expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Washington says, “I’m open-minded to looking at it. I’m in support of it. But I also need to know — and I think it’s very important — how we’re going to pay for it … What programs will be hurt or compromised as a result of finding the revenues to pay the cost of it?”
On education, he says, “A voucher program using public dollars for private schools, I would not support. What I would support is a private sector-public sector partnership in support of education.”
Washington says he supports “the right kind of tax incentives” to attract businesses that bring jobs to South Carolina, but he wants to ensure that the jobs end up going to South Carolinians. “We have plenty of industry here that provides jobs for locals. What we need to do a better job of is making sure that locals are the true beneficiaries of those jobs. That requires an educated workforce and a trained workforce.”
If he goes to the state Senate, Washington says he will not go as a “partisan.” “I will not go there to carry the water of the Democratic Party,” he says. “I will go there to carry the water and the issues of my constituents first and foremost.”