NEWBERRY COUNTY — A debate held Wednesday at the Newberry Opera House covered a variety of topics ranging from education and the national debt to climate change.
Candidates in attendance included Democrats Alexis Frank, Les Murphy and Archie Parnell along with Republicans Chad Connelly, Sheri Few, Tom Mullikin, Ralph Norman, Tommy Pope and Kris Wampler, Josh Thornton from the American Party and David Kulma from the Green Party.
The debate was sponsored by the Union and Laurens locations of the University of South Carolina and was moderated by King Dixon, athletic director at the University of South Carolina. The following are highlights from the debate:
Dixon asked what legislation the candidates would propose to fix the education system. Frank said students need to be OK at home and that their person needs should be attended to as opposed to just passing standardized tests.
“We want to make sure they they feel welcome, they feel taken care of and we also need to make sure we are raising our curriculum standards as well as lowering our passing standards, so that our students are competitive with students in other states,” she said.
Murphy said one in four children live in poverty, which could directly affect their education. He added that giving teachers a raise would inspire them to teach to inspire, not to teach to standardized testing. He said the level of teachers’ pay needs to increase so they do not live paycheck to paycheck.
Parnell said in the Fifth District there are 95 Title I schools, and they need to continue to be supported, and all public schools need to be fully supported.
Republican candidates said they would support legislation to close the Department of Education. Few said she has studied education policy most of her adult life, and she would support HR 899, which would close the Department of Education. She added that local control needs to return to schools, and the only way to do that is by getting the federal government away and get rid of their meddling.
“So we can teach according to our values, and so we can have standards that will help children,” Few said.
Norman and Wampler agreed with shutting down the Department of Education. Norman added that the dollars have to follow the child, so they are not penalized because of their ZIP Code. Wampler said the federal government has absolutely no authority under the Constitution to involve itself in education.
“The problem is we allow the federal government to take our money from us and send it back to us, with strings attached, with all these rules. Rules like having transgender bathrooms and these kind of things, but you should have the money kept locally in the first place and you can decide how to best spend it, not politicians in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Connelly said we need to end federal control.
“We need to make sure the dollars go to the classroom, and we need universal school choice, so public, private, Christian, Catholic schools are encouraged and parents can actually send their kids to the school that would be best for their kids,” he said. “When those dollars follow the kid we get the best test scores. We have proven that more money does not work. It just puts us in a bigger hole and we are worse off for it.”
Mullikin said there are two fundamental issues when it comes to education. The first is a cultural issue, and that the best students come out of homes with two parents that are supportive.
“We need to deal with that cultural issue, and we need to bring education back home. The best education is one that is dealt with at a local level, education and training for a purpose. So we need to bring it home, and we need to work on those cultural issues,” he said.
Pope said we have got to make it OK to get a technical education, and that businesses need employees with technical training.
Third party candidate Thornton said he would propose we test children less, and put money into training teachers for professional development. He added it seems we are teaching to the kids and they are not performing. Kulma said he would eliminate standardized testing, and make sure all public school funding goes only to public schools.
Dixon asked about the rising cost of college while Pell and lottery funds remain the same.
Democratic candidate Frank took the opportunity to refute some Republican stances on the Department of Education.
“To start with, dismantling the Department of Education would leave eight million low income students without access to a good college education. College is a right, not something the elite among us deserve to have. I used the Pell Grant to get through my associate’s degree program and my bachelor’s degree program, and I personally feel that it is a slap in the face to students, for me, who started all the way at the bottom that we are not allowed to have a little bit of help to rise out of those situations,” she said. “So no, I do not believe dismantling the Department of Education will allow our students to do better.”
Few disagreed with Frank.
“I really did not mean to slap you in the face, but I will have to say your philosophy on education, so far that I heard, is just a prime example of what I was describing,” Few said.
Parnell was also against doing away with the Department of Education, and Murphy said education is a right and should be granted and discounted for students.
Republican Connelly said we do not need to pay for everything for everybody. He said he worked four jobs to help pay his way through college, and it made him better, not bitter.
“Pell Grants do not work. All we did in 2008, when President Obama ran, free Pell Grants, all the colleges did is raise their prices, and we had to pay more and it was just another program tax payers had to pay for, and it does not work,” he said.
Few said she agreed with much of what Connelly said. Norman said everything has a cost, and education should be accountable and that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
Both Pope and Mullikin took similar stances about promoting technical education and training people for jobs, rather than just getting liberal arts degrees. Wampler said it is a basic law of economics, the more you fund something and the more you subsidize something, the more it is going to go up in cost.
“We have funded people to go and get bachelor’s of art degrees and now having a B.A. is essentially worthless because there are so many people who have access to it. We need to look at getting rid of some of these programs, again not constitutional. Now one issue the federal government can involve itself in is bankruptcy law, and that is something that can be explored about discharging student loan debt,” he said. “I find it interesting about the Liberal and Democratic candidates, you all are pro-choice when it comes to aborting your child, but never when it comes to educating your child, and I find that pretty bad.”
Frank responded to Wampler, saying he was confusing pro-life with pro-birth.
“Because you cannot in the same breath say that you want babies to be born and also in the same breath suggest that those babies, who are born into low income families, cannot go to public schools,” she said.
Wampler in turn said Frank did not know his views on what happens after a child is born.
“I was merely pointing out that Liberals and Democrats are pro-choice when it comes to aborting their children, and they are radically pro-choice about that and not pro-choice about anything else, not pro-choice about where the money goes, not pro-choice about where kids go to school,” he said. “Why are you not pro-choice on those issues, if you are not going to be intellectually consistent about it, that was the only point I was trying to make.”
Frank responded by saying Wampler assumes her stance on pro-choice and pro-life issues, and that her response was in rebuttal of that.
Green Party candidate Kulma said we need to fund higher education the way we do public schools, and wipe away all student loan debt. American Party candidate Thornton said it is sad that people now decided their career track based on paying off student loans.
“It is often said that the federal reserve creates money out of nothing, however the truth is even worse. The FED actually creates money out of government debt, therefore it is impossible to reduce the deficit, much less pay off the national debt because the end result of no debt is no money. How do you propose dealing with our national debt, knowing our monetary system will not allow its reduction,” Dixon asked.
Democratic candidate Parnell said he would make sure multi-national corporations that stash trillions of dollars outside the United States bring it back to the United States so it can be taxed.
“Further, we should also take a look at broadening the base and lowering the rates, by broadening the base it would be a fairer tax system and revenues would be supplied,” he said.
Frank agreed we need to make sure those corporations are paying their taxes, because they are making the most money. Murphy said we know taxes are important, but this was about the Fifth District, and taxes should be able to meet what we need, and not overburden the public in the Fifth District.
A few of the Republican candidates said the solution would be to abolish the Federal Reserve.
“Greatest solution abolish the federal reserve, that has to happen first. Additionally, we need to lower taxes, families are overburdened with taxes, continually adding on new taxes, and what we do when we lower taxes for people, just like it happened during the Reagan era, people have more of their own money to spend which creates more revenue, and that is the solution to lower taxes,” Few said.
Wampler said, cut taxes, cut spending and get rid of the Federal Reserve. In addition he said the top one percent already pay well over half of federal income tax.
Connelly said you do not spend more money than you bring in, and the country is spending too much money.
“We have got to learn how to say no, we have to free up the free market, we have to free up business to flourish to create the products and services people want and need, and the only way you can do that is get the government out of the mix,” he said. “Way too much bureaucracy, therefore way too much waste and fraud, clean that up.”
Mullikin said we need to cut corporate tax, roll back unnecessary regulations and bring back manufacturing.
Norman said there needs to be an audit on the Federal Reserve, and now that can be done with Conservatives controlling all three branches.
“For eliminating the $20 trillion debt you do what you do in your household, you start cutting. Everybody wants to cut until it cuts their particular program. That is when you get the politicians out of it and you get the business people who are willing to make the hard calls,” he said.
Pope said the first thing that needs to be done is quit spending more than we have, the second is get a lower flatter fair, and that is what he has been working on in Columbia.
Green Party candidate Kulma said one way to raise revenue would be to raise taxes on the wealthy and multi-national corporations, to make sure we have the resources rather than forcing the tax burden on the poor. American Party candidate Thornton said we have to trim the fat, and that are some areas we can recover money from.
Dixon asked if they thought Global Warming and the climate is a credible threat.
Democrat Murphy said global warming does exist and is like a glacier — the majority of the mass is under water. He added the current administration has cut the EPA to shreds.
“We need to hold the rest of the world accountable. If we can play big brother, we can clean up after ourselves,” he said.
Parnell said prudent people would go with the majority of the scientists on this point, but it was not something he was qualified to debate. He added the Paris Agreement is something we should follow, and China is following it.
Frank cited the American Lung Association which has said 166 million Americans are living without the air they need to be healthy. She said we have to do something to make sure our children and grandchildren can breathe.
On the Republican side, Mullikin said the climate has changed throughout time, and man’s contributions, Green House Gas, is less than six percent and the contributions in the United States is a much smaller fraction than that.
“We are contributing less than seven billion of the over 40 billion metric tons of Green House Gas. The very worst thing we can do for people who are worried about the environment is take our industry from the most regulated environment in the world to the most unregulated environment in the world. When we send our jobs and our industry to China, we are chocking on the success of China, we are chocking on their pollution,” he said.
Norman agreed with Mullikin and said we need to make common sense regulations on industry. Pope also agreed about sending industry to places without regulations.
Wampler said climate change is a natural part of the Earth’s ecosystem and added that Al Gore built a house on the beach, the same beach he thinks is going to be flooded in a few years.
Connelly and Few said they believed it was a hoax. Connelly said he felt it was a hoax by the Left as a way to tax more. He added that it is not the greatest threat to America, and terrorism, national security and the boarders were a bigger threat.
“I am a Christian, I think we need to be good stewards of the environment. God gave us this wonderful planet that renews itself. We should not dirty it and pollute it,” he said.
Green Party candidate Kulma said global warming is the greatest threat to human kind right now. American Party Candidate Thornton said it depends on the bottom line.
“If we do away with all regulations, that is putting money in our pocket today, but what is the bottom line, what is the cost of that. Eventually this whole world is not going to be the great place it is right now, because it is not the greatest place it was 100 years ago,” he said.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @ TheNBOnews.