If Sen. Vincent Sheheen is to make up the 60,000 votes by which he lost the governor’s race to Nikki Haley in 2010, he will have to expand his voter base.
Among the voters he will have to lure away from Haley are small business owners, who are often predisposed to voting against Democrats due to perceptions about tax policy.
On Monday, Sheheen spoke to a room full of such people at the Columbia Rotary. After an opening joke about the chaos that is South Carolina’s political scene, Sheheen went deep into criticisms of the Haley administration and then described what he would do to prevent the state from being near the bottom of the things that matter, like employment and education.
Sheheen blasted Haley for her handling of the Department on Revenue data security breach and for DHEC’s handling of the tuberculosis outbreak. “Right now, we have an administration that operates in secret. Their first instinct is to keep things from the public,” Sheheen said.
In a session with the media afterwards, Sheheen expanded on the point, ”Some people tend to be opaque and secretive, some administrations tend to be opaque and secretive. Why? I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve seen that (from Gov. Haley) since before she was governor.”
Sheheen stressed the importance of education to a growing economy and noted that the high-cost of public colleges is driving young people out of state, a talent exodus that makes the Palmetto State less attractive to employers. He noted that North Carolina government funds 50 percent of university budgets while South Carolina funds just 12 percent.
One of Haley’s signature issues, and what she is expected to run on once she formally announces her re-election campaign, has been the improvement in the state’s economy. But Sheheen said the state’s unemployment rate is still above the rate nationally. He also said the state is third from the bottom in upward mobility.
In a statement tailored for Rotarians, Sheheen said the incentives many companies are given to relocate or expand in the state hurt small business and are “a one-way ticket to average.”
Sensitive to big-government concerns, Sheheen also said he would eliminate the offices of Secretary State and Comptroller General as cost-cutting measures.
After his remarks, Sheheen opened the floor to questions, most of which were on issues of taxation.
But the first question was about voter ID by a man who could not understand why anyone would be against it, since identification is required for any number of things, like cough syrup and getting in on an airplane. Sheheen responded by saying that neither of those are constitutional rights and voting is. Further, he argued that in a time of budgetary belt-tightening the state could not afford to spend millions of dollars on an issue that is not pressing.
While voter ID may be a minor issue in voters’ minds compared to the economy and education, the question did strike to the heart of the challenge facing Sheheen. He will have to convince some Republicans to vote for him in order to win, and voter ID is more of an issue for Republicans than Democrats at the moment.
Another issue that works in favor of Republicans in South Carolina is guns. Haley touted her relationship with both manufacturing and guns on Friday, releasing pictures of herself at a gunmaker’s shooting range. At the appearance, she joked about who she was imagining as a target, saying “That’s my secret.”
A few have suggested the joke was in poor taste.
When asked about it Monday, Sheheen, “I grew up around firearms and I learned you don’t joke about firearms.”