Democratic candidates face off in candidates forum

WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) - With less than a week before the primaries, both Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are jockeying for leads in almost daily popularity polls. Democrats Vincent Sheheen, Jim Rex and Robert Ford faced off in a candidates forum Tuesday evening.

The nearly 30-minute debate moderated by Bill Sharpe and aired on Live 5+, the digital counterpart to Charleston CBS affiliate WCSC, touched on a wide-ranging series of issues facing South Carolina.

With state unemployment hovering at 11.6 percent, many people across the state want to know what candidates vying for the state's top executive office are going to do to cut unemployment and bring jobs to the state.

Sheheen called for the creation of a new division of government focused on entrepreneurship and small business. He also said he would travel to each of the state's 46 counties within the first six months of his tenure as governor.

Rex had a similar plan and called for a new office of job creation.

Ford, however, promoted a more aggressive plan for job creation founded in gaming, particularly the revitalization of the video gaming industry in the state. On July 1, 2000, a law took effect which outlawed the operation, ownership and possession of video poker machines in the state.

In education, the candidates were asked what they would do to raise the state's education levels from the bottom of the national pile. Ford identified the problem as lacking revenue. In his plan, 10,000 new teachers would be hired and he would work to drive down class size to a 15-to-1 ratio. Sheheen agreed with Ford that more money needed to be pushed into the public school system. He said he wanted to see teachers earn more money, even in problem areas, like the school districts along the I-95 corridor, known as the "corridor of shame."

Sheheen, when pressed by Ford to provide specifics, said he would reallocate funding from the stimulus to "create opportunities for good-paying jobs" and even suggested using funding from the recently increased cigarette tax to further fund public schools.

Rex called the allocation of funding for public schools, especially along the I-95 corridor, "unjust and inequitable."  He pointed to Sheheen and Ford as being members of the state Legislature that recently passed a $5 billion budget that cut education funding to the 1995 level. Rex has fought further cuts in education and has dealt with them first-hand serving as the state's superintendent.

Recently, all four GOP candidates for governor said they would support a ban on abortions. The three Democratic candidates were given a chance to weigh in on the heated topic.

Rex said he believed a woman had a right to choose birth or abortion, but weighted that with his belief in the law, saying he would back a ban on abortion if it was legally outlawed. He said people needed to respect the laws created. "I'm sick and tired of people thinking this is the separate states of America," he said.

Ford said abortion was a federal matter and not something that would fall under the purview of a state's chief executive or its legislature. When pressed, however, he said he had never considered it but thought women should have the right to choose.

"Republicans use this topic to divide people," said Sheheen. He said personally he was against abortion, though.

The forum also saw questions submitted via popular social networking site Facebook including asking if the candidates would cut their pay. Pay for elected officials is a  constitutional item in South Carolina. Rex said he had already voluntarily taken a 15-day furlough and would do it again. Sheheen also reduced his pay in the state Senate.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," he said.

The four GOP candidates for governor will face off in a similar forum on June 2 at 8 p.m. That forum will also air on Live 5+. The Democratic hopefuls will move to Spartanburg for another debate Wednesday night.

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