State superintendent candidates stump in Charleston ahead of runoff

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:02 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:25 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The dust has settled on the six-way primary battle that was the Republican contest for state superintendent of education. The two candidates left standing to duke it out in a runoff on Tuesday have come to Charleston to convince voters they’re the right pick for the job.

Moderate Republican Kathy Maness was the top vote-getter last Tuesday with 30.5% of the vote, while the more conservative Ellen Weaver took second with 23.3%. Since the election, the endorsements from the other candidates have been split. Travis Bedson, the third-place candidate (13.9%), is now backing Weaver, while Lynda Leventis-Wells is throwing her 8.5% of the vote behind Maness.

The other two candidates, Kizzi Gibson (11.1%) and Bryan Chapman (12.5%) have not made any public endorsements or responded to a request for comment.

Weaver spent the day holding town hall-style campaign events in Dorchester County, Berkeley County and Charleston County, where she was greeted by supporters and those potentially looking for a new candidate.

Weaver is the President and CEO of the conservative think tank Palmetto Promise, launched alongside former US Senator Jim DeMint. She pitches herself as the embodiment of change and the epitome of parental rights.

“The momentum on the ground is palpable,” Weaver said. “People are coming out for this race like never before. I think they understand that our education future in South Carolina is on the line, and we can’t just keep doing more of the same. We have got to fundamentally address the learning loss from COVID-19. We have to support our students. We have got to listen to parents. They feel like their voices have not been heard, and we have got to support teachers in the classroom. That means better pay, and that also means a focus on discipline.”

The event opened with Summerville State Senator Sean Bennet (R-38) stumping for Weaver. She also recently secured the endorsement of State Representative Russell Fry, who beat US Representative Tom Rice on Tuesday with former President Donald Trump’s backing.

Mahwish Mcintosh and MaryRita Watson were among those who showed up at Coastal Coffee Roasters in Summerville for the meet and greet. The public education system in South Carolina routinely ranks among the worst in the nation. Mcintosh says we need a change.

“I have seen the same recommendations, the same suggestions being given to lawmakers, leaders and our state legislature only to have the same problems exist 20 years later,” Mcintosh said. “I think there are still a lot of broad and general terms and solutions that are being tossed around, but I don’t see anything specific as to solving the teacher crisis.”

Mcintosh and Watson say they came to the event to find a reason to vote for Weaver but ultimately didn’t find one. Watson rejects one of Weaver’s main talking points, which centers around the narrative that schools are indoctrinating children with a liberal agenda.

“Are we indoctrinating children? No,” Watson said “We need to be more vocal about that and make sure that if those things are happening, it’s handled at a local level and in a school rather than us having to change. I’m worried about changing our entire curriculum and the art of teaching going out the window because we have been prescribed certain things that we can use as educators.”

Watson says they are also concerned about how Weaver is able to fast-track her master’s degree to legally qualify for the top office. She says it’s something that many teachers would like to do themselves since a master’s degree would mean a higher salary, but many don’t have the time or money to commit to a master’s program.

“I am in a competency-based program where I am able to go at my own speed,” Weaver said, noting that she is working through a program at Bob Jones University. “I am doing this in a fully online, accredited program. I am not going to pretend that it is easy. I am getting up every morning at 5 o’clock to do several hours of schoolwork before I start my day. I go home at night and do more schoolwork, and I am doing it all over the weekend too. . . That’s the kind of commitment I will bring to the office.”

Meanwhile, Maness, the executive director Palmetto State Teachers Association, is also in Charleston meeting voters. She has won the endorsement of the sitting superintendent, Molly Spearman, and has been pegged by her opponent as a continuation of the status quo.

“No matter who had been our superintendent for the last two years, they would have had a difficult time,” Maness said. “I am going to work very hard to make sure that when the students leave the classrooms of our public schools, they are ready for the three E’s – enrollment, enlistment and employment. We have to get them ready for the next step.”

Maness also hammered the message that she is the only candidate in the race that is qualified for the office, adding that Bedson, who endorsed Weaver, also doesn’t have a master’s degree. Weaver contends that she will have her master’s degree before the general election.

The runoff election is Tuesday, June 28. The early vote has already started. You can find more information about the candidates on their websites here: Maness - Weaver

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