Looking ahead to 2018 elections


Editor's note: This editorial originally ran in The Post and Courier on Thursday.

As the state wrestles with long-standing and significant new challenges, voters got a look recently at where the Republican candidates for governor stand in an early poll. It's a good time for voters to remember that it's a long way to Election Day and that candidates' solutions are a more substantial guide than poll numbers.

The stakes for South Carolina are too important to rely on name recognition, turning races into the grown-up equivalent of a high school popularity contest.

There should be more discussion of the state's needs and less pandering over sanctuary cities and putting more restrictions on who can vote in party primaries.

The first widely released GOP poll showed Gov. Henry McMaster with a large lead over former state agency head Catherine Templeton, with Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill far in the distance, according to the Mason-Dixon Polling results. Other than the large divide between Gov. McMaster and Ms. Templeton, there were no real surprises.

While horse-race coverage is entertaining, it shouldn't be a substitute for what's really important. The June 2018 primaries and November general election won't happen until the legislative session ends, but voters need to hear solutions to South Carolina's problems from the GOP field as well as Democratic candidates Rep. James Smith and businessman Phil Noble.

And there is plenty to talk about.

One of the most important questions is what the candidates would do to address the state's education woes. They should further tell voters how they would improve education in general now that the Legislature is free from the school-funding lawsuit. The candidates need to tell us what they would do to help recruit and retain teachers. With the end of the TERI program next year and low teacher pay, there's a fear that educators will leave classrooms in droves. And what about the outrageous cost of higher education, which makes it increasingly difficult to get a college degree without taking on enormous debt?

The Legislature likely will focus on the fallout from shutting down the V.C. Summer nuclear project. How would the candidates protect ratepayers who are paying the price - literally - for the bad decisions made by SCANA and Santee Cooper?

We'd also like to hear how they'd support greater government transparency. There's already a bill on the House Ways and Means Committee agenda that would exempt from the Freedom of Information Act nonprofits that receive public money. In essence, chambers of commerce, development corporations and others could receive millions of dollars in public money but would not be accountable to the public for how that money was spent. Sunshine is the best policy, especially where public money is concerned.

And what about the fallout from the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe? Will any of the candidates call for stronger ethics laws? So far, the only thing they've said amounts to "throw the bums out." The reaction to the next scandal likely will be the same if the laws aren't changed.

There also are concerns about health care, protecting children and the elderly and safeguarding the environment. Also, where will they find the money to repair our crumbling roads and bridges and to build new ones, to keep up with the state's booming population?

It's critical that the candidates tell us how they'd tackle these issues without just throwing more money at them.

The real power in South Carolina politics resides in the Statehouse, not the Governor's Mansion, so whoever is elected in November 2018 must use a deft touch to push lawmakers toward the right answers. It will take leadership, especially in a year when the S.C. House of Representatives and the state's constitutional offices will be up for grabs, which could make for a less-robust decision-making climate.

A lot can change over the next several months, so let the speculation begin. But as we head down this road, let's not lose sight of what's really important.