The upcoming election might focus on federal offices, but there are also 12 local seats that will appear on Bluffton ballots Nov. 3.
Candidates who are running against opponents were asked by The Bluffton Sun staff to answer each of three questions in 100 words:
1. Why have you chosen to run?
2. What is unique in your background experience or education that would persuade voters to choose you?
3. What is the single most important issue that should be dealt with by the office for which you are running?
Candidates’ answers are presented here, in order by rank of office, and in alphabetical order by last name.
It should be noted that five candidates are running for their offices unopposed: Weston Newton, District 120, State House of Representatives; Angela D. Middleton, District 6 School Board; Christina Gwozdz, District 9 School Board; Ingrid Boatright, District 11 School Board; and David W. Ott, County Coroner.
South Carolina State Senate District 46, Beaufort-Jasper
1. I decided to run based upon wanting to see our state move forward. Move forward in areas of education reform, proactive environmental protection, and equality. We are at a critical juncture in our state’s history, and we need new voices. Our district is changing, and we need to change with it. If we keep accepting the same corporate-funded, career politicians to represent our district, they will continue to take credit for the hard work of others and gerrymander their seats to make sure they do not lose in the future. I want this position to move the Lowcountry forward.
2. Being a South Carolina public school teacher for over 13 years has given me the opportunity to see our state continue to devalue public education. I have taught at Whale Branch Early College and May River High Schools in our district for the last nine years. I also come to our state with over four years of previous work experience in the West Virginia State Senate working for two former governors and current U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. My combination of previous work experience is perfect for our district because it will give the Lowcountry more power in Columbia.
3. The single most important issue is education, but that issue will fuel other areas of policy like economic development, business growth, and equity in our area. Within education, I believe that teacher retention and recruitment is the most important issue. I have creative solutions that just do not throw money at the problem like our career politicians. Teachers have also been saying for years that smaller class sizes, less rigorous testing regimens, and more money for mental health, school counseling, and nurses will be solutions to some of our most pressing issues.
1. I want to build on recent success in having Beaufort and Jasper counties treated fairly in the state budget. A few examples: of the $360 million available this year for spending on roads and bridges statewide, $176 million will go to Beaufort and Jasper counties, and I-95 from the Georgia/South Carolina state line to the Walterboro exit will be widened and repaved, and Highways 170 and 278 will also be resurfaced; overall state funding for Beaufort County’s K-12 public schools has increased by 45%; per-pupil funding for USC Beaufort has gone from 37% of the state average to 78%, and next year it will be 100%.
2. I have the skill and knowledge of the issues to actually get things done. In recognition of the legislation that I have written, I’ve received awards from a broad range of public advocacy groups, including the South Carolina Club for Growth and the South Carolina Association of Taxpayers (for fiscal conservatism), the Conservation Voters of South Carolina and Sierra Club South Carolina (for protecting the environment), and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the South Carolina Public Health Association (for increasing access to healthcare).
3. Ensuring that Beaufort and Jasper counties’ residents continue to receive an equitable return on the tax dollars they send to Columbia. As noted above, we’ve had tremendous success in achieving that equity, but we can’t rest on our laurels, for the next decade is brimming with opportunities for us: building a new ocean terminal in Jasper County; preserving cultural resources like Mitchelville, Santa Elena and the Reconstruction Era National Park; ensuring institutions like the Waddell Mariculture Center achieve their full economic potential; proactively preserving our fragile ecosystem; and so much more!
South Carolina House of Representatives, District 118, Bluffton, Southern Jasper County
1, 2. I’m a 39-year resident of Beaufort County. I’ve owned and operated 11 businesses here and have been fortunate enough to employ over 600 of our fine residents. I have been in office for 18 years and have brought our issues to Columbia and have worked for excellent results. I know this community and am proud to serve not only in the House of Representatives but in many civic organizations. I know our neighbors through church, river clean-ups, Rotary, VIM, and am very visible and available.
3. The most important issue is credibility. You have to be credible in dealing with constituents, government agencies and other members of the legislature, and building relationships. That credibility has provided for more education dollars, a cleaner environment, a stable work climate and constituent service that is second to none. The credibility I’ve earned has been apparent in the progress we’ve made on all fronts and has given me, and Beaufort and Jasper counties, a seat at the head of the table.
1. In 10 years, Hardeeville, Levy and Bluffton have more than doubled in size via new arrivals. Current representation has been single party for almost 20 years. New arrivals bring new ideas, new visions and new philosophies for politics. The people deserve a chance to express their desires, their wants and needs. Not simply accepting what has been, but to embrace what we can be. We need representatives that can connect with everyone living here, not simply those who grew up here.
2. I am a retired IT professional and healthcare IT consultant and project manager. I know how to break down challenges and set directions and tasks to make things progress. I know how to delegate and then follow through with people. I listen and then make collaborative decisions to move the process forward, not to stagnate. I have worked for some of the largest consulting firms and the largest hospitals in the United States. I helped them improve their services to their communities.
3. We need to beat COVID-19 and ensure that all those who are unemployed and underemployed have access to expanded healthcare, up to and including expanded Medicaid. We won’t get past COVID-19 by simply opening up everything and hoping for the best. 3,000-plus deaths from COVID-19 in South Carolina is 3,000 too many, as opposed to my opponent, who wanted to reopen everything before even knowing what this pandemic was.
Beaufort County Council, District 7 (Bluffton)
1. This decision to run for county council was not taken lightly. As a life-long resident of Bluffton, I love this community, from graduating from Hilton Head Christian Academy to the University of South Carolina Beaufort, where I received my degree in elementary education. Bluffton has always been my home. It is because of this that I decided to step outside of the classroom and run for county council. I want to give back to the community that has given so much to me. Going forward in this campaign, you will hear more about the issues that are important to me, such as quality education, transparency, and responsible growth.
2. Our education system is very important to me. Being a former educator in Beaufort County, I have witnessed firsthand the needs in the classroom. This is what makes me the best candidate to bridge that gap between county council, the school board and the people. I will support our school board to ensure they have the necessary resources to support our teachers and a growing school district. We must look forward to the future in preparation for the continued growth.
3. Responsible Growth: Beaufort County is growing rapidly and that can be seen as a burden or an opportunity. We are in a unique situation where we can shape this community for future generations to come. When I am elected councilman, I will keep my district up to date on upcoming projects, roads and other projected changes. I will advocate maintaining our Lowcountry values that already have contributed to the success of Bluffton. For us to practice responsible growth, we must also take a look at the transparency of our government entities as well as our growing education system.
1. My background is in management and public education advocacy. Through this work, I learned how education funding, growth management and economic development were related in Beaufort County. I dedicated years to informing others on the importance of being strategic about managing our growth, with an awareness about how growth impacts other needs and issues in the county. It isn’t enough to talk about the things you want to do if you get elected. I’ve been advocating for families in Beaufort County for years. Now I’m running to put that knowledge to action on the other side of the dais.
2. I moved to Beaufort County in 2003, where I still reside with my two daughters. Through the years, we have faced many personal challenges. In that time, I have learned how to adapt to changes and make difficult decisions. My experiences taught me the value of community. In 2017, I co-founded a parent advocacy group on Facebook, STAND for Students. In my work with STAND, I forged relationships with local leaders, and worked to pass the recent school bond referendum with 69% support. Stepping up to continue this work in the role of a county council representative is the logical next step.
3. I have said it before: the pandemic is a public health emergency, and an economic one. We have to address the public health crisis if we want to recover economically. Managing the effects of COVID-19 and its impacts on our economy, revenue and tourism industry will be a top issue. That being said, we cannot be singularly focused. We must also implement smart growth strategies that balance preservation of natural resources with economic development, which is an ongoing priority.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.