Republican candidates in agreement on many issues at Beaufort County debate

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 25, 2012 

Anyone looking for fireworks among three Republicans running for the House District 120 seat probably left Friday's debate disappointed.

Aside from a mild exchange between fellow Beaufort County Council members Jerry Stewart and Weston Newton on the question of transparency, the candidates agreed on most issues, from the need to rein in spending to support for lower taxes and smaller government.

That's not to say they were always in lockstep.

Responding to a question about school voucher programs, candidate Laura Sterling said she believes "the money should follow the child."

"However much money there is, it (should go) to the school that I choose for my child," she said.

Stewart said he believes in school choice, but that public money should not be used to support private schools.

"I think the dollars should stay in the public school system," he said. "It is ... a decision that individuals make if they want to send their children to private school."

Newton also supports vouchers and argued for more competition in the education system.

"School choice is an umbrella that includes vouchers, tax credits, charter schools, magnet schools and single gender," he said. "All of those innovative approaches should be employed."

The debate, held at the Technical College of the Lowcountry's New River campus in Okatie, focused on state issues. It was hosted by the Beaufort County Republican Party and moderated by Roberts Vaux.

District 120 was redrawn during the 2011 redistricting. It stretches from Windmill Harbour on Hilton Head Island to parts of Jasper and northern Beaufort counties. Most neighborhoods along both sides of U.S. 278, except for a section on the south side between Burnt Church and Simmonsville roads, are in the district.

The mild exchange occurred halfway through the 90-minute debate, when Stewart suggested recent discussions exploring a new regional transit agency happened behind closed doors.

"So where is the transparency? If we are going to do this ... I think the public should be involved," he said.

Newton, who wasn't mentioned by name, apparently took offense.

"If you are suggesting I am anything other than transparent because I don't ... call you first and foremost to let you know what was going on, that isn't the way it works," he said, adding that he heard about the proposal a day before.

County Republican Party member Jim Dickson said he was not surprised the candidates had similar opinions on so many issues.

"If you put them in the same room with a Democrat or two, I'm sure you would get a lot of disagreement," he said.

With no Democrat in the race, the winner of the June 12 GOP primary will be unopposed in the November general election.

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