District 17 – Meet your Candidates for South Carolina House of Representatives

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This episode of Simple Civics: Greenville County was made possible by support from Beth and Mike Andrews, supporting civic engagement from all of our community’s residents, and Upstate Warrior Solution, a community-based nonprofit organization serving warriors and their families in the upstate of South Carolina, and LiveWell Greenville, bridging access to healthy eating and active living since 2011.

Meet Tom Bates and Mike Burns, candidates for South Carolina House of Representatives District 17, generally representing northern Greenville County. In this episode, each candidate has 10 minutes to introduce themselves to the voters. Your vote is so important! Please take a listen and share with your neighbors.

Links:

Tom Bates

Mike Burns

Sample Ballot

Transcript

Katy Smith:
On Tuesday, June 11th, South Carolina holds its statewide primary elections. I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and over the next several weeks, we are pleased to bring you interviews with most of the candidates in contested primary races for South Carolina House and Senate. Today, we feature candidates Tom Bates and Mike Burns, who are running for House District 17, which generally covers northern Greenville County.

Katy Smith:
But first, a quick primer on why primaries are so important. The statewide primaries are when political parties choose their candidates to be on the ballot in the general election on November 5th, when we will also vote for president. This primary on June 11th will be for important offices like state legislature, which discusses things such as roads and bridges, education, taxes, abortion, and guns, our county sheriff, and our county council, which considers issues such as zoning, roads, public safety, and more. In the Greenville County area, we have 37 offices across the county that will be on primary ballots. For almost half of those, only one party had candidates that registered to run, meaning that practically speaking, the June 11th primary is the election. In South Carolina, we don’t register to vote by party and all primaries are open, meaning that you are free to vote either the Republican or Democratic primary ballot. Of course, there are other parties, but they do not have a primary in our state. We did an episode that explains how this works and we’ll link it in the show notes for you. District 17 had only Republican candidates file. So based on the outcome of the June 11th Republican primary, either Tom Bates or incumbent Mike Burns will be the only candidate on the ballot in November. If you want to see which district you live in and who will be on your ballot, you can check out the links on the episode page for a sample ballot from the South Carolina election commission.

Katy Smith:
Here’s how the interviews worked. All candidates received the same question at the time of their invitation to join us, and they were given 10 minutes for their interview.

Katy Smith:
Candidates were allowed to bring along a companion, such as a campaign manager, family member, or friend, and to record our session themselves. There were no edits made to the interview. We’ve put links to the participating candidate’s preferred internet presence on the episode page. First up alphabetically is Tom Bates. I’m so pleased to be here today with Tom Bates, who is running for South Carolina House District 17. Thanks for joining us, Tom.

Tom Bates:
Thank you so much, Katy.

Katy Smith:
Well, tell us about yourself and why you are running.

Tom Bates:
Katy, thank you very much. And I am a native South Carolinian. I was born in Traveler’s Rest, raised in Atlanta, went to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and graduated there in 1976. I’ve been back in Greenville since 77, now living in Traveler’s Rest. And I’ve been in the insurance industry all of those years, from an adjuster to insurance agent to ownership and selling of those agencies. So I’ve been around a lot of people in all capacities. 75% of what I do is commercial property and casualty. So I deal with a lot of people in all kind of phases of their business and personal lives with homeowners and businesses, life and health. I’m licensed for that as well. I’ve served the community a long time in service capacities, civically and privately. I’m the past sitting president of the Cancer Survivors Park, where I was president for five years. And a lot of people may know me from that and the fact that I had a daughter who passed away at age 29 of colon cancer. And just through all of that involvement, dealing with the city government, the county government, and even the state government…

Tom Bates:
Both professionally and with the nonprofits, it’s just led to what I think a 48-year career in the insurance and community involvement has led to, and I feel a calling for this.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing your constituents and the state?

Tom Bates:
Well, what can you say here that hadn’t already been said, right? So, right to life, roads, education, how we pick judges, just about everything that we are talking about here, everybody knows. So, I understand those. But one of the biggest things that led me to running is communication. And I think that’s a lot of what we’ve gotten away from. There’s no more, let’s have coffee, let’s go to lunch, let’s go to breakfast. It’s all on the internet. Send me an email. And that’s what I’m trying to get back from. I heard a funny line the other day that I think is important. If we got rid of cursive writing and cell phones, we would wipe out a whole generation. And I’m trying to get us back to what we really need to be doing, and that’s talking to each other. The greatest remembrance I have of getting along both parties was Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, both staunch advocates for their parties, Republican and Democratic, fought like cats and dogs on Capitol Hill. But you know what they did on weekends? They drank beer and watched college football games together at the White House. We’ve gotten away from that. We need to get back to that. And that’s why I’m running. And that’s those are the points I think that people want to look at.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What would be your priorities if elected this year?

Tom Bates:
My priorities should and always should be for your constituents. I think a lot of politicians get away from that. So my biggest issue and what I would work on would be listening to my constituents. And in my area, which is northern Greenville County, infrastructure is a big deal. It’s going to be roads. I know that is. The fact that we need internet and better rule opportunities for that. So those are the main things up in our district.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. We have a little bit more time. Is there anything else you’d like listeners to know?

Tom Bates:
Well, just that I’m a man of faith. I’m running as what I would consider to be a common-sense, conservative, outsider, reformer coming in to hopefully change what’s going on in Columbia that has trickled down, as we all know from Washington. This is stuff we’ve all been talking about around our kitchen and dinner tables, and you’re looking at the guy that is ready to get up from that position and go to work for you.

Katy Smith:
Tom, thanks so much for joining us, and thanks so much for your willingness to serve.

Tom Bates:
Thank you, Katy.

Katy Smith:
Next up is Mike Burns. Well, I’m so pleased to be joined by Mike Burns, who is running for re-election for South Carolina House District 17. Thanks so much for joining us.

Mike Burns:
Katy, it’s my pleasure to be with you this morning. I hope you’re off to a good start.

Katy Smith:
I am. Tell us about yourself and why you’re running for re-election.

Mike Burns:
Well, I am a businessman. I went through the cycle of being frustrated a lot with some of the red tape. My constituents all through my career were afraid of government. And when they had a problem, they didn’t know how to deal with it. So when I got to be 60, I’d already previously thought about running for office. And the opportunity came when Senator Corbin, who was my predecessor in the House, moved over to the Senate kind of unexpectedly. And I ran for that back in 2013. There were a number of us running and I have the unpleasurable distinction of getting 50% of the vote in a five-person race. And I needed one more vote not to have to go to the runoff. And by the way, my mom, she was sick that day and didn’t go. So I didn’t forgive her for a long time for that. But we made through the runoff. And I’ve been able to go down and represent the district 17 residents since then. And it’s been a lot of fun some days. It’s been frustrating other days.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing your district and the state?

Mike Burns:
Well, one of the things I’m really frustrated about now is our tax situation. And I know every politician talks about reducing taxes, but, you know, I was on the tax committee for three years and we tried to tackle the income tax, the property tax, and the sales tax issue and try to do better. And we couldn’t come to a conclusion on it. And we went on and on and on. It was very frustrating. And I was a proponent and tried to get the state income tax reduced from 7%, which was the top rate. It’s a little less than that now, thankfully. And tried to get it reduced in half to three and a half percent and unsuccessful to do that. And I’ll tell you this, when I was first elected, you know, you know, we were coming out of the throes. It took a long time to get out of the throes of 2008.

Mike Burns:
And then all of a sudden, one year near the time I was elected, they came back and they said, wow, we’ve got $300 million of extra funds. What are we going to do with this? Of course, everybody wanted to fix the roads. We still want to fix the roads. And so the sad part of that was that, you know, we took and didn’t put enough of it to the roads as we normally do. But the really sad part is we went from 300 million to multiples of billions of extra money each year. And we’ve continued down that path. And we just far too much parsed the money out instead of taking a huge amount of money, you know, a couple of billion dollars, and really solving a couple of the main problems like the roads or like the state pension fund. Instead of jumping a good portion of money at that, we split it up and we end up feeding the chickens, as I say. That means a little here and a little more here and a little more there, and everybody’s fat and happy except the taxpayer.

Mike Burns:
And now we sit on $1.8 billion in a fund over at the Comptroller General and Treasurer’s office, and everybody’s fighting over how many years that’s been there, what interest has been accrued off of it, what do we do with the interest off of it, and why is it there, where did it come from, and where is it supposed to be? And so we could be better stewards of the taxpayer by simply cutting taxes where we don’t have all these way too much extra funds, and everybody could get along. You know, the guys in District 17, they know how to manage and spend their money a lot better than we do in Columbia.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What would be your priorities if re-elected this year?

Mike Burns:
Well, obviously, we’d like to continue the tax fight that I just mentioned. And then in addition to that, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time, I’m on the Regulations Committee, and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to make regulations smarter. And we’ve required each agency to renew their regulations every five years. And I was in a meeting just about two weeks ago when we had a 1999 reg come up. And, you know, it’s hard to explain how you haven’t renewed your regs in 25 years almost. And what we’re trying to do is get these agencies, you know, on a scale of 1 to 10, if a 3 will make the population and the residents safe, we don’t want to make businesses spend money to an 8 when a 3 will do. So we’re trying to have some common sense with these regulations. Another big thing I would like to do is, you know, voter integrity all of a sudden has become a huge issue this week when Representative Morgan and the Freedom Caucus wrote a letter to the governor that state agencies were pushing out voter registration forms to people who aren’t citizens. So, you know, people are all upset this week about voter integrity. Again, we keep stumbling over that issue. So, as you know, this week we also passed the change, the wording in the Constitution slightly where it makes very clear that only citizens of the state can vote in any of the elections here. And so voter integrity, another thing that I would really like to see us do that I’ve tried over and over is judicial reform. And that was the very first bill I filed back in 2013, and maybe this week we’ve got the chance, the Senate’s passed the version of it that is actually in a lot of ways pretty good.

Mike Burns:
And we’d like for it to be a little better, but I’m willing to take what we got, and hopefully, we can get a vote on that on the floor this week. So voter integrity and then judicial reform are two big issues that I’d like to see happen. And then, of course, we’ve got a lot of other issues that are not in the top three, but they probably should be. And the medical freedom issue we’ve pushed for where, you know, the people are protected across the state to have a say in what they’re able to do and want to take, whether they want to take a vaccine or not, whether they lose their job if they don’t take it or not. All those issues are still kind of out in limbo.

Mike Burns:
And then I guess the biggest other issue that we’re working on is the, uh, the protecting the children in schools, in public schools, and in our universities with a lot of the stuff that many of us feel like are too divisive or too intrusive, particularly these library books and all this sexual orientation and all this stuff instead of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Mike Burns:
And so we’re pushing hard to try to purge some of this out of the schools. We actually filed suit earlier this year in Lexington County and in Charleston County because of bringing in some of these outfits from New York, teaching our teachers how to get around state law and promote this kind of sexual deviancy in the school system on our small children. And so we prevailed in both of those actions. And earlier this year, we also engaged with MUSC with their transgender surgery center, and all of that, where their rules were, they were able to go down and perform surgeries. I don’t know that they ever did, but down as low as four-year-olds. And we started that process with them. And the next day or so, they closed the surgery center down. So you know people of District 17 don’t like all this. I understand there’s people with different viewpoints in different places across the state but I represent District 17 and the values here and so in Columbia that’s what I push every day in committees and on the floor wherever it takes.

Katy Smith:
Well, we have a little bit more time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with voters?

Mike Burns:
Well, I’d encourage people to become engaged. I’m going to tell you this, and I hope I don’t run my clock out, but several times over the years, there were different issues that bad bills were going to pass, and the word got out. And I’m going to tell you, when the people engage, and they start pushing, and they light the phones up at the statehouse, and they push these computers to the max, and everybody’s computer’s smoking, you know. I actually watched two weeks after I was down there, there was a bill which would essentially kill homeschooling in South Carolina by putting the homeschoolers under the Department of Education. It was a bad bill. It had enough votes in the House to pass. And the people weighed in at 8:30 that morning. And by 10:30, 11 o’clock when the bill was coming up, I watched the author of the bill rise up from his desk, walk down to the speaker, pull the bill off the schedule for the day, and kill the bill himself because the public got so involved in it. Not just in District 17, but all across the state. People didn’t want that. And so when the people rise up, the people are heard. The tragedy is the things that go on that people are unaware of until after the fact, and it’s too late. And getting something reconsidered is a hard thing to do in Columbia.

Katy Smith:
Well, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you so much for your willingness to continue to serve.

Mike Burns:
Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed speaking with you all today and representing the people of District 17 in Northern Greenville County.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

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