District 25 – 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 Wendell Jones, candidate for South Carolina House of Representatives District 25. 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. This race also features candidate Bruce Wilson, but he did not respond to our many invitations to participate.

Links:

Wendell Jones

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. On this episode, we feature South Carolina House District 25 candidate incumbent Wendell Jones. This race, which is the Democratic primary, also features candidate Bruce Wilson, but he did not respond to our multiple invitations to participate. 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.

Katy Smith:
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. House District 25 had only Democratic candidates file. So based on the outcome of the June 11th primary, either Wendell Jones or Bruce Wilson will be the only candidate on the ballot in November, and thus essentially the winner. 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. 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. 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 candidates’ preferred internet presence on the episode page. And now, Wendell Jones. I’m pleased to be joined by Wendell Jones, who is running for re-election for South Carolina House of Representatives District 25. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Wendell Jones:
Hey, Katy. Thank you so much for having me.

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

Wendell Jones:
Well, you know, Katy, I think my mind, I turned 53 this year. So I think all of my little paths in life have kind of merged together to be at this place. I think life has made me well-rounded and suitable for this time to be a politician. I started out my adult career as a commercial banker. I’ve also left banking, went and became an entrepreneur, and I’m also a pastor. So all of those things work well for what I think we face right now politically. Aagain, being a commercial banker made me appreciate capitalism and made me become incredibly knowledgeable about our economy and how the economy really, really works. As an entrepreneur, it took me out of theory to reality to see what our small businesses really go through. But it’s made me very sensitive to our small businesses. And I know how much they serve our communities and that they are the backbone of our community. Right now in South Carolina, almost one out of every two persons is employed by a small business.

Wendell Jones:
And then all of that kind of comes together as me being a pastor because it makes me a compassionate capitalist is what I like to call it. And make sure that I’m mindful of the needs of the people and that I approach this with empathy and with sympathy and with compassion, that people aren’t just widgets and things that we can move around on a board, but that every decision we make is going to impact somebody’s life. So I’ve tried to pull all of that together and roll that into the politician that I am today.

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

Wendell Jones:
You know, Katy, the biggest issue is affordability.

Wendell Jones:
And that normally starts, I believe it starts with housing, because from a housing standpoint, then we have a ripple effect. And that begins to impact several other areas, several other expenses in the lives of South Carolinians. So many people right now are spending well above the recommended 30 percent of their monthly income on housing. And we’ve seen, you know, we’re blessed here in South Carolina, but it’s a two-edged sword. We’re blessed by having so many people interested in our state and so many people wanting to come here and so many people wanting to invest here. And so we are experiencing some incredible growth and we are projecting even more growth in the coming years. But taking note of my old economics class back at Wofford College, all supply and demand is at work. And so we have this huge demand and limited supply, which has driven up the prices of our houses. I read somewhere the other day, Katy, from 2010, the cost of a home here in Greenville has gone up 74% while wages have only gone up 54%. So that is a significant gap. So it’s making it more pressing for all people. And what’s interesting, and one of the things that we’ve got to convey to everybody here, that this pressure, this tension where affordability lies is not a Black issue, a White issue, a Hispanic issue. It is an income issue. And so it’s impacting everybody.

Wendell Jones:
And so we’ve got to figure out some things there. And especially in the housing area, I’ve tried to be very creative with the bills that I had proposed to try to deal with the housing issue right now because it is a pressing issue right now. I’ve done some things in terms of with religious institutions and allowing them to work with developers and the property still remains tax-exempt, which allows us to kind of circumvent some of the bureaucracy and red tape you have to go through when you’re trying to apply for low-income housing tax credits. And the reason I did that, Katy, is that we need speed. We’ve got to move dirt. We’ve got to move dirt quickly. And that could be a way we can do that. I’ve also pitched something to help the struggles that our teachers are facing and to put together a proposal for us to use…

Wendell Jones:
The land that many of our, the ample land that many of our school districts now have to build affordable housing there primarily for our teachers and staff. And so that can help us recruit and retain our teachers, but also solve a housing issue. And the most recent bill I put up was dealing with ADUs, accessory dwelling units, and allowing the citizens of our state to participate in solving this problem by giving them a tax incentive to build an ADU on their property. And if they were to lease it out to someone who qualifies for affordable income-based housing, that additional dwelling will not be added to their tax basis, the value of their home. And so at least for the next 10 years. So try to come up with creative ways because we have a pressing issue right now.

Wendell Jones:
But the long-term plan is that we have to raise the average median income of our households, particularly in the district and in districts like my own. So folks can begin to catch up with the cost of living. That is a more permanent solution. And of course, if we can bring those figures back down, we can get folks back into that 30% range where they’re only using 30% of income for housing. Then it frees up other things and it really helps our economy. Now we have more discretionary income. Now we can support our mom-and-pop stores. Now we can have a date night at a restaurant and we can boost our economy. But right now, if we don’t tackle this affordability issue, it’s going to continue to drain this nice little economic thrust we’re enjoying right now. But the more pressure people have on just being able to keep a roof over their head, there’s going to be less money to be spent to keep pushing this economy forward. So affordability, big umbrella, a lot of little pieces up underneath that.

Katy Smith:
What would your priorities be if reelected?

Wendell Jones:
So I’m focusing on three things, Katy, because I think these three things bring the greatest uplift. And if you look at my bills, you’ll see that I’ve tried to be very focused with it. And that’s education, jobs, and housing, pretty much trying to be in that order. I want us to really learn and educate our citizens here on what to learn. I keep telling everybody that every county, Greenville County, has an economy that is designing. And in that economy, we have certain industries that are here, certain industries that we’re recruiting that pay a livable wage and above, which will allow us to get in a greater comfort zone in terms of being able to pay our bills. We have lots of money that we’re putting into our technical schools so that certification programs are there. I want to make sure that our citizens know what to learn in order to live comfortably in Greenville. And so that’s going to be something that we talk to our young people about. But Katy, we also got to have that conversation with our existing working adults.

Wendell Jones:
I think the way the advent of technology and how things are changing so rapidly, we’re going to have to get in the habit of having to adjust our careers every few years to make sure that we are in alignment with where our economy is going. And make sure that we can get the wages and the salaries that still allow us to afford wherever we’re going to live. And that’s true for any place in South Carolina. And so that’s where the education piece comes in. And it naturally segues into jobs. Get the right kind of certification, right kind of education for the kind of industries that we have here in South Carolina. And so now we get the right kind of jobs. Everybody’s focused on workforce development. Right now, our state is trying to push forth this Ascend 60 by 30 to have 60 percent of our folks with a minimum of a certification by 2030. And so my approach is in alignment with all of that. And also my bills and the provisos that I pitched in these first two years are in alignment with that to make sure that we’re putting resources in the hands of our citizens so they can go back to school, change careers, find that place, find that career that’s going to give them what they need to bring down their housing pressure, to allow them to afford their first home, to allow them to buy the things their kids need, to buy groceries on a regular basis, all that good stuff that makes an economy stable. And so from that point, once you get there, then the housing issue, Katy, I believe it solves itself. Once we raise the median average income.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. We have another minute left. Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

Wendell Jones:
Well, I think it’s going to be incumbent upon us to figure out how to work together. I know right now in this political climate, there are deep lines sometimes drawn in the sand. But I’ll tell you what, you know, people ask me oftentimes, they’ll say, what was the most surprising thing to you at the statehouse? I said, really, just how congenial people are. People are very sensible one-on-one… sometimes that changes when the lights and cameras are on, but it left me hopeful and I’ve been able to build some good relationships down there, good relationship with the speaker, good relationships with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I’ve earned the trust of my own party they put me in position to be the whip this year, and so I think the foundation has been laid to put me in a position to really be able to get some things done for not just my district, but for my county and ultimately for the state. I am still very hopeful about the future of South Carolina and the fact that everybody will have the opportunity to participate in its growth and its success.

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

Wendell Jones:
It’s my pleasure. It truly is. 

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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