Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.: No. 2 of 53 interviews I’ll be doing before the June primary.
We had particularly looked forward to interviewing Sheri Few of Kershaw County, who is challenging Bill Cotty for the Republican nomination in District 79 of the S.C. House. She was the first of a breed we’ve been hearing about ever since last year: Challengers armed with money from school-"choice" advocates, going up against the most vocal Republican opponents of Gov. Mark Sanford’s "Put Parents in Charge" proposal.
Indeed, she is clear about her priority: "I am a proponent of school choice… We need to start treating parents as consumers."
But she objects to being portrayed as some sort of tool of out-of-state ideologues. She said she had been thinking of running for the House for 10 years, and that an unsuccessful bid for school board two years ago was intended to position her for this very race.
She notes that she has raised $30,000 for her race, with only $8,000 of it coming from outside South Carolina. "Those donations came from people around the country who think like I do," she said. The other $22,000, she said, came from many small donations from South Carolinians.
She sees no problem from taking money from people with whom she agrees on an issue. After all, as one who upholds the sanctity of marriage, "I’m not going to take any money from homosexual activists." She should be safe there, as I doubt they’ll offer her any.
Why should voters choose her over her opponent? "A Republican should vote for me over Bill Cotty for a couple of reasons," she said. "I am a conservative. Republicans come in all flavors."
She was a bit taken aback when I noted that "conservatives" also come in many flavors, and asked which kind she was. But she recovered: "I am a fiscal and moral conservative."
That meant, she said, that she is "staunchly pro-life" and believes in "slowing the growth of government." She said government should provide basic services, but "I think we’ve become much more than that." When we asked which of the many state government services that have been cut in recent lean years (and are only in some cases being restored, and then partially) was "growing" too fast — mental health, state law enforcement, prisons and the like — she did not embrace statistics, but stuck to general principle: "I think you have to look at agencies, duplication, efficiencies."
I was with her on those principles, but still wondered where any substantial savings would come from. I suspect she would wonder herself if she got the chance to serve on the Ways and Means committee, and actually had to help draft a budget. She struck me as a very sincere and fair person, who approaches all questions in good faith. I think she would try to do the same if she got the chance to serve.
But for now, as a candidate, she clings firmly to ideology, even when it doesn’t seem to fit her own experience. The most dramatic example of that? She complained that while it was possible to get a good education from public schools, it took a lot of active involvement by parents to make sure the children were served well.
"I am a parent of public school children," she said, "and I have been frustrated." She said that before she learned the ins and outs of the system, "I was intimidated by it." She had to learn her way around and insist that her children got what they needed. And they did, thanks to her. "Most parents don’t understand that — I suppose they could be more
aggressive." Too many parents are "leaving it up to the system."
So, I had to wonder, if the problem is that too many parents fail to take an active part in the educations of their children now — and if they would, they could get what they need from the public schools — how is it going to help to provide more choices? Who would look into those choices and take the initiative to act upon them, other than the parents who are already actively engaged, and therefore getting what they need from the public system?
She said with school choice, private entities would set up various schools to address all sorts of special needs, such as learning disabilities. I said I could see how that might happen in Columbia, or Greenville, or Charleston, where there was enough demand. But what would be the motivation of private enterprise to set up such specialized choices in the areas where South Carolina’s greatest educational challenges lie — in the poor, sparsely populated counties?
"That’s an excellent question," she said. "I haven’t really thought about that."
She suggested that maybe people and industry would move away from the cities and into such depressed areas as Marlboro County (which, by the way, is a two-hour drive from any metropolitan area). After all, "they’re moving out of Columbia and into Kershaw County."
Mrs. Few has lived in Lugoff for 22 years, and is the daughter of an Air Force brigadier. I forgive her, even though I grew up in the Navy myself. She is rightly proud that one of her sons is currently at cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She works with an organization that promotes "abstinence education" in the schools. To make sure, I asked whether she meant sexual abstinence, as opposed to drugs, alcohol and the like. She said yes.