Monday, 11:00 a.m.: No. 4 of 55 interviews I’ll be doing before the June primary.
Note to loyal readers: I’m writing this retroactively nine days later. I’ve been too busy participating in interviews to stop and write about them. I’m 12 behind, and if I don’t get this one done before my next interview, I’ll be 15 behind by the end of the day. Therefore, I’m going to try to keep them shorter than I did the first three, which were more or less column length. This way, I’ll at least get to share the highlights with you. (Assuming you care. Do you? I mean, this is probably the most valuable stuff I’ve put on this blog yet, in terms of being information you won’t get anywhere else — information relating to decisions S.C. voters will have to make soon. Yet I’m seeing few or no comments. Maybe you’re reading them and not commenting. I hope so.)
Rep. Bill Cotty is, as you can tell from his title, the incumbent in this race. He’s the one Republican who has been most irrascibly defiant to the folks trying to force upon South Carolina the unpopular idea of using state tax money to send bonuses to people who send their kids to private schools. He also had an epiphany a while back and told Grover Norquist and the anti-tax pledge crowd to stuff it.
As a result, out of state extremists don’t think he should serve in the S.C. House. That’s why he’s the first Republican in this election cycle — after a year of threats to this effect — that we’ve seen who actually faces a primary opponent receiving a significant chunk of funding from such interests.
Anyway, if he gets past Sheri Few on June 13, he’ll face a Democrat — either Anton Gunn or Todd Wood — in the fall.
Mr. Cotty began the interview with a little ditty he got from his wife:
They’re coming from the left,
They’re coming from the right.
You’re in the middle,
so fight, fight, fight!
And he is indeed a practical, real-world everyday conservative who is likely to have opposition from both political extremes. That doesn’t mean I always agree with him; it means I respect his positions as being rationally based in experience.
He’s convinced that something needs to be done to lessen the burden on property taxpayers because we "need to wipe away the war between many citizens and the schools."
"A majority of homeowners do not believe the assessment system is fair," he said. For that reason, "it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true." It’s a perception lawmakers most act upon.
"You can’t fight over everything if you’re going to be at the table and be effective," he said. "And I want to be at the table for public education." He’s not claiming the tax bill the House passed is perfect, but it put representatives at the table with the Senate, which was bound to disagree. "Take that as a divorce settlement offer, and that’s our opening offer."
How pragmatic is he. He said he believes it’s absolutely wrong to take all the taxes off houses. "But I could carry that bucket" if it accomplishes larger goals for South Carolina.
He kept saying, "Don’t do more harm than you do good."
He favors further restructuring of state government, which is good. "He may want me unelected, but I think Gov. Mark Sanford is an absolute breath of fresh air, in some respects." He says lawmakers have made a big mistake by dismissing the governor’s efforts "to reorganize our state by the budget."
He said the budget should start with public education, but "you don’t just say (as lawmakers tend to do, and some education advocates would have them do), what did we do last year, and shove it on."
"You examine everything." And then, when you’ve funded what is needed for education, no more or less, you "fund everything else with what’s left."
He has a serious bone to pick with the state’s leading Democrat, Supt. of Education Inez Tenenbaum. He says he kept asking her over and over for three years, "Isn’t there something else we could do?" He says he "never got an answer."
"Why don’t you start some charter schools?" he says he asked Inez. "She looked at me like I was crazy."
But he’s no happier with the other state center of power on K-12: "Why wasn’t it the Education Oversight Committee that told us we need 4K? Why was it Judge Cooper?"
Further, "You sat on your butt during the debate on vouchers — out-and-out vouchers!"
Why is an outside movement that wants to dismantle government on all levels focusing on South Carolina in particular?
"They target us because we’re a small state and they think we’re stupid."
But at least they gave him a reason to keep fighting: "If they had not started that last year," I don’t think I would have run again."