It was another contentious gubernatorial debate Monday night, but the sparring came in between weighty policy issues focused on education and poverty.
Republican Nikki Haley focused on privatizing state programs and relying on faith-based organizations, while Democrat Vincent Sheheen repeatedly hit the issue of trust and leadership.
Several times, Sheheen would first frame Haley's response on questions as generalities or sound bites before offering his alternatives. Asked about their first day in office, Haley said she'd begin developing a 10-year business plan. Sheheen said the first thing he would do is to hire a competent Commerce Department director to bring industry to South Carolina.
To improve education, Sheheen says he'd increase teacher pay and shrink class sizes. Haley: "We again go back to a plan." Specifically, she'd reform spending, rewarding schools that prove their success while starving struggling or unsuccessful programs.
Asked about state agencies and efficiency, Haley said that every agency would announce annual reform goals. Sheheen attacked.
"I'll give you some specifics, because that's what you asked us to do," he said. Specifically, Sheheen would consolidate accounting and human resource functions and develop an administrative department under the governor's office.
With several questions on education and poverty, Haley repeatedly came back to her proposal that faith-based groups would provide the types of services the state can't afford, including after-school programs and preschool. But Haley was prodded by the moderator when she suggested administrative cuts could prevent teacher furloughs. Saying Haley's comments seemed "disingenuous," Mark Quinn said it was clear it wasn't overhead in the Department of Education that caused budget shortfalls. Sheheen blamed Republican-led property tax reform that has endangered school funding and increased the tax burden on small businesses.
The most contentious exchange came discussing unemployment. As a member of the legislature's workforce committee, Sheheen says he led a call for the agency that handles unemployment benefits. Haley argued Sheheen was asleep at the wheel when reforms were necessary.
"That could be the most ridiculous thing I've heard in this campaign," Sheheen said, noting he was one of the first members of the legislature who called for an audit of the workforce agency.
In closing, Sheheen noted a claim Haley made in the first debate that she did not take donations from payday lenders while chairing a subcommittee overseeing industry reforms. She later had to admit that she misspoke.
"I'm tired of leaders who misspoke," Sheheen said. "I'm tired of having misspeakers as our governor."