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MEET THE CANDIDATES

This Week: Suzanne Piper (R), House Seat 119

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Make no mistake about it, Suzanne R. Piper is a Republican's Republican.

A pro-life fiscal conservative who keeps close ties with her Baptist church, Piper is an unabashed fan and supporter of Gov. Mark Sanford who trilled at the opportunity to meet with First Lady Jenny Sanford last week.

Piper blames what she calls the governor's current "lack of popularity" across the state on the unpopular, but necessary, financial decisions he's had to make since taking over the mansion from "the Hodges' regime."

To Piper, Sanford is the state's "dad," doing what has to be done for a "child" who won't realize "that he did the best thing for you until you grow up."

Regardless, she'd like to see some sort of tax rebate, much like Sanford proposed earlier this political year. Removing state debt and refilling its rainy-day funds has been a major success for the governor, according to Piper.

She says, following Sanford's lead, that the General Assembly should learn how to live within its means, and find out how much money it will receive in a given year before setting down a budget to follow, unlike what she says is the current model: decide what it wants to do, and then raise taxes to match the effort.

A fan of the line-item veto, Piper would join with Sanford to remove "the pork and fat" from legislative bills. "We all make sacrifices, and I'm a frugal person, a sustainable person, who thinks the state should live within its budget, just like a family has to do."

Piper, speaking like the realtor and real estate appraiser she is, would also join with members of the current House in pushing for some sort of property tax relief.

While she hates the idea of creating or increasing any tax, she agrees with the House plan to push the state sales tax from 5 to 7 percent to offset any loss in property taxes. Currently, she doesn't see any other legitimate options for property tax reform.

Like more and more of her Republican brethren, Piper, whose husband heads up the cardiac rehab clinic at Roper Hospital, would support increasing the state's cigarette tax.

On the issue of improving the state's woeful K-12 public education system, Piper's views seem to have been pulled straight from a Republican Party talking points memo: school choice, the need to increase parental involvement, more discipline, empowering teachers, reviewing all expenditures.

"If a recent state study says it takes $9,800 a year to educate a child, I don't understand why it takes $15,000 to do so at Lincoln High School in McClellanville," she says.

Before the state can help improve public education, Piper says clear lines of communication have to be established between schools, primarily to find out what teachers, not administrators, need to be successful.

But, when asked how she would handle the recent court ruling requiring the state to beef up pre-K reading programs in rural elementary school districts, otherwise known as the "adequacy" lawsuit, Piper hits a snag.

"Oh, my, I don't know enough about the proposal to answer that question," she says. "I'd have to look at it before I could give an honest answer."

Likewise, she admits to not being very well versed in the issues surrounding the debate to deconsolidate Charleston County School District.

Piper, who lives two doors down from Democratic candidate Leon Stavrinakis in the Farmfield subdivision, might better come up with some answers, as even she calls the Dist. 119 race a "crucial one," believing mid-term elections could swing control of the House to the Democrats if her party is not careful.

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