Schools are a priority for both Rep. David Mack III, a Democrat with 12 years in the House, and Steven Smith, a young Republican who says it's time for a change. But while Mack suggests his experience is a better asset, Smith touts his character.
Mack considers himself "a public education purist," that is, he doesn't support charter or magnet programs or school vouchers.
"By design, you're being selective," he says. "What happens to those students who don't get in? Who can't get in? I'm afraid we're missing greatness because we're not committed to educating everybody."
It's not about his granddaughter or other kids in supportive, encouraging homes, Mack says.
"We have to be concerned about other kids," he says. "Kids that don't live in our neighborhood."
He'll also look to build business in South Carolina by preparing our students for new jobs.
"You have no idea how many businesses won't even have a conversation with us because of our public schools," he says.
One idea Mack offered would be to pair social workers with new mothers in the hospital and have them monitor the child's progress through home visits, similar to programs in place in Vermont and Hawaii, Mack says.
Mack says he's ready to weather the coming debate over energy in South Carolina and hopes to find a compromise.
"We have to find a balance between those looking at nuclear (power), and those looking at protecting the environment," he says.
He'll support public transportation and other efforts, but he says constituents need to stay on board, even when the energy crisis dissolves.
Working with the Committee on Better Racial Assurance and other local nonprofits, Mack says he's spent years fighting for adequate health care, housing, and employment for constituents. He supports rural health centers that could provide preventive care and reduce serious health problems that cost the individual and the state.
Mack says he's running on his 30-year record in the community. "Helping people get jobs and start businesses, get health care and find a place to live, get dignity and respect," he says.
For both Mack and his opponent, faith is at the center of their desire for public service.
"It's about reaching out and helping other people," Mack says.
Smith identifies with the Republican Party's social conservatism. He's a Republican because the Democrats have taken black voters for granted, Smith says, and the party doesn't reflect the conservative values of the black community on issues like abortion. He speaks fondly of his time working in local homeless missions.
"There are so many groups working in the community, and nobody is there to help them," Smith says. He'd call for state funding for these programs during emergencies like hurricanes. He'd also provide his influence to assist with private fund-raising. The state can also utilize these groups and other private partnerships to help reduce costs, Smith says.
He'd support a line-by-line review of the state budget to trim fat, evaluating every government agency to seek out waste.
"All the agencies should be seeking out ways to be more efficient," he says.
Smith wants more money for qualified teachers, a return to vocational training, and a system that allows for public funds to pay for an associate's degree.
"We have the capacity to make sure we're giving every child a better education," he says.
On the looming energy debate, Smith says he'd be willing to consider off-shore drilling, but that it can't be a long-term solution. He's open to other options, including incentives for home builders if they build green, but he says that it should start with government buildings leading by example.
Smith also says the district needs a change from Mack. Palmetto Center for Advocacy employs Mack and has received $700,000 in state funding. Mack says that he cleared his role with the nonprofit through the House Ethics Committee and he has tried to avoid votes related to the group.
Smith also argues that Mack has not done enough with his time in the legislature, personally authoring few bills.
"It's time for change," Smith says. "If you want a different outcome, you have to change the equation."
Steven Smith, www.BeTheChange08.com
David Mack, website under construction