Sheheen, S.C. GOP trade barbs over public education, vouchers

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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The political guns are starting to come out in South Carolina.

While Democratic gubernatorial nominee Vincent Sheheen held a press conference Wednesday to talk education, the state Republican party blasted Sheheen for not specifying his positions on health care reform, illegal immigration and abortion.

Sheheen told reporters at a press event held outside a Columbia middle school that he opposes any plan to use taxpayer dollars to pay private tuition, such as vouchers, and accused his opponent, Republican Nikki Haley, and outgoing Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of weakening public education.

“For the last eight years, we’ve spent our time talking about vouchers when we should be talking about how to improve public education,” Sheheen said. “Enough is enough, and I’m standing today for public education.”

The South Carolina GOP countered Sheheen by calling out his silence on a number of hot-button issues, including the Arizona immigration law, which is being used in the state legislature as a model for a South Carolina law, and the health care reform law, which state Attorney General Henry McMaster is threatening to challenge in court.

“So far, Vince Sheheen’s campaign has been long on rhetoric and short on answers about the positions he would take as governor,” state Republican Party chairman Karen Floyd said in a statement. “Voters will quickly see through his attempts to try and avoid tough questions. South Carolina is waiting: Where do you stand, Vince?”

GOP staffers even held signs at the event asking, “Where do you stand on illegal immigration, Vince?”

Sheheen would not answer any questions on issues other than education at the press conference.

Education is an important issue in a state where public schools consistently rank among the worst in the nation.

Sheheen blasted Haley’s support for vouchers and “unhealthy” standardized testing, saying the state has been “driven into a ditch the last eight years,” even though a Democrat has headed the state education system during that time.

At a recent campaign fundraiser, Haley said that education was her second immediate priority, behind comprehensive tax reform, if she were to be elected.

In a speech at the fundraiser, Haley stressed that she has two children in public schools in Lexington County outside Columbia, schools that “look like private schools.”

She also noted that she went to a rural school about an hour south of Columbia, where “we didn’t know what we didn’t have.”

“We cannot continue to educate our kids based on where they grew up,” Haley said in the speech.