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cobb-hunter, connor see experience differently; veteran lawmaker facing challenger in district 66

Times & Democrat - 10/30/2018

Oct. 30--A veteran lawmaker is facing a political newcomer in the Nov. 6 general election.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, is citing her years of experience and accomplishments while Republican challenger Thomas L. "Tom" Connor from Eutawville says 26 years is long enough for the incumbent.

"I am proud to have earned the respect of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, which has allowed me to accomplish things both behind the scenes and in getting legislation passed that impacts District 66 and the state as well," Cobb-Hunter said. "May the work I've done speak for me."

Cobb-Hunter cited her leadership in the passage of domestic violence and sexual assault legislation, in the establishment of South Carolina'sChildren's Health Insurance Program, the development and securing of initial state funding for the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency and the passage of a $750 million bond bill to help schools across the state.

She also cited her leadership in securing funding for community health centers as well as the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly run by the Oaks.

Connor said, "If I am fortunate enough to be re-elected I would serve no more than four terms. No one needs to make politics a career. New and fresh ideas need to be brought in from time to time."

"I have always liked a challenge, and this race is no exception facing a well-entrenched Democratic presence in Orangeburg County," Connor said. "I will be an ear to the people of Orangeburg County and will carry their concerns to Columbia and promise I will be easily accessible to hear the concerns of the citizens."

Connor says he hopes to appeal to the common man and woman.

"I'm one of them," he said, adding that his struggles and concerns are the same as the majority of the citizens of the county.

"As a representative, I will work for the people and not for my interests," Connor continued. He said he will not vote for laws, "that put money in my pocket or folks at the top of the ladder, but to vote what the people of this district want when laws or policies are subject to a vote that affects all of us as citizens of District 66."

Cobb-Hunter says she has much more work to do and work will get done if she is re-elected.

Her priorities include workforce and community development, pushing for the passage of a State Employee Salary Study to address pay inequities, strengthening access to health care in rural areas, passing a bond bill to address capital improvements for agencies and colleges, seeking the passage of an equal pay and equal rights amendment as well as advocating for crime victims' rights and bail bond reform for indigents.

Connor says his priorities include protecting the right-to-work status of the state.

"I don't think unions are the answer," he said. "Education and training will make better employees and better products."

He's also for tax reform in the form of a "fair tax," not income tax, for the elderly, retired military and law enforcement.

"If you do not have kids in public school, why would you need to pay the same rate as a parent who does?" he said. "A family with one or two children should pay a lower rate on property taxes than a family with three or more children."

Connor says he believes in God, supports the Second Amendment and gun rights, is pro-life, believes in secure borders and in the original intent of the U.S.Constitution.

One local issue the two differ on is the consolidation of Orangeburg County's three school districts into one. A transition committee is laying the groundwork for consolidation and voters will elect a new board to oversee the consolidated district in November.

Cobb-Hunter took a leadership position on school consolidation.

"I strongly encourage the newly elected board to create an alliance, particularly in areas of finance, with the transition committee," she said. "The process seemed to be working as intended, though uncertainty about the committee's authority lessened the effectiveness of the transfer to the new board."

"As a result, tough decisions regarding facilities, finances and personnel have not been made and will be decided by the new board," she said.

"I don't believe any significant changes should be made to the law until it has, like the original 1998 consolidation legislation, been implemented to gauge what, if any, changes should be made," Cobb-Hunter continued. "I will be closely monitoring the implementation and prepared to tweak as necessary based on the board's input."

Connor said he does not favor consolidation.

"No two school systems are the same and should not be forced to fit into a mold," he said. "The needs of students from district to district are different. My understanding from the parents' point of view is that the majority did not want this."

The election is coming in the wake of a Richland County jury's decision to acquit Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, on allegations that he assaulted Cobb-Hunter during a dispute over school consolidation.

Cobb-Hunter said Govan grabbed her wrist and twisted it. Govan said she initiated the physical contact.

Connor said the situation between Cobb-Hunter and Govan is "an embarrassment."

"The voters should be concerned," Connor said. "These two are supposed to be working together for the people of this county. You just don't do things like that in the House."

"If I was in this position I would not have taken it as far as a trial," he said. "We would have come to an agreement and apologized. I would not have taken the extreme and drag it through the press."

Cobb-Hunter said the incident with Govan has "from day one been about speaking out against an injustice and the vital importance of having a victim's voice heard."

"For 40 years, I have been committed to providing services to victims of violence and this incident has given me a personal perspective," she said. "It would have been hypocritical of me not to have moved forward in the manner in which I did."

Cobb-Hunter said the, "end goal would remain: engaging the process to make sure a victims' voice is heard and that one is not victimized by the system itself."

"The system, such as it is, has spoken. However, this should not discourage victims of assault from speaking out," she said. "As someone reminded me, 'Not guilty does not mean innocent.'"

"Whether this incident should be a concern on the part of voters about voting for me or not is a question I can't answer," she said. "The beauty of voting is it belongs to each individual."

Neither Cobb-Hunter nor Connor faced any opposition in the June primaries.

Cobb-Hunter

Cobb-Hunter has served as the executive director of CASA Family Systems since 1985.

She was the first African-American woman in Orangeburg County ever elected to a state office when she was elected to the S.C. House in 1992.

She became the first freshman ever appointed to -- and is now ranking member of -- the House Ways and Means Committee. She is a member of the Joint Bond Review Committee and has worked on the national, regional and state levels on a variety of issues.

Cobb-Hunter has served on numerous boards and commissions, including serving as vice president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

A native of Gifford, Florida, Cobb-Hunter holds a bachelor's degree in Afro-American History from Florida A&M University and a master's degree in American History from Florida State University.

She is a licensed master social worker.

Cobb-Hunter received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from both the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston and the David Wilkins Legislative Leadership Award from the Riley Institute at Furman University.

Connor

Connor is the son of four-term House member Fred Connor Jr. of Eutawville, who served from 1960 until 1968. His great-uncle, J. Rutledge Connor Sr. of Eutawville, served from 1916 to 1918.

A native of Eutawville, Connor is a graduate of Holly Hill Academy.

He graduated from Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College with an associate's degree in engineering graphics technology in 1975.

He is employed by McCall-Thomas Engineering in Orangeburg where he has worked as a designer draftsman for over 43 years.

Connor is also the owner of the Twirl restaurant in Eutawville, a fast-food establishment which has existed in Eutawville since 1968.

Connor is the past president of the Jaycees in Greenwood County.

Connor is also a member of the National Rifle Association and says he believes the Second Amendment is about having the ability for an individual to protect themselves and their family from an aggressor.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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