By Barney Blakeney
A contingent of South Carolina’s National Newspaper Publishers Association members April 27 met with Democratic Primary election gubernatorial candidate Marguerite Willis and running mate Columbia Sen. John Scott to hear their agenda if elected to the state’s highest political offices. The pair has broken new ground in the state’s first gubernatorial election that allows the governor and Lt. Governor to run on the same ticket. They vow to continue setting new precedents if elected.
Willis, a corporate lawyer and Greenville native who resides in Florence with her husband former Florence Mayor and current Darlington County Economic Development Director Frank Willis, never has held public office. As the Co-Chair of Nexsen Pruet’s Antitrust and Unfair Competition Practice, she leads a team of attorneys in developing proactive solutions. With a track-record that spans decades, Willis has been involved in some of the firm’s biggest verdicts. She is listed in South Carolina Super Lawyers for antitrust litigation, class action/mass torts and business litigation. She says her abilities and experience more than qualify her for the job as governor.
Scott is a Columbia realtor who has spent the past 30 years in the S.C. Legislature. The 1975 South Carolina State University graduate brings to the tandem legislative know-how and business acumen gained after first being elected to serve on Richland County Council before serving in the S.C. House of Representatives and Senate. Scott is founder of JL Scott Realty Co. and with his wife co-owns C&S Consulting. Colleagues in the legislature describe Scott, who holds the senate seat formerly occupied by Sen. Kay Patterson, as a hard worker devoted to the people of South Carolina. Together he and Willis represent the state’s first bi-racial, bi-gender gubernatorial ticket.
Willis says her entrance into the gubernatorial election comes because she’s a problem-solver. South Carolina has a lot of problems that require her skills, she believes. The Trump administration flipped her switch, Willis said. Now is the time for her to speak up and stand up, she said.
Scott said the dynamics of this election are about issues that concern people. Scott serves on the senate’s finance, labor, commerce and industry, medical affairs and rules committees. He said he accepted the challenge to join Willis because she brings a different perspective to solving problems he faces both in business and in the legislature. Rather than more programs, South Carolinians need more opportunities that come with access, Scott said. Being at the table better insures that access. Willis is sensitive to need for access, he said.
Willis said her idea of solving some issues of elusive industrial opportunities and inadequate public education, especially in rural areas, involve bringing those constituents to the table and asking them how to address the issues.
“This has to be intentional,” she said. The state’s problems in public education, employment, crime and incarceration all show signs of the same symptoms. She would deploy resources under the governor’s control to affect those problems, Willis said. Reflecting on the recent prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution, she said, “I don’t understand a budget that didn’t fund (adequate) corrections officers for a maximum security prison.” As governor, Willis said she would implement short term solutions until long term solutions can be put in place. “There is a triage here,” she said.
After some two hours discussing various issues, Community Times/The Times Upstate Publisher Larry Smith summed up the meeting saying, “” Certainly Willis and Scott have some great ideas on how to turn South Carolina around. But they have an uphill battle to change a state that has worked to divide rich and poor and black and white people for over 200 years. From the outhouse to the statehouse change comes hard, and those who benefit from the present system will use every tool at their disposal to make sure meaningful change never comes to South Carolina.
“This election, South Carolinians have to ask themselves if the present system is working for them or is it just making some legislators and their business friends richer at the cost of improvements to our education, healthcare, infrastructure and state retirement system? Can South Carolina continue to underfund needed programs by billions of dollars so that a few can live well? Isn’t that how the system works in communist counties?” he posed.
Carolina Panorama Publisher Nate Abraham said, “The thing I was most impressed with was the interaction between Ms. Willis and Senator Scott. They are both very passionate about their vision for a more inclusive South Carolina. They make a formidable team.”
Charleston Chronicle Editor Damion Smalls added, “With Sen. John Scott as their selection for lieutenant governor, the Willis campaign offers voters a unique duo that champions the politically underrepresented. Optics do matter. But what Black voters need to hear from Willis are concrete measures that she plans to implement that would serve to benefit the Black community. She has the opportunity to bring a progressive perspective to a historically red state that badly needs an image change, but her agenda will have to include South Carolina’s Black citizens’ needs directly, not just broadly.”