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Sheheen: ‘It is the journey that matters most’

Posted: November 18, 2014 5:36 p.m.
Updated: November 19, 2014 1:00 a.m.

I try to live life as a journey full of unknown destinations. And I do believe it is the journey that matters most. During the last year, I was blessed enough to experience a journey throughout our wonderful state of South Carolina. A campaign for governor is a journey through the hearts and souls of many people and places. A statewide campaign is sometimes brutal and sometimes joyful, but never dull. I treasure that journey and thank my friends in Camden and Kershaw County for letting me experience it.

Our state has changed substantially over the last decades, but remained the same in so many aspects. For example, we have seen incredible forward progress in the Charleston area. Charleston now offers a quality of life that is the envy of many people throughout the country and the world. An entrepreneurial spirit has emerged there in commerce, the arts, cuisine and much more. That spirit has combined with an enlightened and ethical government under Mayor Joe Riley that has re-birthed a world-renowned city into the future. Spending time with entrepreneurs and leaders like Mayor Riley in the Charleston area was an incredible and affirming experience.

But I also experienced the crushing burdens and despair felt by so many of our citizens in rural South Carolina. Where young people are leaving in droves and the average age of the population is moving upward dramatically. Over and over, I heard the laments of our small town citizens that their children and grandchildren lack opportunity and the worries of communities disappearing.

For someone who loves the outdoors, there was no greater experience than starting a day surrounded by the mountains and foothills of the upstate and ending in the swampy marshes and beaches of the coastal plain. I found it exciting that so many people from so many walks of life share an appreciation and fervent feeling of protection for the natural beauty that God has blessed South Carolina with.

But I also found that our people remain incredibly divided -- divided by race, by region, by economics and by party. Divisions that turn far too many of our assets into liabilities. These divisions in many ways have worsened during the last decade instead of improving in our state.

And everywhere I travelled, I shared the lessons that I have learned in Kershaw County. A belief that our diversity should be our strength, not a division; that working together regardless of party is the only way for government to succeed; that integrity is the absolute first step toward real leadership; that investing in our future is more important than dwelling on our past; that public education is a priority for all generations; and that small business is the core of an economy.

Our state has changed dramatically due to the huge influx of retirees into specific areas of the state. Tremendous retiree population growth in Horry, Beaufort, York and Aiken Counties, just to name a few, has put tremendous strain on community relations and infrastructure that is still sorting itself out. At the same time, we have seen a loss of a high proportion of our native young people who leave the state to seek opportunities. Our state has suburbanized in large, sprawling blocks around Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Charlotte, while much of the rest of the state has seen stagnant or shrinking growth. Our small towns and rural areas are under incredible economic and social stress. These trends all interact and intertwine on the ground in relationships, hopes and aspirations that I am thankful I experienced and was a part of during the campaign.

One aspect I took away from my time spent with thousands of people in South Carolina is the strange mixture of pride in our state that coexists with an acceptance of low expectations. South Carolinians have a fierce pride in who we are, in our independent spirits and in our rich culture. But we have an odd acceptance of being on the top of so many bad lists and on the bottom of the good ones. Our pride is large, but our expectations remain underwhelming.

The most important experience I gained from my travels and interactions was the personal goodness of the people of our state. Our people are still polite on an individual basis, still optimistic about the ability for personal lives to improve and still caring towards their communities.

I was also reminded that I live in the absolute best place in the world, the city of Camden and the county of Kershaw -- a place where my children can walk the streets knowing that friends and family are nearby; a town where small businesspeople still join together in clubs and enterprises to improve their community. We still believe in the power of public education to transform lives, and we go to school together regardless of color or economics.

Running for governor was an incredible journey that brought me back to the place I love the most, my hometown. I am so proud to be here with you all, and am incredibly thankful for the opportunities you have given me to play a small role in changing our community and our state.

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