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Sen. Graham meets with local leaders

Holds roundtable discussion on needs in Kershaw County communities

Posted: August 17, 2017 4:34 p.m.
Updated: August 18, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (third from left) listens to a question during a roundtable discussion he led at the historic Robert Mills Courthouse in downtown Camden on Tuesday afternoon. Afterward, Graham said he would try to help the county and its municipalities with issues concerning the construction of the new Central Carolina Technical College campus near I-20 and grants to help fund local programs. Listening with Graham are (from left) Camden City Councilman Jeffery Graham, Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford and Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns.

South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham visited Camden on Tuesday afternoon. After a late lunch at a downtown Camden restaurant, Graham and his staff made their way to the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center inside the historic Robert Mills Courthouse. There, he spent an hour in a roundtable discussion with Kershaw County, Camden and Elgin officials, police and fire chiefs, chamber officials and other local leaders.

Graham said he uses this time of year to come back from Washington, D.C., to communities in South Carolina to learn what they need.

“I can’t make promises … but I can try to find ways to help,” Graham said.

The senator started off by talking a little bit about the national budget, acknowledging that federal and state mandates can make it difficult for county and municipal governments to provide services to residents.

“Government at this level is more accountable because you all live together. I’m trying to bridge the divides,” Graham said, between and within the Republican and Democratic parties, “while still fighting for conservative values.”

He said “the other side” has views that are worth hearing.

Graham then moved on to more specifically talking about President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase military spending. He said the president is trying to do so at the expense of non-defense programs, but that he and others in his party are trying to bring spending in those areas back to Fiscal Year 2017 levels.

Noting that Monday’s turnout was better than those in some other communities, Graham asked the county municipalities, and others officials to each give him one or two community projects for him to try to assist financially or through other means.

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter told Graham how the county recently learned it had “messed with” about a one-third acre portion of land at the new Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC) site designated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers as wetland. Graham said he would be happy to help expedite a resolution.

When Carpenter said the county had already met with the Corps, Graham responded, “They haven’t been in a meeting with me there or someone from my staff.”

Also in response to request from Carpenter, Graham said he may be able to assist with help in obtaining a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to help widen Black River Road to better accommodate truck traffic to the county’s industrial parks.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews told Graham how Kershaw County is surrounded by other counties with gang problems and that the county is beginning to see signs of resurgence here. Matthews said there is only one program in the county making a difference in reaching young people: The Jackson Teen Center (JTC), managed by the Girls & Boys Club of the Midlands. But, Matthews said, the JTC is underfunded.

Graham said he has met actor Denzel Washington, who he described as a big supporter of Boys and Girls Clubs, and suggested someone contact Washington for help.

Several people, including Chamber President Kirk Mays and Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford mentioned JTC Executive Director Brian Mayes. Mays talked about how -- in response to President Trump’s proposal to cut after-school programs -- the JTC is producing a documentary called “I Am the Evidence.”

After hearing about Mayes, Graham said he would like to get in touch with the JTC director himself.

“I’ve never had so many people speak so glowingly of one person who wasn’t an elected official,” Graham said of Mayes.

Thursday, Mayes confirmed Graham did call him.

Camden City Manager Mel Pearson noted how the city has enjoyed $3.5 million in Community Development Block Grants and expressed concern they might be reduced or eliminated. Graham said senators are trying to restore funding for such programs to their 2017 levels.

“If these cuts went into effect, it would be devastating,” Graham said.

Pearson also brought up the loss of potential sales tax revenue from internet sales. Graham noted how Sears and Kmart have all but disappeared because of their inability to compete with online retailers.

“I don’t mind if you sell online,” Graham said, “but we need to benefit locally. I will emphasize, as more retail brick and mortar (stores) close, the big losers are local communities who have to pay for services like police and fire.”

Camden City Councilwoman Joanna Craig asked Graham about Amtrak, which the senator agreed needs to be better managed. However, he also said he would like to see I-77 extended past Columbia and I-73 -- which currently only exists in North Carolina -- completed to Myrtle Beach.

“Having more (interstate) arteries is better for rural counties,” Graham said.

President Trump has proposed reducing Amtrak funding from $1.5 billion to $760 million. Graham said he doubted the partially government-funded rail service would disappear entirely.

“So many people in the northeast depend on those train cars,” he said.

Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd also talked grants. He told Graham his department is waiting to hear about an application for a drug enforcement grant. In addition, he talked about Camden’s COPS grant, which funds two community oriented police officers.

“We have a total of 33 officers and we still got grant money for two COPS officers,” Floyd said.

Graham said this is another example of why he will be working to restore the president’s proposed cuts to non-military programs.

“If we get rid of these programs, it will devastate the community,” he said.

As for fire services, Lugoff Fire-Rescue Chief Dennis Ray said grants have allowed his crews to accomplish many things they might not have otherwise. Ray also said of his 33 firefighters, 18 are volunteers.

Graham talked about how expensive it would be if all firefighters were paid.

“If we had to replace volunteers with paid firefighters, it would blow up every budget in South Carolina,” Graham said.

Elgin Mayor Melissa Emmons talked about how congested U.S. 1 is in Elgin and that the town and county have been working together to try to obtain assistance from the S.C. Department of Transportation. That led Graham to say the national Highway Trust Fund needs to be replenished in order to help pay for road construction and resurfacing projects.

The Highway Trust Fund is generated by the federal gasoline tax, which has sat at 18.4 cents/gallon since 1993.

In addition, Elgin Town Councilman Brad Hanley noted that, for transportation purposes, Elgin is in a part of Kershaw County overseen by the Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG). Therefore, Hanley said, Elgin must compete with Richland County and Columbia for transportation dollars. He, Emmons and Kershaw County Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. told Graham they would prefer to have Elgin and the surrounding area in the Santee-Lynches COG, like the rest of the county.

Kershaw County Councilman Ben Connell mentioned that KershawHealth, which became a private entity nearly two years ago, is seeking a certificate of need for a cancer center on White Pond Road. He asked Graham for any help in expediting that certificate.

Graham didn’t indicate how he might accomplish that, but used the request as an opening to discuss his views on healthcare. He said he wanted to level the playing field by bringing not only flexibility, but $1.5 billion in money going to other states back to South Carolina.

In July, Graham proposed redirecting much of the federal funding for Obamacare back to the states. According to Politico.com, Graham’s proposal “would keep all of Obamacare’s taxes except for the Medical device tax, but (send) block grants (of) about $110 billion in federal health care funding to the states.”

Tuesday, Graham told those gathered at the chamber he would prefer to have states receive equal federal healthcare funding, rather than most of it going to only a few states, and let those states make their own choices about how to use it.

“If California wants to go Obamacare, let them, but don’t let them drag the rest of the country with them,” he said.

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