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In Case You Missed It…Nelsen: Economic Recovery Requires New Leadership

June 22, 2009

Nelsen: Economic Recovery Requires New Leadership

By Brent Nelsen

The political establishment in Columbia has failed the people of South Carolina. Recent events are only the latest indictment of a political establishment that has refused to address the state’s most significant problems.

Jobs are disappearing, state revenues are collapsing, and teachers are being laid off. Meanwhile, the politicians in Columbia have failed to lead: the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly have only traded angry press statements, preached at each other through opinion pages, tossed veto and override grenades across the State House and marched each other to court.

Attorney General Henry McMaster called the government “dysfunctional.” He was being nice.

This spring’s State House drama, however, revealed a longer-term breakdown in leadership. What we see now, under the strain of economic distress, is a naked political establishment that can no longer hide its incompetence and inaction. The people of South Carolina deserve better.

The economic problems facing this state are not a new byproduct of the global recession. Unemployment rates rose above the national average in 2001 and have remained there, largely due to the decline of the textile industry. Economic growth and the productivity of the state’s workforce have lagged far behind our neighbors. And—most troubling—according to a recent Kauffman Foundation study, the state is losing ground nationally in areas essential to maintaining a globally competitive economy.

The politicians in Columbia have never come together to adopt a strategy for addressing the chronic economic “crisis” in the state. Although South Carolina is far from hopeless, the political posturing delays action and costs our state more every day. We can stir economic recovery by exploiting existing advantages and drawing on plans put forward by prominent organizations such as the Palmetto Institute and South Carolina’s Council on Competitiveness.

Economic recovery is only possible if state government works with, not against the market—and if the whole state makes a commitment to educate every South Carolinian for a 21st century job.

Free markets distribute resources better than governments. But investments will bypass zones of uncertainty or incompetence. South Carolina falls short on both counts.

We need a comprehensive tax system that is perceived as stable, adequate and most of all fair.

We need a wholesale restructuring of state institutions that will bring good government to South Carolina. Executive authority must be centered in the governor’s mansion; legislative authority must reside in the General Assembly. Such a division of power leads to more open, accountable government.

Our public schools and universities need the most help, but they can improve.

We must give parents more choices for educating their children. We must encourage innovation in public schools and charter schools.

We must free teachers and administrators from unnecessary paperwork and the pressure of unjust evaluation methods. We must give merit pay to the successful while cutting loose the incompetent.

We must call our communities—our parents and grandparents, churches, civic groups and businesses—to get involved in the schools, befriend children from unstable homes, provide after school care, and safe transportation.

Finally, in a knowledge-based economy our technical schools, colleges and universities are keys to economic success. They must be supported as investments in the future of our state.

I am running for governor because this state needs new leadership and a new direction. We are ready for something better; South Carolina deserves success once again.

Dr. Nelsen chairs the Furman University Political Science Department and is a Republican candidate for governor.

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