UNION — The two Democratic candidates for Union County Supervisor — incumbent Tommy Sinclair and challenger Frank Hart — participated in a debate in the USC Union Auditorium on Friday.
Debate moderator Mike Stevens pointed out this primary was important since there was no Republican candidate for the seat, meaning the winner of the primary will be the County Supervisor for the next term.
Sinclair is a retired Army National Guard general and former educator, while Hart’s background is in engineering and owning an insurance business. Hart has served on county council for the past 17 months.
Both candidates were asked why they decided to run for the office. Sinclair said he is experienced and sees promise and a future in Union County. Sinclair said that anyone who questions recent economic development should look no further than SC 18 in regard to upgrades to the Trakas site, the railroad crossing, and a spec building which is near completion. He also mentioned that he maintains positive relationships on the state level and beyond.
Hart said he wants to see change, mentioning that he is not satisfied with the current economy and lack of growth. He said his background is in engineering, and he commuted back and forth to Simpsonville until deciding to invest in Union County by opening his own small business. Hart said he believes his background in running a business would be applicable to a position as supervisor, adding that county administration is more complex today than it was 40-50 years ago.
Each candidate was asked about Union County’s decline in population.
“When you look at population, we’ve got a lot of investment in Union County,” Hart said. “Last year, at one point we thought we were a million dollars short on budget. This year, it could be as high as three-quarters of a million dollars. That’s a lot on a $13 million budget. Even though we have that industrial improvement and industrial investment, we’re still not growing in terms of a tax base because we continue to have revenue issues.”
Hart said he believes there are three factors for growth — quality of education, quality of life (a safe, clean environment with opportunity), and jobs.
“The first step is admitting you have a problem,” Hart said. “We have a problem recruiting people to Union and retaining our children in Union.”
Sinclair said a lack of jobs is the primary issue in population decline.
“That’s how we lost,” Sinclair said. “We had industrial plant after industrial plant close, and we lost our jobs. It takes awhile to transform that, and that is being transformed. A school does not draw people; jobs draw people. A school helps keep people.”
Sinclair said code enforcement is important in regard to quality of life, and he mentioned several ongoing improvements such as the grant-funded improvements taking place in the Ottaray community.
When asked about issues about Union Hospital District and Wallace Thomson Hospital, both candidates agreed that an eventual affiliation with a larger hospital system is a must for the local hospital to survive. Sinclair and Hart both expressed that the hospital has cut costs and could reach a break-even point by October.
Hart said he has been asked how he could run his business while serving as county supervisor. He said his staff has 35 years of experience combined, and they are competent, which he said is proven by the amount of time he has spent on the campaign trail.
“I’m invested in Union County as a business owner,” Hart said, discussing his potential election to office as an investment. “When the county is growing and small business does well, all business does well.”
Sinclair was asked why he ran as a Democrat when he had run as an Independent in the past. He said he doesn’t consider himself a pure Democrat or Republican.
“I’m not against Democratic principles or Republican principles, as long as you’re not a purist,” Sinclair said. “The party is not so important at the local level.”
There were around 90 audience members for Friday’s debate, one of which was USC Union professor Randall Ivey. Ivey commended everyone who was involved in the debate.
“It was that rare thing, a political debate that was actually helpful and informative,” Ivey said. “Both men acquitted themselves well, answering the questions directly, specifically, and without resort to personal insult. Mike Stevens, the moderator, also did well. This was a debate between gentlemen. Those seeking office on the state and federal level could learn a lot by watching Mr. Hart and Mr. Sinclair.”