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veteran lawmaker facing challenge; rep. govan stands by record, palmer says he can do better

Times & Democrat - 10/29/2018

Oct. 29--A longtime lawmaker is asking voters to look at his record of service while his opponent says change is needed in the S.C. House District 95 seat.

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, has served in the House since 1993. He is facing Republican candidate and retired teacher Chester Palmer in the Nov. 6 election.

Govan defeated Kevin Ray and Gene Gartman in the June Democratic primary. Palmer did not face a challenger in the Republican primary.

It is the first time Govan has faced a challenger in November in at least a decade.

"I think my track record of legislation and the ability to get things done in the legislature, I would gladly compare to anyone that has been there," Govan said. "I feel like I have done a good job at that."

But Palmer said Govan has become a career politician who has lost touch with all his constituents.

"I really feel like our district has not been represented very well," Palmer said.

If elected, Palmer says he will take the time to listen to all constituents and their needs.

"My door will always be open to hear your thoughts on important issues," he said. "Citizens of House District 95, you have tried it one way for 25 years and it has not worked very well."

Govan says his record shows he has gotten things done and that he gets it done for all.

"I have received support from all the political spectrum that transcends race, that transcends political ideology," Govan said. "I have been very blessed to enjoy support from all sectors of the community."

He noted he has introduced more than 96 bills in the House and was a co-sponsor of about 3,000 bills the past five sessions.

On the state level, he cited his support for public education, his help in the passage of the roads funding bill and the resolution of the Confederate flag issue.

He also cited his leadership and collaboration in the creation of the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services and having the department placed under the governor's office.

"I think this is a major achievement and a very important one with the focus on the public opioid crisis," Govan said.

Locally, Govan cited his support for the development of infrastructure and the construction of the John W. Matthews Industrial Park. He also noted his support of South Carolina State University during its struggles.

Palmer touted his pro-life philosophy and his support for the Constitution's original intent, the Second Amendment and smaller government.

"Give me an opportunity to bring jobs and prosperity to Orangeburg and I will do all I can to make this a reality," he said.

Govan said if re-elected he, too, will continue to focus on economic development.

"We must enhance, improve and engage economic development across the board and not just in certain areas of our state," he said.

Education

Palmer, who has been in education most of his life, says he understands the needs of students and teachers.

"We have school buses that are worn out and we can't get enough teachers to teach," he said. Palmer said rules and regulations imposed by an overbearing government have chilled the desire of many teachers to serve.

"It is taking away from the teachers that want to teach," he said.

Govan said his passion is education and children.

He said he supports changing the language of South Carolina's constitution to require that the state provide students with a high-quality education instead of a minimally adequate education.

"If we are serious about our commitment to children, that should not be a problem," Govan said. "I will ask education groups and members of both the House and the Senate and the executive branch to be bold enough to make that commitment."

School consolidation

When it comes to school consolidation, Palmer says the general public did not have enough input in the matter.

"It was kind of done behind the backs of the public," he said. "The people know better."

Now that it is the law of the land, it has to be followed, he said.

"I hope the public will be wise enough to select a good school board and hire a good superintendent that takes the interest of the students at heart," he said. "I am not sure all the needs are the same with the different areas of the county. We have to move forward as this is a done deal."

Palmer said he is taking a wait-and-see attitude on the fruits of consolidation. He said if it is not working as promised, he would be open to changes.

Govan said he and the delegation have stayed out of the consolidation process in an effort to avoid as much political influence as possible.

"I do believe after viewing what has transpired since we passed the legislation that I think we would have been better off in terms of being more thorough and taking our time in getting people engaged and working through the process," he said.

In particular, Govan said he would have liked to have seen a greater number of education professionals involved in its implementation.

"I think we should have gotten more input from parents and the community as a whole," he said. "But it is what it is. There is no use in crying over spilled milk."

With the law in place, Govan said now it is up to all to make the most of the situation and do what is in the best interests of the students.

Base Load Review Act

Palmer expressed his disappointment with Govan's vote to approve the Base Load Review Act that allowed utilities to charge customers for two now-failed reactors in Jenkinsville.

"He then said we needed to redo this whole thing," Palmer said. "There is no sense in anybody giving a monopoly that much power to charge people with something without their consent."

Govan said the state's General Assembly saw an opportunity to address the future energy needs of the state at the time.

"It seemed like a good idea," he said. "But like anything else in life, the best intentions don't always work out."

Govan said lawmakers, including himself, have "worked very quickly and swiftly and decisively to address it."

"It is easy for Mr. Palmer to play Monday-morning quarterback," Govan said.

Govan trial

The November general election also comes on the heels of Govan's recent trial involving allegations by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

Cobb-Hunter claimed Govan injured her arm during a May 11, 2017 confrontation at the S.C. State House. Govan said she initiated physical contact.

Govan was found not guilty.

Palmer noted the incident was not the first confrontation involving Govan in the House.

"You need to conduct yourself with a degree of dignity. ... I will never ever let passion boil over into the people's business. You just can't do that," he said.

Govan said he believes the primary results and the verdict speak for themselves.

"I have been humbled by the strong output of support before, during and after the verdict and look forward to saying more on the matter at a later date in time," Govan said. "To God be the glory."

Govan

An Orangeburg native, Govan graduated from S.C. State, where he received his bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education. He went on to graduate studies at the University of South Carolina.

Govan serves as the ranking member on the House Education and Public Works Committee, first vice chair of the House Operations and Management Committee and member of the State House Committee.

He is also the incoming chair of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, the legislative group of all African-American elected officials in the General Assembly.

Govan served as vice chair for the state Democratic Party in the middle 1980s. He unsuccessfully ran for state superintendent of education in 2014.

Govan currently serves as the Orangeburg County attendance supervisor. He has also served as Orangeburg County Adult Education literacy consultant and community education coordinator; Orangeburg School District 5 parenting and after-school coordinator; Orangeburg School District 5 parent educator; Tri-County Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse primary prevention specialist and program coordinator for the County Assault on Drugs Task Force; 1st Judicial Circuit pre-trial intervention program coordinator and SCSU Small Business Development Center director.

Govan has also served as a personnel specialist with the U.S. Department of Navy and a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recruiting officer.

Govan has been recognized as a S.C. Health Fellows policy fellow, a S.C. Education policy fellow and a Fleming policy fellow.

Govan is a member and associate minister of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Orangeburg.

Palmer

Palmer was born in Orangeburg and grew up in Denmark.

He received his bachelor's degree in history from North Carolina State University in 1971.

He entered into the U.S. Air Force where he served for almost five years during the end of the Vietnam War as a missile man.

Palmer then went to Florida and worked for the Walt Disney Company and for Stetson University for a food management company.

He received a master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in public administration as well as a degree in computer programming from Orlando College in 1984.

Palmer returned to South Carolina where he took a teacher education course at S.C. State.

Palmer initially taught at Neeses' Heritage Hall Academy. He then taught at Allendale-Fairfax High School and then Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School for about four years.

Palmer taught at Barnwell High School for about 18 years before his retirement.

Palmer currently teaches political science part-time at USC -Salkehatchie. He has also taught courses in American government.

He has been involved in the Republican Party over 40 years. He served as the party's chairman in Bamberg as well as Orangeburg County. He has also served as the party's county executive committeeman.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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