AIKEN — For the third time in two days, area voters had a chance to familiarize themselves with the candidates seeking their vote in Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson took part in Tuesday’s Last Word in the South presidential forum at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center, which was well-attended by their supporters, with a few Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich believers peppered throughout the stands.
The event was moderated by U.S. Sen. Joe Wilson, state Attorney General Alan Wilson and state Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore. It began with remarks from political satirist Eric Golub and
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who endorsed Bush.
It was the third area event since Monday that featured GOP presidential hopefuls. The first two featured U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also at the Convocation Center, and businessman Donald
Trump, who rallied at the Riverview Park Activities Center earlier Tuesday.
The forum took on special meaning after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend, Alan Wilson said. Three of the remaining justices were born in the 1930s, meaning Scalia could be just one of
several to be replaced in the coming years.
“With the death of Justice Scalia, the stakes are higher than they have ever been at any other time in American history,” he said, adding that one of the candidates at Tuesday evening’s event could be the person to influence the
nation’s highest court for decades to come.
Bush and Carson were subjected to a line of questioning, each given roughly the same amount of time to respond.
Before the moderated portion, both had 15 minutes to deliver speeches from the Aiken Stump,
a wooden lectern signed by numerous politicians whose campaigns have passed through Aiken
Bush’s talk focused primarily on national security, disrupting Washington and how he plans to win the election.
He spoke of meeting with cadets at the Citadel, telling them that he intends to support the nation’s military by being a “commander-in-chief, not an agitator-in-chief.”
He also talked about bringing “Veto Corleone” – a nickname he earned while governor for his tendency to veto legislation – to Washington, adding that he believes he will be the candidate
to bring a “steady hand” to the office.
When asked about President Obama’s proposal to halt construction at Savannah River Site’s mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility, a project that would turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, Bush said he would advise against any shutdown without an alternate plan to honor the country’s 2000 agreement with Russia to
dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium.
On the issue of appointing Supreme Court justices, Bush said he would seek out men and women with a “proven and consistent record,” pointing to his success at appointing judges during his tenure as governor.
He also favors eminent domain if it benefits the public at large. Private projects, such as Kinder Morgan’s Palmetto Pipeline
projected to run through the Augusta area, wouldn’t fly under his watch.
Carson, who signed the Aiken Stump before his address, said the country has a responsibility to preserve the American dream, something he believes is unique worldwide.
Problem-solving will be the thing that sets the next president apart, and those problems, he said, range from fiscal responsibility to terrorist threats abroad.
On the MOX question, Carson said that instead of penalizing the people who make such a project possible, the federal government ought to "penalize the people who are causing the cost overruns.” At roughly $5 billion, the project is already well past its
original projected cost of $1.7 billion.
Carson is also interested in seeing more growth on the commercial nuclear front.
“There’s this phobia about nuclear energy that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “The French have been using it for 50 years
and haven’t had any major incidents.”
Regarding the Supreme Court, Carson said he would look at the life of Scalia’s potential replacement to see how they have ruled in the past, and take a close look at the people they associate with.
He hopes the next justice will be “a strict constitutionalist” like Scalia was.
Carson agreed with Bush in that eminent domain should be used strictly for instances that benefit the public. However, he argued that its private use should first be vetted via a referendum.