MERRIWETHER, S.C. - Edgefield County's first political forum turned out Monday to be more of a discussion than a debate.
But the Merriwether community proved its interest in the Nov. 7 election with more than 100 people filling the cafeteria tables at Merriwether Elementary to hear their candidates speak.
Only two incumbents faced their opposition, while the other three candidates fielded questions from the panel alone in their opponents' absence.
Democratic county council candidate Paul Hammond made the debate, but his opponent Republican Joel Hudson didn't show because of a family emergency.
Democrat G.L. Brightharp's opposition for the congressional District 3 seat, Lindsey Graham, had a 6 p.m. vote in Washington that he couldn't miss.
And Democratic sheriff's candidate Lt. Adell Dobey bowed out because of partisan politics, but not his party's.
Lt. Dobey wrote a letter to the debate organizers saying that after careful consideration, he would not take part in a political forum that all parties were not happy with.
The county's Republican Party Chairman Frank Maurer publicly denounced the debate last week because he was not involved in the planning.
That left school board incumbent Kenneth Collier and his opponent Sallie B. Cook, and Senate District 25 Democratic incumbent Sen. Tommy Moore and Republican Robert Gossett to square off on the issues.
The school board candidates fielded questions about the need for another high school, teacher salaries, school safety and test scores. Mr. Collier said the county needed another high school, but funding was a problem.
"This is a very important issue that will have to come to a reality, but we don't have $12 to $14 million to fund it," he said. "If anybody wants to donate the money, feel free."
His opposition suggested the county make Strom Thurmond High School an alternative school and build a more centrally located high school closer to Merriwether.
Mr. Moore and Mr. Gossett exchanged more political jabs, especially when the lottery issue came up.
"I've heard a lot of people talk about the lottery, but I think it's time we be quiet and let the citizens decide," Mr. Moore said. "Personally, I'm not a fan of the lottery because it doesn't manufacture new money - it spreads it around."
Mr. Gossett told the crowd that Mr. Moore voted for the lottery to go to a referendum.
"I'm against the lottery," he said. "I don't think it's what we should be doing for our children."
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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