COLUMBIA - Both candidates running for agriculture commissioner have deep roots in the land, but they differ on whether new types of farming or experience with agribusiness are best to promote the Palmetto State's farmers and their products.
The challenger, Democrat Emile DeFelice, has earned a national reputation producing rare-breed gourmet pork on a 40-acre organic farm in Calhoun County.
He says the Agriculture Department can do more to support farmers and promote South Carolina farm products.
"We're missing opportunities everywhere," Mr. DeFelice said. "I'm fed up with the attitude that we can't do better in this state."
Incumbent Republican Hugh Weathers was appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford in September 2004 to fill the unexpired term of Charles Sharpe, who pleaded guilty to extortion after admitting he took a $10,000 bribe to protect a cockfighting organization.
Mr. Weathers, a third generation dairy farmer from Bowman, said he has worked to streamline the office and focus on economic development by cooperating with other agencies.
"I've been a good manager and am an effective leader," Mr. Weathers said.
Mr. DeFelice's slogan is "Put Your State On Your Plate." He said it sums up his passion for South Carolina foods.
Mr. DeFelice pledges to use the office to promote products grown and produced in the state by doing things such as encouraging school cafeterias to use products from local farms.
Mr. Weathers said he has worked to meld agriculture into South Carolina's overall economic development. He pointed to his background as a dairy farmer, peanut farmer and trucking executive as helping him understand the varied aspects of the state's agriculture industry and its work force.
"This election is about who can provide effective leadership ... for the state's second-largest industry," Mr. Weathers said.
BORN: May 5, 1967, in Canada
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in French and philosophy from Emory University; master's degree in international studies from the University of South Carolina
CAREER: A Calhoun County farmer at Caw Caw Farms, where he raises swine; served as a board member at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and South Carolina Rural Development Council; was chairman of the South Carolina Food Policy Council
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None
PERSONAL: Married, two children
BORN: June 27, 1956, in Bowman
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in accounting and finance from the University of South Carolina
CAREER: Co-owner of Weathers Farm Inc.; owner of Weathers Trucking Inc.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Appointed agriculture commissioner in September 2004 by Gov. Mark Sanford
PERSONAL: Married, three children