Since 1994, Bill Cotty has represented NE Richland along with the Lugoff/Elgin in Kershaw County in the SC House. A self-described "dirt lawyer", Cotty was no stranger to politics and government previously having served two terms on the Richland Two School Board as well as having worked several years for South Carolina Congressman Tom Gettys in D.C. after graduating from college.
Last year Cotty prevailed in the face of several challengers in both the primary and general elections, including well-funded attack campaigns waged by outside interest groups like SCRG. I discussed some of these efforts on this blog last fall. Considering the ethical questions including out-of-state money, misleading attacks and possible collusion between a candidate and outside attack-dog groups, I was glad to discuss what was taking place in that race.
Some call him one of our smartest legislators ...some a RINO ...or a maverick ... and other things. In our interview he had no trouble explaining where he stands and what he believes we need to do as a state to address our challenges. His wife, Amelia, who he describes as his "reality check" joined us afterward for diner and was both charming and thoughtful. Overall, the interview was a great time and I appreciated their hospitality.
Let's throw some questions his way and see what he throws back at us:
What have been your biggest accomplishments?
I’m most proud of the role I’ve played in reducing taxes for most of our citizens, improving the budgeting process, toughening criminal laws and sentencing, and bringing accountability to public education. Under two Speakers and four Governors, I’ve served as House floor leader for welfare reform, protection of marriage, tax reform, liquor sales reform, DUI reform and addressing the Confederate flag. All of these involved bringing folks together across party, racial, and geographic lines.
Your last race was a close call. Why do you think it was so close, and what do you think you’ve learned from this?I’m an advocate for public schools, and a fiscal conservative who is moderate to progressive on social issues. As such, I drew opposition from both political extremes and got caught in the middle. Those to the far right of my party targeted me with unlimited out-of-state funding for negative and misleading tactics in both the primary and general election. The leftists fielded a well-funded Democrat who attempted to portray himself as a moderate, while his history is that of a Clinton/Gore liberal.
In the end, it was a reaffirmation of what I always believed – if you are true to your values and speak out strongly for that which you believe to be right, while admitting that you don’t know everything and listen to the views of others with respect, voters will appreciate it and support your re-election. The people of District 79 are not stupid – they care, not just about themselves, but for our state as a whole. They listen to the issues, and their elected officials know what they think. They know I’m accessible, hard working, and where I stand and why, and that I’m not afraid to stand up and speak out for that I believe right.
What do you see as the priority issues in the ongoing term in the House?
Improving public education statewide. More than anything else, this will determine whether our state will offer the same, and greater, level of opportunity and quality of life five, ten, and twenty years from now. To succeed, especially in the poor and rural areas of our state where many of our failing schools are located, we must be innovative and partner with businesses and communities to find ways to help those areas catch up to the rest of the state.
Meaningful Worker’s Comp reform. We need a system where the vast majority of claimants can get a fair decision without the necessity of hiring an attorney- In addition, decisions should be appealed outside the existing Commission through either the Circuit or Administrative Courts.
Taxpayer Protections & Budget Reform. South Carolina as well as our counties, municipalities and school districts should have limits on increasing the tax burden on our citizens.
Gang Awareness and Crime Prevention. Gangs are real, and they are developing amongst our youth in all communities, urban and rural, irrespective of race and other demographics. Law enforcement needs our help to have the tools they need to fight gang violence.
What issues aren’t being addressed that you feel should be?
#1) Workforce development. We can’t get better paying jobs if we don’t have the people with the skills these companies need. They’ll just go elsewhere – or overseas.
#2) Health care. The wealthier retirees who are coming to our state can help leverage improvements in health care that will also improve health care for all South Carolinians, if we keep attracting them. Better prenatal and early childhood healthcare needs to be targeted, and a substantial increase in cigarette taxes is an appropriate way to fund this in my view.
#3) Balancing protecting our environment with jobs. Our quality of life and beautiful scenery help bring the jobs, tourists and wealthy retirees our state’s economy needs. We can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
#4) Nuclear power. The Barnwell waste facility should be closed to out-of-state waste except from the two states with which we have a compact. At the same time nuclear energy production has a proven record of safe & efficient operations here and we need to take advantage of the expertise we have at the Savannah River Site and with our other nuclear power plants to secure additional nuclear facilities and support programs. Our state can attract major industrial investment in this area and help provide the additional energy needed by SC and much of the Southeast. We don’t have California brownouts here, and I want to make sure we never do.
Some of your critics have referred to you as a “RINO”? What do you think?I don’t let others define me.
If I’m a “RINO” it must mean something like Republican Independent Networking Opportunities because my prime mission in serving is to try and bring folks together across party, racial and demographic lines to address and resolve tough problems and challenges. You can’t do that taking one-sided, extremist positions and just pot shotting others from the sidelines. I want to be at the table where tough decisions are made and help lead others toward finding fair and realistic solutions.
If that’s being a RINO, I’ll continue to charge ahead and let the voters decide my fate.
Do you have any thoughts about bloggers and other “non-traditional” media outlets, such as websites or news websites?
Blogs are great – they let people present new points of view and be heard. Programs like John Stewart’s Daily Show, which interviewed me over the mini-bottle referendum, are also doing a good job opening up the debate on issues here and elsewhere and reaching new audiences. I’ve never taken myself too seriously and enjoy political satire and criticism, even when aimed at me. Those in politics who get upset over blogs or other forms of political ridicule need to lighten up a little and learn to laugh at themselves.
You spent a number of years in leadership roles in college and working for a former Congressman and then got out of the political arena. What brought you back?
We were upset over a school re-zoning issue and I spoke up for our neighborhoods. Next thing I knew my wife was organizing a campaign to elect me to the school board!
What are your plans for 2008?
I still have the passion to serve and believe I can make a difference- If my wife lets me, I’ll run for another term.
Your favorite album?
The Best of James Taylor!