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Florence lunch crowd learns about gubernatorial candidate Smith’s military background

August 23, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. – As he introduced Democratic gubernatorial candidate James Smith to the audience gathered Wednesday at Venus Restaurant and Catering to hear Smith speak, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Barry Wingard had a story to share about the candidate.

“I think you know something about his [Smith’s] military background, but you may not know the details,” Wingard said. “Having served a long time myself— I know some of you served— you will really appreciate the sacrifice, the dedication, [and] perseverance. He did something that I would never have done.”

After graduating from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Smith was commissioned as an officer in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps. After Sept. 11, Smith was motivated to serve in the infantry. In order to do so, Smith had to resign his commission, go through basic training at age 37, then go through infantry training before being deployed.

“This is even tougher at 37 years old,” Wingard said. “It’s even tougher when everybody else is 18, 19, 20.”

When he returned to basic training at age 37, Smith was already a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. He currently represents District 72, which includes part of the city of Columbia, including the University of South Carolina’s campus.

Smith had just finished working with then-Gov. Jim Hodges to pass the legislation creating the First Steps to School Readiness. Hodges was the last Democrat to be governor of South Carolina. He served from 1999-2003.

“All of the sudden at 2 o’clock in the morning, I’m cleaning a latrine at Fort Jackson,” Smith said. “When I showed up, you go to basic training at 37, the drill sergeants are not impressed. They want you out of their army that day. I got there. I tried to keep it quiet about my background.”

One day, Smith and his class had been up all night to get the barracks ready when a drill sergeant came in at 5:30 a.m.

“The drill sergeant was all fired up about Smith,” Smith said. “He said, ‘Smith, push.’”

Smith started to do push-ups. The drill sergeant also made him do flutter kicks.

The drill sergeant explained that Smith had “ruined his chicken dinner.” Apparently, the drill sergeant had gone home after working with Smith’s class and was eating dinner when he saw Smith on TV in his role as a state representative.

Wingard added that two weeks prior he had attended Smith’s induction into the Palmetto Military Academy Hall of Fame. Smith, he said, was one of three inductees in the 120-member hall of fame to be inducted at a rank below colonel.

“After he did all that training, he deployed to Afghanistan, where he led troops in combat,” Wingard continued. “He earned a combat infantry badge, a bronze star, and a purple heart. If the people knew how hard this guy works to get what he wants, we’d all vote for him.”

Smith also answered several questions from the audience about his political positions.

Smith said he was conditionally in favor of being able to appoint a superintendent of education, provided that there were limitations and qualifications, including 10 years of experience in public schools for the position. He said he did not want to see a “Betsy DeVos” appointed in South Carolina.

The issue of whether the governor can appoint the superintendent of education will be on the ballot in November.

He also said was against off-shore drilling, pro-wind and solar power, in favor of medical marijuana but opposed to legalization.

Smith also said he was in favor of the state selling SCANA, the electricity provider, if the correct deal was found. He added that he had not seen an acceptable deal yet.

He criticized Gov. Henry McMaster, who is running for a full term as a Republican, for what he calls putting McMaster’s friendship with President Donald Trump ahead of the state, particularly in the area of tariffs.

In the Nov. 6 general election, Smith will face McMaster and the American Party of South Carolina’s Martin Barry.

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