Starting a dialogue: What could SC do?

Quality of Life
August 7, 2020

PPI Senior Fellow Oran Smith published this op-ed that originally appeared in The Greenville News. 

We have a long way to go in the living out of our “all men are created equal” national creed. So to make real progress as a nation and as a state, all Americans and all South Carolinians – conservative, moderate and liberal – must take stock.

But where will we find common ground in the political world that is 2020?

‘’If I could be you, if you could be me for just one hour. If we could nd a way to get inside each other’s minds. If you could see through my eyes instead of your ego, I believe you’d be surprised to see that you’ve been blind.’’

I know I have looked into my own heart in recent weeks and gotten very uncomfortable. I have asked myself as both a believer and as a person who works in public policy: How have I been blind? What can I do?

“Do we simply turn our heads and look the other way?”

Perhaps for a person of faith and a policy researcher like myself, it starts with refusing to look away, to understand that there are statues and statutes that are hurting many of my fellow South Carolinians in soul and in sustenance.

Purely political common ground is hard, so perhaps we should start with opportunities for agreement around policy. To start, I would offer seven areas that need reform:

1. Civil asset forfeiture. Police can take property without the owner being convicted of any crime.

2. Court fees. According to an Institute for Justice survey of state laws, South Carolina is fourth-worst in the nation for “taxation by citation,” regressive court fees that trap people financially for minor offenses.

3. Payday lending. The endless cycle of debt lives also in the predatory practices of some in the payday loan industry.

4. Education segregation. A student’s destiny shouldn’t be determined by district lines. Parents should be able to choose any public school that has a seat for their child.

5. Energy inequality. South Carolinians pay the highest power bills in the nation. We know who that hurts most.

6. Reverse Robin Hood. Perhaps without intention, the South Carolina Education Lottery is a wealth transfer from poor to middle-class South Carolinians. More need-based aid is needed.

7. Barriers to work. Small businesses often can’t hire willing workers for simple tasks because of overly burdensome licensure requirements from state government.

“If I can dream of a better land where all my brothers walk hand in hand, tell me why, can’t my dream come true?”

My list is a only a small part of the answer. But perhaps it could jump start a conversation about specific ways to expand opportunity and grow equality not for the few, but for the many, in the state we love.

Oran Smith is a Greer native and resident who serves as Senior Fellow at Palmetto Promise Institute. Lyrics are from songs performed by Elvis Presley, who passed away 43 years ago this month in Memphis, eight miles from The Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. King was killed in the year that until 2020 was America’s worst: 1968.