Two veterans of Aiken City Council face off this November for the S.C. House District 81 seat, each pointing to their past records on Council as evidence of the drive and determination they'll take with them to Columbia.
Incumbent at-large Councilman Don Wells, R-Aiken, is vying for the seat against former at-large Councilwoman Jane Vaughters, who is a petition candidate for the seat. Wells is in the midst of a second term on Council, having first been elected in 2005. Vaughters served on Council eight years, having first been elected in 2001.
Wells said he decided to run for the District 81 seat so that he can take his fiscally conservative, pro-business record to the state level for the citizens of Aiken County. He is a small-business owner, owning and operating Park Avenue Paints downtown since 1996.
As a member of City Council, he said he's consistently fought for economic development, job creation and transparency.
Wells maintains he understands the challenges facing businesses, not only in Aiken County, but across the state. As such, he said he'll push to ensure the County and state are known for a business-friendly environment.
“It frustrates me to no end to see excessive legislation that hurts small businesses,” he said.
Vaughters said it frustrates her to see excessive effort made in Columbia to take care of “hundreds of other minor things,” like special interest projects, while there is very little effort made to take care of issues critical in state government.
“There are essential issues that the state needs to address first,” she said.
Vaughter's focus would be on those essential issues and on ushering state leadership in a new direction, she added.
She said a new direction should call for an end to secret, under-the-table financial incentive deals that don't provide economic impact statements.
“We need to know the impact and face that fact. How much was the Boeing deal? I don't think we know. (South Carolina was expected to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for construction costs at the Boeing site, and offered millions in income tax credits and employee training.) I really worry about Amazon, too. Merchants are already having trouble in not collecting state sales taxes,” Vaughters said.
Amazon received a five-year tax collection exemption from the state as part of the deal to open its distribution center in Lexington County and, as such, does not collect state sales taxes on purchases made online by South Carolina residents. State residents can pay the taxes by declaring it on their income tax form, but many don't, and South Carolina loses millions of dollars in taxes owed on online purchases.
Wells would like to see the state lead the way in some variation of the Fair Tax, which, in essence, would require people to pay taxes on what they spend, not what they earn.
When it comes to education, Wells believes in identifying highly-successful schools and duplicating their models across the state. Reaching out to young kids early in their life is crucial to ensure they have the best education possible so they can help themselves and South Carolina, Wells said.
The sheer number of individuals reliant on Medicare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is directly related to improperly-educated children, he said.
“We will be better off as a state financially to reach them early, to do it now instead of getting it on the back end with prison and SNAP,” Wells said.
Vaughters said she would ensure every bill introduced in the legislature would have the necessary funds attached to it – attaching permanent money to permanent obligations. She would work to eliminate the state Budget and Control Board and make sense of the budgeting process.
“You can't pass a budget that is $1 billion more than last year and then say, 'We need tax breaks. But, there's no money for them. Oh, the committees can figure that out' and have them coming from 14 different directions. That's where we need restructuring,” she said.
The House District 81 seat is currently held by Rep. Tom Young. Young is seeking the Senate District 24 seat, from which longtime Senator Greg Ryberg retired this year.
Wells received a degree in business from Tennessee Temple University and is a member of Aiken Rotary Club. He is a member of Millbrook Baptist Church. Vaughters received a degree in English from Southern Methodist University, and she is the business manager at her family's medical practice office. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church.