Gov. McMaster ‘failed to lead’ SC on COVID-19, senator says in Democrats’ response
BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER JANUARY 13, 2021 07:56 PM, UPDATED JANUARY 14, 2021 09:42 AM
In her address to South Carolinians, state Sen. Mia McLeod ripped into Gov. Henry McMaster’s handling of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak and called the Republican’s handling of the worst global pandemic in decades a “colossal failure.”
Richland’s McLeod rebutted McMaster’s fourth State of the State address in fewer than 1,000 words for the Democrats.
“Democrats across South Carolina are grateful for our women and men who are on the front lines, working day and night to save lives and keep essential services going. And we mourn with and pray for those who have already lost loved ones to this deadly virus,” McLeod said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. With all due respect, governor, because you’ve failed to lead us, the current state of our state is bleak.”
More than 300,000 South Carolinians have tested positive for the virus since March and more than 5,000 have died.
The state also is battling delays in distribution and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, a problem nationwide.
McMaster has fielded criticism from the left and right after he ordered businesses to close in the pandemic’s early months, only to allow them to reopen again quickly and he has refused to enforce a statewide mask order, except in public buildings and in entertainment venues.
“And with new cases topping 34% positive rates, South Carolina has only been able to administer about a third of the vaccines that our state has received,” McLeod said. “This colossal failure belongs to our CEO, Gov. Henry McMaster.”
During his address Wednesday, McMaster hit on budget and policy points he hopes the Legislature agrees to in the new year. McLeod’s response was the fourth given by a Richland Democrat in four years, following House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford in 2020, Sen. John Scott in 2019 and former House Rep. James Smith in 2018.
McLeod is one of five women who serves in the state Senate.
McLeod faced criticism herself last year ahead of the November election after missing days of session to avoid contracting COVID-19, particularly because she has sickle cell anemia. She has been unwavering in her frustration with the Legislature for failing to force members to wear masks in the chamber and around each other.
This year, all 46 state senators agreed to wear a mask at the State House.
“If you and your fellow Republican leaders had simply taken this virus seriously months ago by issuing a temporary statewide mask mandate and brief stay at home order, if you had listened to our public health experts and armed us with the truth instead of divisive, partisan rhetoric, South Carolina could well be on her way toward getting us back to work, school and life, safely,” she said. “Instead governor, you told us everything was fine, doubled down on the rollbacks and the rhetoric and politicized mask-wearing.”
In her remarks, McLeod also asked McMaster how he could say the economy’s strong when thousands of South Carolinians remain out of work.
“When Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina’s economy, our elected leaders used every government resource available to rebuild our state. Shouldn’t we be doing that now during a global pandemic?” she said.
But beyond COVID-19, McLeod also used her speech as opportunity to talk about health care, particularly the governor’s and other’s refusal to expand Medicaid to poor and low-income South Carolinians. And she stressed that this year needs to be about fixing education, racial inequities, wages, broadband, public utilities and infrastructure.
“That’s where our focus is, and where yours should be,” she said.
Not, she added, dealing with strict anti-abortion legislation that is likely to draw a court challenge and be overturned by the courts.
McMaster has said that he will sign the so-called fetal “heartbeat bill” should the Legislature send him one this session. The bill would effectively ban abortion at six weeks into pregnancy, when many women may not know they are pregnant.
McLeod also pointed out that racial minorities have been disproportionately affected by the two crises facing the country.
“Our state motto is, ‘While I breathe, I hope.’ But we can’t breathe while COVID-19 and systemic racism continue to kill more black and brown South Carolinians than ever,” she said. “... You can change that governor by putting all of the people of South Carolina first, because our state can’t be open for business until COVID-19 is out of business.”